Tech startup pulls plug on planned Manchester headquarters

Vytal Studios has nixed its plans to open a headquarters at 1802 Semmes Ave. The company was expected to hire 155 people as part of the project. (Jack Jacobs photo)

A tech startup’s highly touted move from Austin, Texas, to a sizable new headquarters in Richmond isn’t happening after all.

Vytal Studios, after announcing plans in conjunction with the governor’s office last year to relocate from the Lone Star State to Manchester and bring with it 155 jobs, has canceled those plans.

A lease the company had for a 22,000-square-foot office in a former warehouse at 1802 Semmes Ave. has also been terminated.

Vytal CEO Jim Smith said that when the company leased what was to be its future home, it also anticipated new investment capital to grow its operations. That investment ultimately didn’t materialize and made the lease untenable.

“We based every decision we made on contractual commitments,” Smith said in an interview Wednesday. “The folks who own the building were concerned we wouldn’t be able to pay rent and they were probably right and they were graceful enough to terminate the lease.”

Founded in Austin in 2018, the company makes new employee training and orientation content with extended-reality simulations for businesses.

Its plans for the headquarters move were announced by former Gov. Ralph Northam’s office in early 2021.

It planned a $6.8 million investment in the building for studio space, post-production and development offices. At the time of the announcement, the company said it had about 20 employees in the U.S. and internationally and planned to fill out the 155 jobs it planned for the Manchester headquarters over the course of several years.

Today the company is based in Richmond as a remote outfit that continues to operate, though it has no employees currently other than Smith.

“It’s pure startup mode, which means raising money,” Smith said.

The Vytal project was eligible for financial assistance from the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. Spokeswoman Suzanne Clark said last week the funding wasn’t ultimately distributed to the company.

“VEDP learned from Vytal that they terminated the lease at 1802 Semmes Ave. Given this information, both the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund and Virginia Jobs Investment Program grants were canceled, and no incentive payments were made to the company,” she said in an email.

Will Allen of Harper Associates, which owns the Manchester property, said new plans are being drawn up for the site.

“Regarding the property, there are plans in the works to include the 1802 Semmes parcel with recently assembled property resulting in a revised zoning application that will better harmonize as a whole with the Richmond 300 Plan,” Allen said in an email this week. “As the details of that approach become clear, we look forward to sharing more information.”

Richmond 300 is the city’s long-range roadmap for growth. The City Council adopted the plan in late 2020 and is weighing further amendments to it. The plan’s vision for Route 1 is focused mainly on mixed-use development. The property is at the corner of Cowardin Avenue (Route 1) and Semmes Avenue.

Vytal Studios has nixed its plans to open a headquarters at 1802 Semmes Ave. The company was expected to hire 155 people as part of the project. (Jack Jacobs photo)

A tech startup’s highly touted move from Austin, Texas, to a sizable new headquarters in Richmond isn’t happening after all.

Vytal Studios, after announcing plans in conjunction with the governor’s office last year to relocate from the Lone Star State to Manchester and bring with it 155 jobs, has canceled those plans.

A lease the company had for a 22,000-square-foot office in a former warehouse at 1802 Semmes Ave. has also been terminated.

Vytal CEO Jim Smith said that when the company leased what was to be its future home, it also anticipated new investment capital to grow its operations. That investment ultimately didn’t materialize and made the lease untenable.

“We based every decision we made on contractual commitments,” Smith said in an interview Wednesday. “The folks who own the building were concerned we wouldn’t be able to pay rent and they were probably right and they were graceful enough to terminate the lease.”

Founded in Austin in 2018, the company makes new employee training and orientation content with extended-reality simulations for businesses.

Its plans for the headquarters move were announced by former Gov. Ralph Northam’s office in early 2021.

It planned a $6.8 million investment in the building for studio space, post-production and development offices. At the time of the announcement, the company said it had about 20 employees in the U.S. and internationally and planned to fill out the 155 jobs it planned for the Manchester headquarters over the course of several years.

Today the company is based in Richmond as a remote outfit that continues to operate, though it has no employees currently other than Smith.

“It’s pure startup mode, which means raising money,” Smith said.

The Vytal project was eligible for financial assistance from the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. Spokeswoman Suzanne Clark said last week the funding wasn’t ultimately distributed to the company.

“VEDP learned from Vytal that they terminated the lease at 1802 Semmes Ave. Given this information, both the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund and Virginia Jobs Investment Program grants were canceled, and no incentive payments were made to the company,” she said in an email.

Will Allen of Harper Associates, which owns the Manchester property, said new plans are being drawn up for the site.

“Regarding the property, there are plans in the works to include the 1802 Semmes parcel with recently assembled property resulting in a revised zoning application that will better harmonize as a whole with the Richmond 300 Plan,” Allen said in an email this week. “As the details of that approach become clear, we look forward to sharing more information.”

Richmond 300 is the city’s long-range roadmap for growth. The City Council adopted the plan in late 2020 and is weighing further amendments to it. The plan’s vision for Route 1 is focused mainly on mixed-use development. The property is at the corner of Cowardin Avenue (Route 1) and Semmes Avenue.

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Brett Themore
Brett Themore
1 month ago

Wait, This is not in Manchester. Sure it’s close to Manchester, but seriously, let report it properly.

Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
1 month ago

I’d like to see new traffic controls directing downtown bound traffic to use the I-95, Manchester and Lee Bridges, and diverted from the 14th Street bridge entirely(if possible). There are bottle necks on either side of the 14th street bridge during rush hour and changes are impractical because of railroad crossings and the flood walls. You take your life in your hands crossing Hull Street! Convert that bridge to pedestrian and bus access only, which would eliminate the need to spend $100 million to rebuild it. Use those funds for intersection improvements for the diverted traffic.

David Humphrey
David Humphrey
1 month ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

Patterns will likely change whenever the reconstruct the bridge. People will be forced to find alternatives and many of those will likely stick after the construction is done.

Michael P Morgan-Dodson
Michael P Morgan-Dodson
1 month ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

Yeah especially since the Mayo/14th Street bridge will be closed for 2 years plus.

Brett Themore
Brett Themore
1 month ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

This isn’t anywhere near the 14th street bridge or Hull street.

Matt Faris
Matt Faris
1 month ago
Reply to  Brett Themore

“Near” s a relative term. It is literally TWO connecting roads (bridges) away from the Cowardin bridge. All of the bridges impact each other.

Don O'Keefe
Don O'Keefe
1 month ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

Bruce, thank you—I agree completely. Preserving the Mayo bridge by converting to bus and pedestrian only is a fantastic idea, economically, socially, environmentally, and aesthetically. Hopefully this idea prevails against the inertia going the other direction…

Keith Van Inwegen
Keith Van Inwegen
1 month ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

This is not a good idea. The bridge carries a significant volume of traffic and is the easternmost river crossing except for I-95. Eliminating it would unnecessarily add traffic to downtown. It should be rebuilt with generous sidewalks and bike lanes and vehicle lanes. It’s possible to add traffic calming on Mayo Island to keep the speeds down.

Michael P Morgan-Dodson
Michael P Morgan-Dodson
1 month ago

Well with CarLotz basically closing up shop and moving to California as part of its merger that leaves are Mayor’s last two years of major economic deals as only CoStar and as company based around real estate would could go wrong. City Econ Dev already strip the old announcement off the website about this project. Only three projects remain…casino (whose link take you to blank “restricted page”), Diamond District news, and Mayor’s SPEED goal just lost all its initial investments…