State government takes on new master plan process for Capitol Square

capitol square 1 Cropped scaled

The heart of Capitol Square as of 2022, when the new General Assembly building, top left, was still under construction. (Courtesy SkyShots Photography)

As the General Assembly prepares to convene for its 2024 session in its brand new building in Richmond next week, the state government is taking a closer look at the overall layout and development potential of Capitol Square. 

The Virginia Department of General Services has enlisted Dallas, Texas-based infrastructure consulting firm AECOM to create a new master plan for the 46-acre Capitol District downtown. The area spans dozens of state-owned buildings including the new General Assembly Building, the Virginia State Capitol, the Executive Mansion and the James Monroe tower. 

DGS issued a request for proposals for the project last summer and awarded a $509,000 contract to AECOM, the same firm that helped guide both the city’s Richmond 300 master plan, which was finalized in 2020, as well as the more recently adopted Shockoe Small Area Plan, which flanks the Capitol District to the east. 

In the RFP, the state said it’s seeking a master plan that would “provide a conceptual, philosophical, visual framework that reimagines the Capitol Square Experience for all stakeholders – be those state employees, Richmond residents, and other passersby – and capitalizes on the existing assets of the Capitol District and surrounding areas.”

The state declined to comment further until the master plan has been completed, and AECOM did not respond to requests for comment. 

8.23R Monroe 1A scaled

The state is seeking a site plan for 8 acres including the Monroe Building for a possible mixed-use, public-private development. (BizSense file photo)

The master plan process comes as the state has been plotting new homes for some of its high courts, as well as pondering the future of the James Monroe Building at 101 N. 14th St., which at 26 stories is the tallest building in the city. 

The nearly 50-year-old office tower has issues relating to its engineering infrastructure and ADA compliance, and the state has said that it would be easier to raze it and build anew rather than bring it up to modern standards. 

It remains unknown whether the Monroe tower will be demolished, but the RFP outlines what the future could hold for it, as well as the nearby Virginia Department of Transportation Annex building at 1401 E. Broad St. and the Ferguson building at 1401 E. Grace St. 

Referred to as the “Eastern Quadrant” in the RFP, the three buildings sit on 8 acres that the state envisions for a mixed-use, public-private development.

“The innovative and forward-thinking development of this site could transform the Capitol Area and Downtown Richmond,” the RFP reads. 

capitol square 2 Cropped scaled

The Capitol District spans 46 acres in the heart of downtown Richmond. (Courtesy SkyShots Photography)

According to the RFP, a master plan for Capitol Square last occurred in 2011. The state commissioned a revised plan in 2019, though that plan was never released because of major, pandemic-induced changes to the work environment for state employees. 

In 2022, the state analyzed its needs for state employees and the study revealed a “meaningful opportunity to consolidate the state’s existing footprint while supporting existing and future operations.”

The state describes Capitol Square as the “nucleus of downtown Richmond” and states that this is an opportunity to “inspire the state workforce by their placement in beautiful, functional, and cost-effective workspaces, attract tourists to the rich historical experiences emanating from the Capitol District to greater Richmond and the broader Commonwealth.”

Any development on state-owned land would not be subject to city zoning regulations. 

The RFP was issued in June and the contract with AECOM began in August. A spokesperson for DGS said they received a draft of the master plan in November and “continue to review it, receive stakeholder input and refine it before we get to a final version.”

The Department of General Services is taking on the major project without Joe Damico, who retired as director of DGS at the end of 2023. Damico had been with DGS for over 20 years and helped oversee such major state projects in Richmond as the construction of the new $292 million General Assembly building and the restoration of the Old City Hall building. 

The state already has dirt moving a bit farther west downtown, as it continues the demolition of the former Virginia Employment Commission office tower at 703 E. Main St. and an adjacent parking deck at 7 S. Seventh St. A 13-story replacement office for the Monroe Building had once been planned to rise on that site; however, those plans have since been put on hold.

capitol square 1 Cropped scaled

The heart of Capitol Square as of 2022, when the new General Assembly building, top left, was still under construction. (Courtesy SkyShots Photography)

As the General Assembly prepares to convene for its 2024 session in its brand new building in Richmond next week, the state government is taking a closer look at the overall layout and development potential of Capitol Square. 

The Virginia Department of General Services has enlisted Dallas, Texas-based infrastructure consulting firm AECOM to create a new master plan for the 46-acre Capitol District downtown. The area spans dozens of state-owned buildings including the new General Assembly Building, the Virginia State Capitol, the Executive Mansion and the James Monroe tower. 

DGS issued a request for proposals for the project last summer and awarded a $509,000 contract to AECOM, the same firm that helped guide both the city’s Richmond 300 master plan, which was finalized in 2020, as well as the more recently adopted Shockoe Small Area Plan, which flanks the Capitol District to the east. 

In the RFP, the state said it’s seeking a master plan that would “provide a conceptual, philosophical, visual framework that reimagines the Capitol Square Experience for all stakeholders – be those state employees, Richmond residents, and other passersby – and capitalizes on the existing assets of the Capitol District and surrounding areas.”

The state declined to comment further until the master plan has been completed, and AECOM did not respond to requests for comment. 

