A Richmond ad giant is arranging for some new space to grow.
Richmond City Council voted unanimously on Monday to declare a parcel of Shockoe Slip land as surplus and available for sale to the landlord of the Martin Agency, Richmond’s largest advertising firm and a major downtown employer.
The council’s vote allows for Highwoods Realty LP to purchase the city-owned parcel at 120 Shockoe Slip and air rights to build over 1331A E. Canal St. for $916,000, should the agency decide to expand. Highwoods owns Martin Agency’s current headquarters at 1 Shockoe Slip.
It amounts to less than an acre, but the property in question is next to the Martin Agency’s current headquarters and would allow it to kick off a $15 million expansion project. The proposed plans include a 45,000-square-foot addition to its current building. That would give the agency a total of 164,000 square feet in Shockoe Slip, according to plans Highwoods presented to the city on Monday.
The issue was driven by Highwoods’ unsolicited offer to the city to purchase the land as the Martin Agency started considering a roomier location outside of the city. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that the company had looked into leaving the Slip for Henrico County.
“This is a business retention project,” Lee Downey, the city’s interim deputy chief administrative officer for economic development and planning, said in a presentation Monday. “They have to grow and expand.”
The company’s current base of about 500 employees is expected to grow to around 675 by 2017, Downey said.
“They’re a very important part of the city, and they do need expansion room,” Downey told the city Planning Commission Monday. “And in that area, with the exact site they’re on, that’s not possible.”
The city will only sell the land to Highwoods if the Martin Agency’s expansion plans become final.
According to Downey, the agency has been on an exhaustive search for other possible locations that would provide the extra space.
Neither the Martin Agency nor Highwoods would comment on the timing of the potential land purchase and expansion onto the property.
“We don’t want to announce anything yet, this is still the very beginning of the process,” said Jane duFrane, Highwoods’ director of leasing.
A spokesperson for the Martin Agency did not return calls by Monday afternoon.
The Martin Agency’s concerns over parking in the Slip were also addressed on Monday. The council voted to allow the company a long-term parking lease for the parking deck at 100 Virginia St., allowing for up to 300 spaces at a rate of $65 a month per space during the first year of the lease.
The Martin Agency expanded into London over the summer, and it also has an office in New York. Most of its employees are based in Richmond.
Its most well-known clients include Geico, Walmart, the maker of Oreos and Sabra Dipping Co. Next year the agency will celebrate its 50th anniversary.