Gateway Plaza office tower opens in downtown Richmond

Gateway Plaza — the city’s newest high-rise — has opened in the heart of downtown Richmond, filling a gap in the skyline and offering vistas of Richmond and the James River.

McGuireWoods is the main tenant — occupying 8½ floors and 220,000 square feet — in the 18-story building that is bounded by Eighth and Ninth streets and Canal Street.

The law firm also was the driver behind the 330,000-square-foot building. A core team of 12 people immersed themselves in the process from selecting the site — once a parking lot — to working out details with the developer, architect and interior design firms.

“We lived it and breathed it,” Robert J. Couture, executive director of McGuireWoods, said about the team in charge of orchestrating the corporate headquarters for one of Richmond’s largest law firms.

“Anytime you build a project of this magnitude on time and under budget, well, let’s just say, it doesn’t happen very often,” Couture said.

The law firm’s move this summer into the building with about 680 employees culminated a few weeks ago, coinciding with the end of its lease one block east on East Cary Street at One James Center.

McGuireWoods left a gaping hole — nine floors and 240,000 square feet — in the James Center. The firm was at that location for 30 years, and it was time to reconsider options.

“We started this process in February 2011, knowing our lease would be up in August 2015, but we needed that much time,” Couture said about the relocation.

“Everything was on the table,” he said. That included staying in the James Center or moving to another location in the Richmond area.

“We didn’t want to restrict ourselves,” Couture said. Truth is, not many buildings in the area — including western Henrico County — could accommodate a company of this size, he said.

“We determined that, for us, it was best to stay in the city.”

Dominion Resources Inc. owned a prime piece of real estate on the block next door that was being used as a surface parking lot with a connector road running through it.

“Other projects have been proposed for the site,” Couture said. “The reason we liked it was because it is a gateway into the city over the Manchester Bridge.” Hence the name.

McGuireWoods worked with Dominion Resources to make the land available. It selected Clayco Inc., a Chicago-based developer and design-builder, to take on the $124 million project. Forum Studio, a subsidiary company of Clayco, was the architect.

Lexington Realty Trust, a New York-based real estate investment trust, will take ownership in September. Lexington’s deal to purchase the building for an undisclosed amount was inked in 2013 before the first caissons were poured.

The McGuireWoods planning team was on-site for the drilling of those piers — Aug. 23, 2013 — and met every week on-site with the Clayco team.

“I wanted everyone to be familiar with everything going on,” Couture said, “from putting a door here or a camera there.”

Clayco received a $110 million construction loan from Lexington Realty for the project. The city of Richmond provided $14 million in financing, which paid for part of the cost to build a parking deck on floors two through six and included up to $3 million in performance-based grant money.

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The high-rise provides business and energy efficiencies along with collaborative workspaces, LED lighting, pantry areas and coffee bars on every floor. A sound-masking system in the ceiling lets people function in open workspaces without being disturbed.

Windows are floor-to-ceiling 4-foot-wide modules to allow for flexibility of space instead of standard 10- and 15-foot options. The windows let in natural light, but not the heat.

McGuireWoods had five major goals for the building: efficiency, flexibility, collaboration, enhanced technology and sustainability, said James Hatley, an architect with Gensler in Charlotte, N.C., which did the interior design work for the law firm.

“One of the things we focused on was getting as much light as possible,” Hatley said. “Natural light makes for a more pleasant work environment. People are healthier and happier.”

The building is LEED Platinum, the highest certification level for new construction for the Leadership in Energy & Environment Design program, recognizing best-in-class building practices.

McGuireWoods chose universal 180-square-foot offices and not larger perimeter offices for partners and smaller offices for associate lawyers, saving 12,000 square feet in the process, Hatley said. The interior walls on the perimeter offices are glass, allowing natural light to flow into the interior.

Frosted glass walls enclosing conference rooms can be folded back in the reception area for big events. Microphones are mounted in modern hanging fixtures — no messy electrical cords — in a conference room and above a table for 30 in a boardroom.

“We designed the building from the ground up and inside out,” Couture said.

The McGuireWoods planning team visited 22 office buildings in New York City to determine what it wanted in Richmond, Couture said. “We were looking at glass and flooring, walls, stone and wood.”

“It is so much more airy and bright,” Sharon Ross, director of administration at McGuireWoods, said about the space in general. She said she has heard nothing but positive comments.

“You don’t know what you don’t know,” said Ross, comparing this space with the old workspace.

The move into the building was done in stages, about 100 people per weekend beginning in May. With three data centers to back up computer systems, the transition went smoothly — “no hiccups, no glitches,” Couture said.

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CCA Industries, run by businessman William H. Goodwin Jr., has leased the entire top floor. The diversified holding company, whose businesses include The Jefferson Hotel, is vacating the James Center as well.

Some of its space in Gateway Plaza was subleased to BCG Cos., an insurance company now located a few blocks east in the Turning Basin building.

Meantime, DHG (formerly Dixon Hughes Goodman) took the 10th floor in One James Center. The accounting firm will move this fall from the Innsbrook Corporate Center in western Henrico.

“This is a significant vacancy and will likely take a considerable amount of time to lease,” Evan M. Magrill, a commercial real estate broker, said about the empty space at One James Center.

The office vacancy rate in downtown Richmond was 11.4 percent at the end of the second quarter, but will shoot up 2 percentage points once the rate is recalculated with the vacancy at One James Center, said Magrill, executive vice president at Cushman & Wakefield | Thalhimer, a commercial real estate firm in Henrico.

“All in all, there are many quality options for companies considering locating in the central business district,” Magrill said.

Portsmouth-based TowneBank is moving its Richmond headquarters from Henrico to the seventh floor in Gateway Plaza. It will take two spaces in the lobby, one for a retail branch and the other for a commercial and private banking center.

Potbelly Sandwich Shop plans to open a restaurant on the ground floor. It will be that chain’s second Richmond-area location.

That leaves the eighth and ninth floors, 25,725 square feet each, available for lease. “We’ve had great activity and proposals out for all the space, but we have not had anyone else sign a lease,” said Andrew Ferguson, senor vice president with Colliers International’s local office and leasing agent for Gateway Plaza.

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Florida artists Robert Stackhouse and Carol Mickett did the lobby artwork — the design for a sculpture called “Clear Passage” and for a mosaic of the James River rocks and rapids.

The mosaic was created in Munich, Germany, and shipped to Richmond in sections. The original artwork for the mosaic hangs in the McGuireWoods boardroom.

“Robert and Carol were involved in the design from the very beginning,” said Robert Clark, CEO of Clayco Inc. “We didn’t build the building and then add the art.”

The river was an important design element from the beginning, Clark said. It is reflected not only in the artwork in the lobby but also in the skin for the garage — aluminum panels reminiscent of flowing water, he said.

“This is a unique building … museum quality with features you won’t see in a typical office building,” said Clark, noting a clear formed concrete ceiling on the first floor — “symbolic of McGuireWoods’ strength in the market.”

The primary entrance to Richmond’s newest high-rise is off East Canal Street with another entrance off Ninth Street. McGuireWoods will have its name above the two street entrances. TowneBank will have its name at the top of the building on the north and south sides.

The parking deck and loading dock are accessible off Basin Bank Street.

Copyroght Richmond Times-Dispatch. Used by Permission.