8.23R Monroe 1A scaled

The state is seeking a site plan for 8 acres including the Monroe Building for a possible mixed-use, public-private development. (BizSense file photo)

The master plan process comes as the state has been plotting new homes for some of its high courts, as well as pondering the future of the James Monroe Building at 101 N. 14th St., which at 26 stories is the tallest building in the city. 

The nearly 50-year-old office tower has issues relating to its engineering infrastructure and ADA compliance, and the state has said that it would be easier to raze it and build anew rather than bring it up to modern standards. 

It remains unknown whether the Monroe tower will be demolished, but the RFP outlines what the future could hold for it, as well as the nearby Virginia Department of Transportation Annex building at 1401 E. Broad St. and the Ferguson building at 1401 E. Grace St. 

Referred to as the “Eastern Quadrant” in the RFP, the three buildings sit on 8 acres that the state envisions for a mixed-use, public-private development.

“The innovative and forward-thinking development of this site could transform the Capitol Area and Downtown Richmond,” the RFP reads. 

capitol square 2 Cropped scaled

The Capitol District spans 46 acres in the heart of downtown Richmond. (Courtesy SkyShots Photography)

According to the RFP, a master plan for Capitol Square last occurred in 2011. The state commissioned a revised plan in 2019, though that plan was never released because of major, pandemic-induced changes to the work environment for state employees. 

In 2022, the state analyzed its needs for state employees and the study revealed a “meaningful opportunity to consolidate the state’s existing footprint while supporting existing and future operations.”

The state describes Capitol Square as the “nucleus of downtown Richmond” and states that this is an opportunity to “inspire the state workforce by their placement in beautiful, functional, and cost-effective workspaces, attract tourists to the rich historical experiences emanating from the Capitol District to greater Richmond and the broader Commonwealth.”

Any development on state-owned land would not be subject to city zoning regulations. 

The RFP was issued in June and the contract with AECOM began in August. A spokesperson for DGS said they received a draft of the master plan in November and “continue to review it, receive stakeholder input and refine it before we get to a final version.”

The Department of General Services is taking on the major project without Joe Damico, who retired as director of DGS at the end of 2023. Damico had been with DGS for over 20 years and helped oversee such major state projects in Richmond as the construction of the new $292 million General Assembly building and the restoration of the Old City Hall building. 

The state already has dirt moving a bit farther west downtown, as it continues the demolition of the former Virginia Employment Commission office tower at 703 E. Main St. and an adjacent parking deck at 7 S. Seventh St. A 13-story replacement office for the Monroe Building had once been planned to rise on that site; however, those plans have since been put on hold.

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David Adler
David Adler
4 months ago

“The state declined to comment further until the master plan has been completed, and AECOM did not respond to requests for comment. ” Does this mean that there will be no opportunity for public input?

Zach Rugar
Zach Rugar
4 months ago

Hopefully the James Monroe won’t be demolished. That would be such a waste to tear down such an iconic part of the Richmond skyline.

Michael Morgan-Dodson
Michael Morgan-Dodson
4 months ago
Reply to  Zach Rugar

Why not. They tore down 7th and Main (more than 1/2 a city block – but did need to go) with no plan now to replace, demolished the Murphy Hotel instead of restoring it but bought the hideous Verizon Tower (the inside is so 1980s) as to consolidate state offices, and they have said time and time again they are not going to retrofit/renovate Monroe. Something has to happen its conditions and systems are reaching the end of their useful if not actually working lifespan. It would be interesting to see if retrofitted or it never built twin finally constructed.

Stephen Weisensale
Stephen Weisensale
4 months ago

There is no way the twin will ever be built. The tiny floor plate (maybe 12k sf, tops) is about half of what it needs to be. Before the plan for the new building on main St was halted, it was to have roughly the same sf on half as many floors.

MARK BRANDON
MARK BRANDON
4 months ago

capitalize

Mark A. Olinger
Mark A. Olinger
4 months ago

The Capitol Square should be one of the absolute jewels of Downtown but over the past few years, have done very little to nothing to actively engage with its capital city. The list is long as to things that could be done to truly engage with the city and make it a place where people feel welcome…and as said earlier that there should be opportunities to have public input on the process and the recommendations…after all, we have helped pay for it!

George MacGuffin
George MacGuffin
4 months ago

The rather bleak Monroe Building should be converted to a “migrant” tenement tower (it already looks the part)…
“The great increase of our population throughout the Union will alone produce an important effect, and in no quarter will it be so sensibly felt as those in contemplation.” -J. Monroe

Michael Boyer
Michael Boyer
4 months ago

Richmond, with that crazy clock tower and across 95 is the grand Monroe bldg

Knut LaVine
Knut LaVine
4 months ago

I am amused by the comment:

The state describes Capitol Square as the “nucleus of downtown Richmond” and states that this is an opportunity to “inspire the state workforce by their placement in beautiful, functional, and cost-effective workspaces, attract tourists to the rich historical experiences emanating from the Capitol District to greater Richmond and the broader Commonwealth.”

With bollards, blocked streets, today’s over the top security; it is more like a fortress.

Michael Morgan-Dodson
Michael Morgan-Dodson
4 months ago
Reply to  Knut LaVine

Add in with recent agency relocations over the last decade out of the city this “nucleus” seem to becoming less functional office space and more part time meeting space for delegates.

Stephen Weisensale
Stephen Weisensale
4 months ago

Michael, you posted my exact reaction before I could type it.