Just in time for this fall’s elections, the city office responsible for voter registration in Richmond has secured a new home base that will bring all of its operations under one roof.
The city’s general registrar office is moving out of City Hall and into its new digs at 2143 W. Laburnum Ave., where it has signed a 10-year lease for 38,400 square feet of office and storage space, along with a parking lot with about 225 spaces.
The office is initially taking 31,000 square feet of the building, which is located off the western end of Laburnum Avenue, between Acca Yard and the Bryan Park interchange. It will take the rest of the space on Jan. 1, 2022, when communications firm Windstream plans to vacate the first-floor space it currently occupies.
Richmond City Council approved the move in April, and office staff started moving into the building in June. A soft opening is planned before Labor Day, with the office splitting operations until then between the building and Room 105 at City Hall to maintain social distancing guidelines, city registrar J. Kirk Showalter said.
Showalter said the city has been searching for five years for a space that could consolidate the office’s operations, which currently are split between its City Hall space and a 6,000-square-foot storage warehouse it leases at 2910 W. Moore St. in Scott’s Addition, beside Moore Street Café. She said the new space will increase the office’s storage capacity to 10,000 square feet.
While bringing everything under one roof, she said the Laburnum space also provides ample parking for in-person early voting, which along with absentee voting is expected to significantly increase with this year’s presidential election following the General Assembly’s adoption of so-called “no excuse” early voting rules that took effect July 1.
Showalter, who has been the city registrar since 1995, said her staff had outgrown their City Hall space, which she said totals about 3,000 square feet. With this year’s elections, the office’s staff count is slated to jump from its typical 11 employees to upwards of 85 with additional help brought on for absentee voting and the presidential election.
“We would not have had the space for early voting otherwise, nor the parking,” Showalter said. “This is really going to allow the voters to have a better voting experience.
“We have been in the current space that we’re in at City Hall since the 1970s, and the number of voters that we have has doubled since then,” she said. “More voters means more staff necessary to process the applications and keep up with the paperwork, and we were just sitting on top of each other in order to get the work done.”
The office is leasing its new space from DAR Enterprises LLC, a Michigan-based entity that purchased the two-story building in 1998 for $1.75 million, city property records show. Built in 1976, the building is on a nearly 5-acre parcel that the city most recently assessed at $3.95 million.
Colliers agents Peter Vick, Harrison Hall and Will Bradley represented DAR in the lease negotiations with the city.
Under the lease, the city will pay nearly $449,000 annually for the initial 31,000-square-foot space, and the rent will increase to $672,000 annually for the full 38,400 square feet. The first three months of rent will be abated, then escalate 2 percent annually, according to a description of the lease provided to City Council.
The city also expects to pay $57,600 annually for janitorial services and $46,000 per year for operation and maintenance of an on-site emergency generator. A onetime cost of $300,000 is budgeted this fiscal year on public outreach to notify voters of the move, complete the move, security enhancements and other costs.
Showalter said the city is putting out requests for qualifications for firms that can help with the move, much of which she said staff has done themselves. She said they had budgeted $50,000 for the move, but expect to save about $40,000 because the building came largely furnished.
Showalter said the search included locations as far as Southside and less-developed parts of Scott’s Addition. She said the Laburnum building was the first they found that met all their space needs, was easily accessible, had ample parking and was located in a populated area near a bus line. She said they’re in talks with GRTC to potentially extend the nearby line with a closer bus stop.
“This building met all of those criteria very well,” she said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story reported an incorrect square footage for the registrar office’s City Hall space. The number has been corrected.