Thursday, September 21, 2023

Former historically black hospital to be transformed into low-income apartments

The construction site at Whittaker Memorial Hospital in Newport News (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Mark Turner Construction)
The construction site at Whittaker Memorial Hospital in Newport News (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Mark Turner Construction)

Whittaker Memorial Hospital is getting a $14 million makeover.

The historic black hospital which was founded in 1908 and became a staple in the southeast community of Newport News, is now going to be transformed into low-income apartments.

While reasons for leaving the hospital are unknown, the group of doctors working at the particular hospital went on to form Peninsula Institute for Community Health which later became known as the Southeastern Virginia Health System, a nonprofit with 14 community health centers in Hampton Roads.

RELATED STORY: New community health center opens in Newport News

The money for the Whittaker Memorial Hospital project comes from low income and historical tax credits worth $8.3 million, a $3.9 million loan from the Virginia Housing Development Authority and a $700,000 grant from the Newport News Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

There are two phases in the project. The first phase started in the fall of 2017 was demolition work and removal of hazardous materials. The second phase started last August and is still under construction.

“I would say tenants will probably be moving in the September time frame,” said Frank Bowser, president and CEO of Mark Turner Construction and the lead contractor for the project.

Bowser said community housing partners, a rental agency is going to manage the property and the health clinic next door will let the agency rent an space for a leasing office.

John Biagas, president and CEO of Bay Electric Co. Inc. and the majority owner of the historic building, said he and his two other partners, Junior Burr and Eugene Thomas, acquired the building almost three years ago from a lawyer and real estate developer.

The trio thought it would be best to convert the building into apartments.

“I know there’s a substantial shortage of affordable housing ––especially in Newport News,” Biagas said. “It would give people a place and live in a very strong and secure building.”

The building, 1003 28th St. will have 67 units with a mixture of one and two bedroom apartments with an income cap.

Biagas added the apartment complex will have several amenities such as WiFi, a community space, a courtyard area with grills, a dog area and on-site parking. Each unit will have granite countertops, energy star efficient heating and cooling systems and a washer and dryer.

“It’s really great we’re taking a older building that wasn’t occupied for a decade,” Biagas said. “The actual mayor of Newport News was born at this hospital.”

Burr, president and CEO of Canterbury Enterprises in Richmond, said he is a co-developer in the project and helped by finding funding sources and taking care of tax credit applications.

“It has been a great project,” Burr said. “The building was in such a bad shape to be able to bring it back to life is very exciting.”

As of early June, the project was about 75 to 80 percent complete with additional finishing touches needed such as new appliances, black topping the parking areas and the ground floor.

It is not clear why the hospital closed down in the first place.

Kim Lee, spokeswoman for the city, wrote in an email the city was not the owner of the property and to ask the developers.

The developers were not sure why the building closed down and advised WYDaily to speak with the previous owners of the property, C’ Est La Guerre LLC.

WYDaily was unable to get in touch with the previous owners but found at one point, there were plans to make the building into a housing facility for wounded or disabled veterans.

WYDaily reached out to the SVHS and Shelby Williams, spokeswoman for the nonprofit, said Angela Futrell, the organization’s CEO, was unable to answer the question and told WYDaily to ask the city.

“She really doesn’t have a lot of info on [the hospital],” Williams said.

Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She covers everything on the Peninsula from local government and law enforcement agencies to family-run businesses and weather updates. Before WYDaily, she covered Hampton and Newport News for WYDaily’s sister publication, HNNDaily before both publications merged in December 2018. Julia was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Long Island, New York in 2001. A true New Yorker, she loves pizza, bagels and good Chinese food. Send comments, tips and other tidbits to You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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