Jump to content

I miss RVA

Breaking Richmond's Height "Barrier"

Recommended Posts

Guys:

For years I've questioned why Richmond seems as if she has a "cap" on the height of highrises. Obviously i don't think anyone has placed a real, arbitrary limit on how tall a building in downtown Richmond can be - but it is interesting that Richmond has never had a 30-plus story/500-plus-foot tall building constructed - and new projects are generally in the 18-22 story range (11-14 stories for residential buildings).

Aside from "what the market will bear" - why is this? Aside from the new Dominion tower, Richmond's tallest highrises were all built in the mid-late '70s to mid '80s. Yet cities like Charlotte (and even Raleigh) have long-eclipsed the 30-story/500-plus foot mark. Raleigh has one building at 32 stories (538 feet) and two proposed buildings to reach 40 floors. Charlotte has long had the 60-story Bank of America building (871 feet), a 50-story  building and five more at least 40-stories tall. She has seven buildings taller than 500-feet, including the BoA building, and towers at 786-feet, 659-feet and 632-feet tall. A 40-story, 660-foot tower is under construction as well.

WHEN will this kind of development come to Richmond? Aside from the standard "market-factors" answer, what needs to happen for Richmond to finally see buildings of this size start to rise downtown? Will the 12-story height restriction in area zoned for transit ever be eliminated - and if so, will we finally see 30-40 (or taller) residential buildings built in our lifetime?

Since it's a slow "news time" from the project standpoint, I thought i would throw this question onto the stage and so we can discuss and debate.

Edited by I miss RVA
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites


Most downtown development blocks are about 1/2 the size of those in Atlanta and Charlotte. I'm no structural engineer, but the smaller area means fewer pilings / structural supports. 

There are also safety considerations -  ie the emergency response times of the nearest fire station - this is determined by the station's location, vehicle capability, and the ladder heights.  Imagine having to get to the top of a 40-story building in 3 minutes using the stairs - ugh.

Edited by vaceltic
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 minute ago, vaceltic said:

Most downtown development blocks are about 1/2 the size of those in Atlanta and Charlotte. I'm no structural engineer, but the smaller area means fewer pilings / structural supports. 

Good point re: pilings/supports - however, significantly taller buildings than those in Charlotte or Atlanta are constructed in Manhattan or here in Chicago on parcels that are smaller than the development blocks used for buildings in southern cities. It doesn't take an entire city block to build a 50-story building. The footprints don't necessarily have to be huge. Richmond physically can handle much larger towers.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 minutes ago, vaceltic said:

Most downtown development blocks are about 1/2 the size of those in Atlanta and Charlotte. I'm no structural engineer, but the smaller area means fewer pilings / structural supports. 

If anything, smaller lots should equate to requiring more height.  While newer Southern towers do tend to be block-sized vertical office parks, you can find much slimmer tall towers in many of the Northeastern cities with less land availability.

From my understanding, our issue is not a set height limit but an effective limit due to setback requirements:

Quote

Sec. 30-440.6. Height.

For purposes of this section, story height shall not be less than ten feet nor greater than 15 feet, except that the ground floor of a building may be of greater height. Height regulations in the B-4 district shall be as follows: (1) Maximum height. There shall be no maximum height limit in the B-4 Central Business District, provided that no portion of a building shall penetrate an inclined plane originating at the centerline of each abutting street and extending over the lot at an inclination of one foot horizontal for each four feet vertical

If I recall, our blocks are usually around 120 ft long, resulting in a max height at center of 480 ft.

http://www.richmondgov.com/PlanningAndDevelopmentReview/documents/ZoningOrdinance2020.pdf

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
25 minutes ago, Icetera said:

If anything, smaller lots should equate to requiring more height.  While newer Southern towers do tend to be block-sized vertical office parks, you can find much slimmer tall towers in many of the Northeastern cities with less land availability.

From my understanding, our issue is not a set height limit but an effective limit due to setback requirements:

If I recall, our blocks are usually around 120 ft long, resulting in a max height at center of 480 ft.

http://www.richmondgov.com/PlanningAndDevelopmentReview/documents/ZoningOrdinance2020.pdf

So the city is effectively capping it. That's it then. If you look at a lot of the buildings in Charlotte, they rise vertically - no step-back setbacks. The BoA does have some setback but nothing as draconian as what we are seeing in the Richmond ordinance.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Outside of the economics (which is a huge part of it), Charlotte has a tall skyline because of ego driven projects of the 80s-90s.  It was two competing banks trying to have the nicer building.  Similar to Chrysler Tower and Empire State Building.  Have another large private company move to town that wants to outshine Dominion and you’ll get a larger skyline. 

