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Former holdout Sahara vanishes from Grace Street; other VCU buildings next

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The dozers worked quickly on the Sahara site last Friday.

RICHMOND, Va. — Like a mirage in the desert, the Sahara is no more.

The former Sahara restaurant – a holdout in the heart of VCU’s transformation of West Grace Street – was torn down Friday, leaving an even larger void between the towering buildings on either side of it.

The quarter-acre property at 813 W. Grace St. is slated to be used as green space, for now. VCU spokesman Michael Porter has said the property will have a temporary use as an “outdoor student-centered gathering space.” Charlottesville-based Waterstreet Studio is designing the space.

The university purchased the 3,900-square-foot building for $2.5 million in January, part of a $15 million bond package it approved late last year.

The funds from those bonds covered the demolition, which was performed by local firm S.B. Cox. They also funded the purchase of a building at 111 N. Fourth St. and are to be used to refinance existing debt and pay for renovations and improvements to five properties the foundation already owned.

The razing of the Sahara marks a final chapter in the building’s considerable history with VCU.

The restaurant sued the university in 2012, arguing that two neighboring university construction projects were disrupting its business. The case was voluntarily dismissed.

At the time, BizSense reported that Sahara owner Zuhir Idlbi said VCU attempted to buy the property, but he wouldn’t sell.

Built in 1975, the Sahara building and site were collectively assessed at $836,000, according to city records. The property was previously owned by Konstantinos and Ekaterini Hatzigiannidis, who purchased it in 1998 for $350,000.

Continue reading about the other VCU buildings.