The James River is central to all that is Richmond; history, recreation, jogging on the canal walk, bird-watching, kayaking, nature hiking and even swimming. Add to that list elegant dining, either open air or behind floor-to-ceiling windows, that offers a panoramic view of the James River and Richmond skyline. Richmond can claim such a restaurant: The Boathouse at Rocketts Landing, 4708 East Old Main St., Richmond, Virginia, that opened in August of 2009. Partake of blue sky, blue water and blue goblets on a balmy day.
The Power Plant now housing the restaurant was built around 1910 and was used to generate steam power for Richmond’s trolley cars. Contemporary glass and steel are now meshed around the baked-brick smoke stack and other industrial remnants of Richmond’s past. The Alliance to Conserve Old Richmond Neighborhoods (“ACORN”) honored the project with its 2009 Golden Hammer award for “best commercial renovation.” Also, the Greater Richmond Association for Commercial Real Estate (“GRACRE”) has listed the Power Plant at Rocketts Landing as a finalist in several categories for their commercial real estate awards to be announced at a Gala on April 21, 2010. The categories are: Renovated or Historic Rehabilitation: Mixed Use; Interior; and Retail or Restaurant awards.
The mastermind behind the restaurant is Kevin Healy. Healy brought entrepreneurial experience from his first restaurant location, The Boathouse at Sunday Park at Brandermill in Chesterfield County. His vision was in tune with the developers, WVS companies, and he added his own insight to the interior space. Healy maintained that the restaurant should be like the precious jewel of the development. His vision was to make the time spent in the restaurant into an experience to be remembered and revered.
The vital missing link the business needed was access to additional capital. No money was flowing from the big lenders despite Healy’s experience, equity injection and his innovative business plan. Lean times and a tender economy were closing the more conventional lending outlets. Healy remarked “the banks seemed paralyzed by fear.” Healy was aware of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) guaranteed lending program. The 7(a) program is SBA’s primary small business loan program providing a guaranty to participating lenders who submit small business loan applications that meet SBA’s eligibility and credit requirements.
The business plan for The Boathouse at Rocketts Landing was presented to preferred lender Sonabank, headquartered in McLean, Virginia. The preferred lender program called “PLP” is another step in SBA's process of "streamlining" the procedures necessary to provide financial assistance to the small business community. Under PLP, SBA delegates the final credit decision and some servicing and liquidation authority to carefully selected lenders. Healy needed the missing piece, money for equipment and working capital, to implement his plan. Finally that piece was beginning to take shape. Sonabank came through with a SBA guaranteed loan.
There was even a positive side to the down economy. The enactment of the Recovery Act meant that his business saved $10,000 in fees and that the lender was able to get a 90% guaranty. After having doors shut in his path, Healy said the process was “quick, easy and painless and approximately done within 60 days.” Healy advises that the most challenging part was “to always stay engaged in making things happen. If the lender happened to need a certain document executed, I was not averse to personally driving it there—I needed to stay on task to see that it was done,” he explained.
The James River is only part of the story of The Boathouse at Rocketts Landing. It also is about the perseverance of an entrepreneur with a vision to stay focused on the task of securing and directing the flow of capital. Now the challenge is maintaining the quality and ambience that the Boathouse at Rocketts Landing has created. Measured by the positive reviews and a number of customers, the success of the Boathouse at Rocketts Landing is flowing as smoothly as the river that runs past it.