As development proposals continue to be weighed for Richmond’s City Center project that would replace the Coliseum, teams vying to lead the mixed-use redevelopment are aiming high with their visions for a required convention center hotel.
At least two of the four groups contending for the project are proposing hotel towers that, if built as envisioned, could end up being the tallest building in Richmond – depending on how you measure it.
City Center Gateway Partners, led locally by Capital Square and Shamin Hotels, is pitching a 30-story hotel in its proposal, which was among those that the city released in summary form in May after issuing a joint solicitation for the project last fall with the Greater Richmond Convention Center Authority (GRCCA).
Since those one-pagers were released three months ago, another team – Richmond Community Development Partners, led by Houston-based Machete Group and Richmond development firm Bank Street Advisors – has revised its proposal to include an even taller hotel, totaling 40 stories and 450 feet in height.
That height would make the hotel 1 foot taller than the current tallest building in Richmond, the James Monroe Building, which is 26 stories but stands at 449 feet tall. The state-owned office tower along 14th Street looms beside Interstate 95 across from Main Street Station.
A 450-foot hotel would also be taller than the under-construction CoStar office tower, which is planned to total 26 stories and reach 425 feet in height above ground near Tredegar on the riverfront.
Because story sizes can vary between different commercial building types, such as between office buildings and hotels in this case, a more accurate measure and comparison of building heights is by total number of feet above ground.
Another measure is elevation, or feet above sea level, though that would not be a factor in this comparison since the City Center site is a higher elevation than the two downhill Monroe and CoStar office building sites.
A development team selection for City Center had been targeted for this summer, but is now likely to be made in the fall, officials have said. In-person meetings with teams have been held in recent weeks, and last week, the real estate committee for the Richmond Economic Development Authority, which is leading the negotiations with the GRCCA, held a closed meeting about potential disposition of several city-owned properties, including the 9-acre City Center site.
Ahead of a selection, BizSense reached out to the four contenders to discuss their proposals and approaches to the project. The two other teams – Capstone Development LLC, a Maryland-based firm that’s the hotel developer for Richmond’s Diamond District project; and Lincoln Property Co., a Dallas-based developer – did not respond to requests for interviews.
‘Having height to the hotel is pretty important’
When the city released the proposal summaries in May, the one-pager from City Center Gateway Partners stood out for its inclusion of a noticeably tall hotel, which the team said in a separate statement was envisioned to total 30 stories. The building’s height in feet was not specified.
Natalie Mason, executive vice president for development with Capital Square, said the local real estate investment firm and its teammates wanted to go big with the hotel, both to satisfy the project’s 500-room requirement but also to stand out from the pack.
“We think having height to the hotel is pretty important,” Mason said in an interview in June. “As you’re coming in on (Interstate) 64 or 95, we think it’s important that you see this new centerpiece from afar on the skyline. And a goal, of course, for the convention center authority and for the city is to really try to get 500 rooms here to support the convention goals, so that means we’re going up 30 stories.”
Tourism officials have said for years that a convention center hotel is needed because existing downtown hotels do not have the capacity to serve the convention center to its fullest potential. The hotel is expected to rise across Fifth Street from the center, on part of what’s now the Coliseum site.
The project requires demolishing the Coliseum, adaptive reuse of the neighboring Blues Armory building, and infrastructure improvements, including reconnections of Sixth and Clay streets through the site. Also required is office and retail space, new housing including lower-income units, parking and transit facilities, bicycle and pedestrian improvements, and public open space.
Mason said her team’s hotel tower would sit on a large podium with additional conference spaces to support the center. Several restaurants would also be part of the hotel, and the podium would spill out into a central park or green space.
Dining and entertainment uses are also planned for the armory building, which Mason said would be a focal point of the development.
“We really want to establish Sixth Street as the gateway into this district from downtown, and we can’t think of a better visual as you walk down the street to see this beautiful armory building lit up, abuzz with activity,” Mason said. Noting the building would open out to a rear yard, she added, “It’ll give this feel of a larger open space in the middle of the district and also put this beautiful building on display.”
Rounding out the proposal on the north side of the site would be residential buildings with ground-floor retail, and on the south side, a life sciences building that’s intended to supplement the City Center area as a so-called innovation district.
“The focus is to bring as much activity, retail and entertainment uses that are going to serve not only hotel guests and convention-goers, but are really going to be a place where Richmonders want to go regularly,” Mason said. “We love the idea of office workers in downtown Richmond not just going home at the end of the day. Now they can come to City Center, enjoy all these different offerings and this beautiful outdoor space.”
Joining Capital Square and Shamin, the Richmond area’s largest hotel operator, are team members Dantes Partners, a D.C.-based housing developer; Ancora, a North Carolina-based life sciences real estate developer; and Gold Key | PHR, a Virginia Beach-based hospitality firm that’s serving as the hotel developer along with Shamin. Capital Square is the team’s local development and capital partner.
Other team members include Gensler (master plan architect); Baskervill (design architect); OJB (park and greenspaces); VHB, F&R, Schnabel, and Clancy & Theys (site and infrastructure); Of Place (placemaking and retail); Storefront for Community Design (community visioning); J&G Workforce (workforce); and Reynolds Community College (education).
The team includes several firms that had vied for the Diamond District, a 60-acre project that includes a replacement of The Diamond baseball stadium. Capital Square and Dantes Partners were on a team called Diamond District Gateway Partners, while Shamin had been on competing team Vision300 Partners.
