Subject to the normal variability that comes with any major real estate project, the seminary began construction in May 2017 and work is expected to continue for 18-20 months.
Union Presbyterian Seminary plans to partner with a developer to build apartments on a portion of its Westwood Tract property. Under a plan approved by the school’s board of trustees, 15-acres of the 34-acre property will be used to replace student housing that is inadequate and outdated, attract new students, generate rental income and reduce the draw on our endowment. Up to 301 apartment units will be built, while leaving 19 acres untouched as open space. We can’t promise this land will never be developed, but we have no immediate plans to do so.
Though some of the 301 apartments being constructed on the eastern portion of the Westwood Tract will be needed to house seminary students, the majority of the units will be available for lease to the public. By leasing units to the public, the seminary will create the income needed to then subsidize rent rates for its own students to make living in the new apartments affordable for them.
Need and Benefits
As prospective students evaluate their seminary options, and when they visit with us here in Richmond, our facilities, particularly our housing facilities, needs to register as equally strong and as positively as our faculty, student body, curriculum, supervised ministry opportunities, and placement rates after graduation. Our sister Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) seminaries have built new family student apartment complexes over the last several years. Advance Apartments, our newest student housing, was built nearly 50 years ago. The new apartments will feature both surface parking and garage parking. A clubhouse with fitness center and a swimming pool also will be a part of the project.
According to Church History Ph.D. alumnus William Sweetser, the Westwood Tract was the last parcel of land in Richmond purchased for the seminary. Walter W. Moore was president at the time. The eight original buildings, finished in 1898, on the 11-acre quad were already in use, but President Moore realized even then, with very little developed land around the seminary, that the seminary needed other land for future resourcing of the school. In 1900, when Dr. Hunter McGuire died, his property was placed on the market for $17,000, a significant sum of money at that time. The property apparently takes its name “Westwood” from the nickname that the McGuire family gave to the farmhouse country home erected on the site. Even though the seminary was already in debt for the buildings it had recently constructed and was running a small deficit, Dr. Moore thought it critical that the seminary acquire the financial means to secure this nearby property for the school’s future use. Dr. Sweetser notes that while it is unclear who came up with the idea, 12 seminary supporters organized the Westwood Land Company in 1901 and purchased what is now known as the Westwood Tract. Their avowed object was to hold the property till the seminary could purchase it, but they would allow the seminary to make full use of it in the meantime. By 1910, however, nearly all the stockholders had donated their stock to the seminary.
Dr. Moore was correct in realizing that the land would be invaluable to the seminary. It has to date been a resource for seminary housing. Across the years the land has made it possible for faculty homes, the denomination’s mission court for missionaries on sabbatical, and most importantly, apartment complexes for married students and their families to be constructed and put into the service of the institution. And, since 1901, whatever portions of the land were not occupied for seminary use were left as open space or developed as recreational space. Neighbors have been and remain as welcome to the use of that space as are the members of the seminary community itself.
Plan of Development
Drawings that were submitted as the Plan of Development to the City of Richmond June 3, 2015.
This is a view looking southwest from the intersection of Brook Road and Westwood Avenue.
Potential finishes that might be used on the exterior of the Westwood Tract apartments.