‘Part of Richmond’s resurgence’
With an international bike race as a backdrop, Richmond celebrated another milestone Wednesday with the grand opening of Gateway Plaza, the city’s first new downtown Richmond office tower in two decades.
A bevy of elected officials, led by U. S. Sen. Tim Kaine, offered congratulations to the city, the law firm of McGuireWoods LLP and the developer, Chicago-based Clayco, who worked together to build the 18-story, glass-walled skyscraper.
More than 200 people turned out for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, followed by tours of the building and a reception on the 18th-floor where visitors took in sweeping vistas of downtown and the James River.
“It makes a statement,” said Sen. Kaine, who said he gave up a chance to meet with the Pope today in Washington, D.C., to keep his commitment of returning to Richmond to participate in the opening, a decision made easier, he joked, by the fact that he will see the pope on Thursday.
“It’s not just moving across the street, “ Kaine said of McGuireWoods’ decision to relocate its headquarters from the James Center on East Cary Street to its new building at 800 East Canal St. “It’s a long-term commitment and will set a great example for the skyline just like the example you set every day in your work.”
Kaine, a former Richmond mayor, congratulated current Mayor Dwight Jones. “You’re doing a wonderful job. What a wonderful time to be a Richmonder,” Kaine said, referring to Richmond’s hosting of the world’s premiere bike race. “I can see activity in areas that didn’t use to have any,” he added. “I hope you can feel the sense of things converging.”
Before the ceremony, Kaine said he spent a couple of hours watching the bike races downtown.
Mayor Jones said Richmond “is pleased as we can be that we are able to retain McGuireWoods in the city. McGuireWoods is a tradition here … We know this is part of Richmond’s resurgence.”
Other speakers included Richard Cullen, chair of McGuireWoods, who said, “Richmond is taking off like a rocket, and we are pleased to have played a role in it.”
Bob Clark, the chair and CEO of Clayco, said his company was especially proud of the way it had engaged with the community by having 42 percent of the work done by minority business enterprises. That work was valued at $19 million, he added, and included 23 companies, headed by women and minorities, who were on the job site every day of the 26 months that it took to build Gateway Plaza.
The dramatic tower in the city’s business and financial district replaced a surface parking lot.
While $120 million is the price tag for construction, it does not include the building’s interior finishes, design or its many high-tech touches including high-definition video conferencing.
The recently completed structure houses anchor tenants McGuireWoods and its public affairs arm, McGuireWoods Consulting LLC. About 230 lawyers and nearly 400 non-lawyer personnel moved into the building over seven weeks in May and July.
Of the building’s 330,000 square feet, McGuireWoods is leasing 212,000 square feet across eight floors, or nearly 12 percent less space than at the company’s old home in the James Center. Today’s technology allows for smaller support staff. “We need less space for the lawyers to practice and more space for our clients,” said McGuireWoods Executive Director Robert J. Couture
Other tenants include Towne Bank, which is leasing space for a regional headquarters and will have a ground-floor branch. CCA Industries will occupy the building’s top floor, and a Potbelly Sandwich Shop plans to open a restaurant in the building’s lobby.
In a private tour with Virginia Business before today’s grand opening, Couture wouldn’t say how much the law firm spent outfitting the offices, team rooms, public areas and 18th-floor boardroom. Yet, it was clear he was pleased with the end result as he pointed out the building’s modern features, including coffee bars, white boards and miles of glass walls that allow natural light to pour in. Altogether, there are 6,000 panes of glass.
“That’s the same glass that’s in the new World Trade Center,” he said of the tempered floor-to-ceiling glass walls in many offices. “It lets light through, but filters out 75 percent of the sun’s heat.”
The 18th floor hosts the firm’s reception area, client space and a new board room. Chairs of black leather flank a huge wood table capable of seating 35 people. Hanging from the ceiling are a series of white light fixtures equipped with 24 microphones and the latest in digital sound technology, so that everyone can easily be heard.
Also on the 18th floor is 25,000 square feet of meeting space for conferences and presentations. Moveable panels can be rolled up into the wall to double the space of a multi-purpose room with the touch of an iPad.
Another amenity is a mock trial courtroom. Equipped with closed-circuit video feeds and voice-activated cameras, it allows for real-time trial preparation. As Couture likes to say, “This is the gee-whiz of the whole building … We can pull in remote witnesses. We can pull in a judge.” The firm can use the room to conduct a run-through of a trial and strategize on how best to represent clients.
While the building displays the latest in technology, the overall feel is solid and quiet, thanks to muted color shades of grays, green, brown, crème and black.
One feature that stands out is the size of the offices. They are all the same: 12 by 15 feet, or about 180 square feet. “We decided, ‘Let’s get out of this hierarchy of partners and associates thing,’” Couture said. From the firm’s chairman to the newest associates, everyone’s office is the same size, he adds, and it has the same furniture.
Another amenity immediately visible upon entering Gateway Plaza is the lobby’s massive murals of the James River rapids. It was produced in the Munich, Germany, studios of Franz Mayer from “Riversong,” a painting by artists Robert Stackhouse and Carol Mickett. They were commissioned to do the painting for the project. It now hangs in the boardroom.
The lobby also includes a curved, glass-and-stainless steel sculpture titled “Clear Passage,” that’s reminiscent of the bateau boats that once hauled goods up and down the James.
Another distinctive characteristic in the lobby are “flow lines.” Made out of stainless steel, they run across the floor, standing out against the lighter wood floor. According to Couture, they symbolize the energy that flows from the state Capitol, a few blocks away, to the James River, two of the institutions most important in Richmond’s history.
Couture led a core team of about 10 people to work with Clayco on the project. Overall, Couture says, “It was a really good experience. It’s like building a residential home. You have to think where every door is going, every security camera. In the end I think people feel really proud that we were able to get this building up.”
Chicago-based Forum Studio served as the architect on the project. The building has a LEED gold certified rating and is equipped with many energy-efficient features, including 8,800 LED light bulbs.