Edited by rjp212
  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A lot of cities seem to have bulked up their skylines in the 80s and then not changed much. For example, look at Columbus and Indianapolis, which have taller buildings than Richmond but really have not had much significant change. 

Taller additions to the skyline would do a lot for the psyche of the city in terms of a "big league" mindset. These things seem to be the result of unseen economic forces. For example, New York's recent development frenzy seems very unnatural.

Unfortunately, I think there are some terrifying things happening on the global economic front that could really halt a lot of development everywhere. 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A lot of the lack of height in Richmond has to do with property values downtown. The higher land values are, the more residential units and office space developers will have to build on each lot in order to make up for the cost of the lot. Land values in the CBD will have to increase, otherwise it won’t make sense for developers to build tall (unless they want to make a statement). 

Edited by blopp1234
  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, rjp212 said:

Have another large private company move to town that wants to outshine Dominion and you’ll get a larger skyline. 

I agree there. It seems to all go back to recruitment and marketing -- something Charlotte and other cities have been doing quite well for decades now. It could be a LOT  stronger in Richmond, to be sure. The "chicken-and-egg" scenario comes into play tho -- really big companies usually look for amenities such as a large-enough, well-connected-enough airport, good transportation/transit options, and obviously financial incentives when relocating cities. Of course, to have sufficient business-attractive amenities usually requires a city have reached a sufficient size (population) to build the necessary infrastructure. i'm not sure how well Richmond is (right now!) can stack up with the Charlottes and even Raleighs of the world. Not that this is make-or-break, but both Charlotte and Raleigh offer professional sports on a major league level. Raleigh has benefited from having the NHL to be sure.

Like the old commercial for Avis - we need to try harder!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, I miss RVA said:

So the city is effectively capping it. That's it then. If you look at a lot of the buildings in Charlotte, they rise vertically - no step-back setbacks. The BoA does have some setback but nothing as draconian as what we are seeing in the Richmond ordinance.

Keep in mind, a serious developer could always request a variance to zoning rules/ordinances, so I doubt that setback requirements are a true underlying reason for the height barrier. I agree with the points made about property values and psyche. At this time where property in the CBD is cheap, it is still more economical for a Dominion to build out a campus-style or multi-building set up rather than go totally vertical where costs increase exponentially. I'm sure if the desire to create something iconic, or a need was there, it could happen.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Property values downtown aren’t cheap though. They are generally the highest in the region. Have you guys tried to buy a site downtown recently?

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

True - downtown property values aren't cheap relatively speaking - but also relatively speaking, they're not so expensive that say a Dominion would carve up a block into 3 or 4 parcels and individual developers would come in an wedge highrises of varying sizes/heights on the block - something common in jam-packed cities like New York or Chicago (I realize no comparison -- total apples and oranges -- but you get the idea).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

We also need higher rents (and companies / residents  willing to pay the rents) to support the significantly higher construction costs for real high-rise development. 

Edited by wrldcoupe4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Personally, I would rather see more similar height towers built along Broad and Navy Hill in order to beef up the northern end of the skyline.  With the incline, they would greatly increase the perceived height from the iconic Southern view while making Richmond actually visible from the North.  It would be nice to have a signature tower of about 40 floors around the potential 2nd Dominion Tower site (gut some parking decks if DE2 happens?) or old City Center site and progressively step down in height West through Monroe Ward, connecting the Franklin spine of residential towers.

Granted, as the Manchester skyline develops, adding height around Gambles Hill would no longer look out of place from views other than from the South-West (which lacks a major approach).

