The biggest economic-development plans on the Richmond region's horizon involve baseball — but many are wondering how two major pieces of the puzzle will fit together even though no team has yet committed to play ball here.
In October 2008, at the recommendation of then-Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, the Richmond City Council chose Raleigh, N.C.-based Highwoods Properties to develop two separate but related projects in Shockoe Bottom and on the Boulevard, at a total investment of $785 million.
"Both areas are underserved from a revenue perspective," says Carthan Currin, the city's economic-development director. "It's time that we do something that is, I think, very dramatic."
In the Bottom, Highwoods plans to spend $363 million to build the Shockoe Center, a mixed-use project that will include a new 8,500-seat baseball stadium built 20 feet below street level.
However, with the exodus of the Richmond Braves at the end of the 2008 season, the city (as of press time) has no new team committed to play baseball here, in spite of Wilder's promises that the region would have a professional baseball squad this year. Currin says the void left by the Braves after years of stalled negotiations with the city actually presents an opportunity to create something new and better.
"I'm sorry they left, but I feel that's absolutely correct," he says. "They've made their decision, and I believe the city will have baseball. We will not have a team [in 2009], but it certainly isn't because of lack of effort."
Greater Richmond Partnership President Greg Wingfield worries, however, that building a stadium before a new team comes to town could be putting the cart before the horse. "If I was an owner, I would want to pick my location for the team," he says. "The franchisee has to say, ‘This is what I want to do.' "
For the Boulevard Gateway project, Highwoods, which also manages real estate in Henrico County's Innsbrook office park, will undertake a $422 million mixed-use development that will require razing the RMA-owned Diamond baseball stadium, the Richmond Public Schools-owned Arthur Ashe Center and a 30-acre public-works complex.
City of Richmond
Construction is under way for downtown Richmond's newest high-rise, a $60 million, 15-story office tower that will accommodate 350 employees of the Williams Mullen law firm.
The building, to be located on the site of an existing RMA parking structure at 10th and Canal streets, represents the first major new office construction downtown since 1990. The city supported the project with $2.5 million in city grant incentives and reimbursements to be paid over five years, estimating its return in revenue at $17 million over the next 20 years.
"This project is significant because it is happening in a very challenging environment," says Currin. "We felt it was a very good return on the investment."
The building was designed by Virginia Beach developer Armada Hoffler, which also is responsible for the 17-block Town Center of Virginia Beach, among other projects in Tidewater, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
Residents of eastern Henrico shouldn't have any trouble shaking their "retail inferiority complex" with the opening of the Shops at White Oak Village (4500 S. Laburnum Ave., 353-0553, theshopsatwhiteoakvillage.com) last fall.
The 900,000-square-foot development near Interstate 64 and Laburnum Avenue features a pedestrian-friendly environment with anchors to include Lowe's, J.C. Penney, PetSmart, Sam's Club and Target.
"All the development is just like Short Pump, in effect," says Leonard Cake, administrative director for the county's economic-development office, referring to the massive upscale shopping district in the county's West End. "When we went to the grand opening, the big theme was the people in Eastern Henrico saying, ‘We have a place to go.' "
A Hyatt Place hotel is in the works, and the center's proximity to a number of new mixed-use developments promises to raise the bar for the entire East End.
When it comes to the county's economic future, Chesterfield is using a net rather than a fish hook to help leaders target eight business sectors they believe will help the county prosper.
Specifically, that means they are hoping to attract new investment and jobs in the life sciences, information technology, advanced communication, advanced manufacturing, wholesale and distribution, aviation, and destination-retail sectors.
It's a strategy that appears to be working, drawing $55 billion in new capital investment to the county through November 2008 — up from $35 billion for the same period in 2007. And with continued development of the Watkins Centre project at Midlothian Turnpike and Route 288 — a potential for 3.2 million square feet of office and retail space — county leaders feel perfect locations are available for corporate headquarters they hope to entice.
"It is a point of strategic growth," says the county's economic-development director, Will Davis. "It's not just standing there with your arms open."
In October, Hanover accomplished its mission of creating a retail destination with the opening of the new Bass Pro Shops (11550 Lakeridge Parkway, Ashland, 496-4700, basspro.com), an outdoors superstore near Lewistown Road and Interstate 95.
The 150,000-square-foot store is the signature tenant for the new, 186-acre Winding Brook development, which also boasts restaurants and other retail, and has two hotel chains working on new locations there.
County development officials are cautiously optimistic, given the economic downturn of the past year. A large part of Bass Pro's draw is the collection of more than 3,500 area artifacts, antiques, photographs, mounts and memorabilia.
"It's a little bit early to get any specific results, but there have been large crowds every time I've been there," says Marc Weiss, the county's economic-development director. "If you go in that store, you can spend hours just looking at the murals and aquariums and some of the other features. It's an entertainment destination, really."
Charles City County
Charles City County continues to bank on a private port at the historic Shirley Plantation, around which it hopes to establish a new economic-development center, or hotspot, this summer.
The port, established in 2006, plays into the county's efforts to bolster trade industries such as woodworking, trucking and metal fabrication. A two-lane highway was built from Route 10 to Interstate 64 to improve access to the area.
As part of a comprehensive plan, the county is proposing to create several new economic-development centers. These zones would include looser land-use restrictions to allow more intense types of businesses, such as car dealers and retail centers, according to William Britton, director of economic development. Previous regional centers have been established in the Roxbury and Kennon's Creek area, as well as in the area around the historic county courthouse.
Specific requirements and allowable activities are unique to each center, says Britton. "Each regional development center is kind of defined in itself. Each one of the development centers is different."
Plans are moving forward for Goochland's first hospital, a $183 million health-care complex near the West Creek business park.
The four-story, 280,000-square-foot hospital is being built by HCA Inc., which operates several hospitals and surgery centers in the Richmond region. Among other features, it will include a 24-hour emergency room, which will provide a major improvement over the current 40-minute drive county residents must make now in order to receive critical care.
Development officials believe the hospital's presence will be a stimulant to the entire county when it opens in 2012.
"It's more than just a 97-bed acute-care hospital; it's going to be a whole medical campus," says Greg Reid, Goochland's economic-development director. "What we would anticipate is that it will push forward something that the West Creek people have wanted to do, which is some sort of mixed-use project that would be relatively close by."
New Kent County
The wine-tourism industry is ripening in New Kent after the May 2008 opening of the New Kent Winery in Talleysville near Interstate 64. The winery includes a 17,000-square-foot Colonial-style facility with an on-site bistro on 24 acres of vineyards.
Also on the rise is the nearby New Kent Vineyards, a 2,400-home residential development with about a million square feet of commercial space and a new golf course. The development will feature polo grounds and walking paths in a European setting.
"One of the things the county has been working towards is development of the tourist aspect of the county," says Mark Kilduff, New Kent County's economic-development consultant.
Some older commercial areas of eastern Powhatan County may experience spillover benefits from major activity across the Chesterfield County line to the east.
A two-mile expansion of the water and sewer utility along the Route 60 corridor from the Flat Rock area to the Chesterfield line anticipates economic growth related to the opening of Route 288 and the Watkins Center. County-development officials envision redevelopment of some older commercial sites, including a former grocery and a hardware store, possibly including some small mixed-use projects.
"We've already talked to some people about demolition of some existing buildings," says Sherry Swinson, Powhatan's economic-development director. "We definitely want some more retail."
Meanwhile, the county's economic-development authority is embarking on a strategic-planning process that will include a strong emphasis on tourism.