Mason said their City Center team was put together starting with a conversation with Shamin CEO Neil Amin.
“We knew that this (solicitation) was coming out. We weren’t sure if we were going to go after it, but once it did come out, we started reading it and talking to other people, and the more and more we discussed, the more excited we got about the possibilities,” Mason said.
Having gone through the Diamond District process, Mason said the team came away from that experience with a respect for the city’s handling of such projects and an enthusiasm to work with it if another opportunity arose.
“I think we took away from the process that the city has taken a lot of care with their planning processes and their stakeholder engagement during that time,” Mason said. “We came out of the process certainly disappointed not to go further, but with excitement that there might be other opportunities down the road. And lo and behold, City Center has presented that opportunity for us.”
‘Like nothing Richmond has ever seen’
Richmond Community Development Partners, a variation of a same-named team that was the runner-up for the Diamond District, had initially proposed in its City Center bid a shorter hotel with a pedestrian bridge across Fifth Street to the convention center. It has since revamped its proposal to include a 40-story, 450-foot-tall hotel that it says “will be a vertically amenitized destination like nothing Richmond has ever seen.”
A new rendering shows the hotel would include a rooftop venue, an infinity pool and lounge midway up the tower, a “skyline restaurant” and lounge above a podium structure, a pool and “skybar” atop the podium, a lobby with art and three stories’ worth of windows, a corner bar at Fifth and the reconnected Clay Street, and a street-facing restaurant along Clay.
Machete Group principal David Carlock, who’s leading the team along with Bank Street Advisors, described its approach and membership as reflecting “the diverse needs on this site and a keen desire to ensure what we build strikes the right balance between ambition and authenticity.”
“We want Richmonders to love and celebrate this place and for it to also live as a postcard for visitors and conference delegates experiencing the City for the first time,” Carlock said in a prepared statement.
Christian Kiniry, who leads Bank Street along with fellow principal Ed Brown, said their proposal “sees City Center as a destination for the city and, quite frankly, the East Coast – the center of the wheel with its spokes radiating outwards to all surrounding areas.”
“We took special care in recognizing this duty and the responsibility of making sure our neighbors and different parts of the city were incorporated into the plan,” Kiniry said, listing as examples Jackson Ward, the Arts District, Monroe Ward, Virginia BioTechnology Research Park and the Central Business District.
In addition to the hotel, the team’s original site plan and renderings showed a “6th Street market” beside the Blues Armory building, a park at Clay and Seventh streets, and life science buildings across Leigh Street from the VA Bio+Tech Park.
The latter would include 20,000 square feet of what’s described as “public-private life science training resource space” that would be made available to local companies and colleges, along with community engagement space for high-school and earlier student programs.
“This would be a valuable amenity to existing companies in the area and an attractive selling point for new companies,” the team said in a project description.
Also planned are colonnades along each building that Kiniry said would give pedestrians “a protected path throughout the development” and pay homage “to the historically significant Blues Armory so that the ground plane is tied together and rooted in Navy Hill’s rich urban history.”
In addition to Machete Group, a venue advisory and development management firm, and Bank Street, whose local projects include the One Canal apartments in Monroe Ward and the Soda Flats apartments under construction in Scott’s Addition, the team is also led by hotel developer and operator Highgate, Richmond development firm M Companies (historic preservation), housing developer Brinshore Development, and life sciences developer GlenLine.
The team also includes architecture firms Hanbury (master planner, urban design); Marvel and Rockwell Group (hotel architect and interior design); SMBW and KEi (design architects with Hanbury), Moseley (affordable housing), and Waterstreet and Fall Line (landscape architects with Marvel).
Rounding out the team are civil engineering firm VHB, Todd Waldo of diversity consulting firm Hugh Helen LLC, CW Consulting Group (workforce development), BRV (placemaking), Stantec (sustainability), and construction firms Gilbane Building Co., Davis Brothers Construction, Canterbury Enterprises and L.F. Jennings.
Having come up just short in its bid for the Diamond District, Carlock said this new version of the team is the result of what was built through that process. He said the experience made the team want to try again with City Center.
“Even though our proposal was not selected for the Diamond District, we were grateful to the many community members who supported us and who have become friends,” Carlock said. “It was, in large part, due to the team we built on Diamond, the relationships we made in Richmond, the opportunities we discovered and our faith in ourselves to deliver a project that will make Richmonders proud that convinced us to give it another try on City Center.”
Rounding out the field of City Center contenders are Capstone Development LLC and Lincoln Property Co.
Joining Capstone on its team are retail developer Edens, based in D.C., and Ventas, a life sciences-focused real estate investment trust out of Chicago. Capstone is hotel and residential developer on the team, which also includes Atlanta-based architecture firm Cooper Carry and Richmond-based general contractor W.M. Jordan Co.
Lincoln Property Co. is a Dallas-based development firm that is tied to two companies co-founded by former pro football great Emmitt Smith. On its team are E Smith Horizons, a subsidiary of Smith’s E Smith Legacy commercial real estate holding company, and Gold Jacket, a Miami-based development investment firm co-founded by Smith.
Rounding out the team are D.C.-based Legacy Real Estate Development; architecture firm CallisonRTKL, a subsidiary of global design firm Arcadis; and out of Richmond, civil engineering firm Timmons Group and general contractor Hourigan.