Law firm re-ups with REIT-owned tower

Inside a Hunton & Williams conference room. (Photos by David Larter)

Inside a Hunton & Williams conference room. (Photos by David Larter)

One of Richmond’s biggest law firms is downsizing, but it’s staying in its building downtown.

Hunton & Williams inked a deal March 21 to stay at Riverfront Plaza, where it occupies 310,000 square feet in the east tower, according to Hines, a Texas-based REIT that owns the 21-story building and its neighboring twin tower.

The east tower at Riverside Plaza.

The east tower at Riverfront Plaza.

Hunton & Williams’s new lease will be slightly smaller, at 257,400 square feet. Hines would not say how long the lease was for.

Hunton managing partner John O’Neill said that the final details are still being worked out but that the Riverfront space has been good to the firm.

“We were partners in the development when it was built in 1990, and we’ve been here ever since,” O’Neill said. “I can’t imagine finding a better space than the one we are in.”

According to a BizSense List from last year, Hunton & Williams has 498 employees in Richmond, including 225 attorneys. The firm currently occupies 16 floors in the building.

The renewed commitment from Hunton means that two of the three major office tenants in Richmond’s core business district with expiring leases have decided to stay downtown.

McGuireWoods has committed to the planned 15-story Gateway Plaza tower. LeClairRyan’s office plans are still undecided.

LeClairRyan occupies about 200,000 square feet between 411 E. Franklin St. and Riverfront Plaza’s east tower, with leases expiring in 2014 and 2015.

Charlie Polk and Ned Roberts, from the local Jones Lang LaSalle office, and Jones Lang brokers Elizabeth Cooper and Chris Murray brokered the deal with Hines for Hunton & Williams.

Hunton’s downsizing will open up more than 50,000 square feet of vacancy in Riverfront’s east tower.

In addition to the Hunton & Williams vacancy, the west tower will also have some space opening up when an old 173,000-square-foot lease by the former Wachovia Securities expires June 30. About half of that space has been sublet by other tenants, including BB&T, while the other half is unoccupied.

Pending new leases with the sublet tenants, the 1 million-square-foot Riverfront Plaza could have about 223,000 square feet available this summer.

But Hunton & Williams staying in place is good news for a shifting downtown office market, said Will Bradley, a broker with CBRE.

“It’s putting some additional vacancy on the market, but them renewing helps the market stabilize, at least somewhat,” he said. “There are still some big future holes between the Wachovia space and McGuireWoods at James Center.”

Cushman & Wakefield | Thalhimer brokers Evan Magrill and Suzanne White are marketing 244,000 square feet on floors two through 10 at One James Center, which will be available in 2015 when McGuireWoods plans to move into Gateway Plaza.

Jeff Cooke, also with Thalhimer, said the downtown market should be able to weather the storm just fine.

“[Vacancies] come into the market gradually,” Cooke said. “Nothing is happening suddenly. McGuireWoods doesn’t come on the market until 2015, so I don’t expect any of this will have any great effect on prices.”

As for LeClairRyan, the search for real estate continues. David Freinberg, the firm’s chief executive based in Newark, N.J., said the firm hadn’t ruled anything out.

“Our lease comes up in 2015 at Riverfront Plaza, so we still have some time to make a decision,” Freinberg said. “What I think is fair to  say is we’re going to consider all the options available.”

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Thank you Hunton & Williams for remaining invested in downtown RVA!