After three decades downtown, a veteran Richmond ad agency is following the call of the city’s hottest neighborhood.
Ndp, formerly known as Neathawk, Dubuque & Packett, is moving from 1 E. Cary St., where it has been headquartered since the turn of the century, to a warehouse building in Scott’s Addition at 2912 W. Leigh St.
The agency has signed a 10-year lease for a 15,900-square-foot space currently occupied by auto parts supplier Auto Plus. The company will move out in the next several weeks to make room for ndp, which plans to move in by June or July.
Danny Fell, president and CEO of ndp, said the building’s open interior and location in the fast-transitioning, historically industrial neighborhood made it appealing over other properties considered in Scott’s Addition, downtown and across the river in Manchester.
“Finding something that had essentially an open box that we could configure the way we wanted was ideal,” Fell said. “In the end, it really fit well with what we wanted to do, and Scott’s Addition is a great neighborhood relatively close to where we are and a lot of our associates live.
“Being a part of that whole neighborhood development hopefully will raise our profile that we’re committed to being here in the city and growing the business and being a part of a vibrant, creative community,” he said.
The deal closes a months-long search that began for ndp in late summer. The agency, which employs 38 locally in addition to offices in Roanoke and Tennessee, has outgrown its cavernous space at 1 E. Cary St., where the 9,500 square feet it filled is now available for lease.
The multi-tenant building, totaling 17,400 square feet, is also being offered for purchase. Real estate broker Henry Liscio is marketing the property, which had an initial asking price of $1.6 million.
It was Liscio who pointed ndp to 2912 W. Leigh St., a 23,800-square-foot building that also houses X-Team Fitness. Property owner Brian Pearson, who purchased the building in 1997 for $415,000, said he’d told Liscio he wanted to renovate the property up to Class A office space. He said ndp provided the right opportunity.
“I always envisioned the building being something else other than a distribution warehouse,” Pearson said. “It really didn’t become a solid idea until Scott’s Addition started to see this blossoming growth, especially in the past five, eight years since the recovery started.”
Pearson said he’s been in talks with ndp since last August. He plans to put $1.5 million into upfitting the building to accommodate the agency, which has enlisted Washington, D.C.-based Hickok Cole to design its new space. The architecture firm opened a studio in Richmond last year and is designing several spaces in Scott’s Addition, including two at the under-construction mixed-use development at the former Symbol Mattress Co. building.
Hickok Cole project designer Emily Rickman said designs are in the early stages, but she said the space will include a large café that the agency can use as a lounge and to meet with clients.
“We’ve been able to infuse their space with visual elements that explain who they are and how they work,” Rickman said.
Pearson is working with Mimi Sadler of locally based Sadler & Whitehead on historic preservation work for the one-story brick building, which was built in 1946. He plans to manage construction himself and is working with contractor Phil Noonan of local firm The Noonan Company.
Other firms involved in the renovations include Concreate, a Midlothian-based concrete restorer that is refurbishing the floors of the Main Street Station train shed.
Pearson purchased the building in 1997 to house his auto parts business, which later became Auto Plus after a string of buyouts.
Store manager Ron Jackson said Auto Plus is currently looking for another space in town with comparable square-footage. He said the company had been leasing the Leigh Street space for years but was recently told it would not be able to renew.
“It is what it is. We’ll just go do it somewhere else,” said Jackson, adding that the company would maintain a presence in Richmond, just not in Scott’s Addition.
“The real estate here is too high. This is the new Carytown,” he said.
Fell and Pearson would not disclose what Auto Plus paid or what ndp will pay in rent for the space, but Pearson acknowledged the neighborhood has seen rental rates surge as interest from developers and businesses has intensified.
“I think one of the challenges with Scott’s Addition is it’s going to be very difficult for businesses to come in,” Pearson said. “I feel like we’re in the middle of the boom with Scott’s Addition, and rents, from what we have seen, have ramped up as well. Hopefully it will not get too out of control to have a squandering effect on new businesses.”
Ndp’s new headquarters is beside Buskey Cider and around the corner from the Fat Dragon restaurant on the Boulevard. It is also near other design firms and production studios that have made the Scott’s Addition-Boulevard corridor home, including Studio Center, 903 Creative and Park Group, which recently moved its studio from Shockoe Bottom to the nearby Cort Furniture retail building.
Fell said the agency will benefit from being part of the Scott’s Addition community and in proximity to more activities and potential collaborators.
“Whether we do something next door with the cidery guys or collaborate with one of the other marketing groups in that area, I think it will be fun to get to know new folks and find some things that we might be able to do jointly.”
As for its current building, which it “tattooed” with a mural in 2015 as part of a marketing campaign for a Japanese tattoo exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Fell acknowledged the move will mean leaving its mark behind.
“It’s kind of an internal joke: how can we get this tattoo removed and moved over?” he said. “It’ll be a little bittersweet. Hopefully we’ll get more photos and take a piece of it with us one way or another.”