Edited by Icetera
  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was thinking this morning (I know, it’s scary when I start thinking) and even if Richmond builds taller towers with the companies it already has downtown or in the surrounding counties, I can think of two possible companies, that if they were to partner up on filling a single tower downtown, would possibly serve as quite the signature tower downtown.  The two companies are CoStar and Atlantic Union Bank. I know CoStar is in the market to expand office space and Atlantic Union might be able to be enticed to join up with CoStar and occupy the same tower (a newly built, tall tower).  Both companies seem like they would be “flashy” enough to go for a home less modest and might be able to afford a higher square footage rate if a developer would build them a tower. Both could sport their names on it, etc.  A good plan, right...maybe?!  It would be great if Atlantic Union would consolidate all of their operations around town into a single tower downtown...gee, combined with CoStar, we are looking at a tower that could hold as many as 5K+ or so people. That would not be a small or short tower.  Maybe my thinking is reckless and this could never happen, but I wonder if anyone has even thought of doing this?  Just a thought.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 3/6/2020 at 9:25 AM, Icetera said:

Personally, I would rather see more similar height towers built along Broad and Navy Hill in order to beef up the northern end of the skyline.  With the incline, they would greatly increase the perceived height from the iconic Southern view while making Richmond actually visible from the North.  It would be nice to have a signature tower of about 40 floors around the potential 2nd Dominion Tower site (gut some parking decks if DE2 happens?) or old City Center site and progressively step down in height West through Monroe Ward, connecting the Franklin spine of residential towers.

Granted, as the Manchester skyline develops, adding height around Gambles Hill would no longer look out of place from views other than from the South-West (which lacks a major approach).

Agreed - we need height along Broad and something along the lines of what was proposed in the NH project - a good mix of office, dense, highrise residential and a signature top-tier hotel (a Hyatt Regency would be a fantastic gain for Richmond). I was particularly intrigued by the idea of a 20-story residential tower at 4th and Broad where the old G.C. Murphy once was. Of course, the preservationists have a lock-down on much of Broad Street west of fourth, so it will be difficult to see a real transformation of the avenue itself - still, that area needs to beef up and get taller and more dense.

Icetera, i also would like to see the City Center block turned into an epic signature tower -- or even the multi-tower complex originally envisioned. that project had height, two (connected) towers and good mixed use. Ultimately, i'd like to see zoning that allows for unlimited height expanded. Is Monroe Ward currently zoned only for the 12-story max or is that just limited to Gamble's Hill and the immediate riverfront relative to Monroe Ward?

Talk about a sea of parking lots that, if converted to high-density highrise development could totally transform downtown 

The CoStar/Atlantic Union idea is really good. The question is -- would they do it?

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
21 minutes ago, KJHburg said:

I have said this in the Nashville and Raleigh forums when this is brought up (Nashville bemoans it can't get another building over 500 feet (they have 2)  and Raleigh which has one over 500 feet.)  Charlotte has 7 soon to be 8.   I  am sure a developer in Virginia would love to build a tall tower in Richmond but it does get to who would lease it and fill it?   Charlotte's growth has been driven by our financial industry which requires lots of office space so when a bank moves around they anchor a new tower.  Bank of America leased almost 600,000 in their new Bank of America Tower at Legacy (632 feet)  Ally Bank is consolidating to a 26 story building across the street with over 712,000 sq ft.  our big power company Duke Energy is consolidating into a 1 Million sq ft 660 foot tower underway now.  The point is that Charlotte has huge office space users Wells Fargo, Duke, BofA, Ally, US Bank and they all require lots of space.  

Raleigh is fast growing city yet they don't have as many tall buildings by a long shot as Charlotte.  Their tech companies are split between suburbs and some downtown but even they don't use this kind of space.  The State of NC does require a lot of space but like most governments is looking for the cheapest space options and would never anchor a brand new high rise building. This is true for Nashville and the TN state govt. too.  The Commonwealth of VA built a taller building than most states ever would consider in the James Monroe Bldg (even huge Texas does not have a high rise for state employees that tall)    The 2nd tallest building in VA is now the Capital One Tower up in Tysons and again it is a bank.  Tall buildings are expensive to build and you have to have tenants willing to pay for them.  It took San Antonio another fast growing city 30 years to get a new high rise office tower built in downtown.  Downtown Tampa almost 20 years.    Tech companies and financial firms are key to new high rises if you look around the country now.  Yes sometimes hotels or condos and apartments but a 30 story hotel is never as tall as newly built 30 story office tower.  Imagine if Capital One's offices out in the west suburbs were built in a high rise downtown for it would be pretty tall I would think. (My friend used to work there and I know it is huge) 

So the key who would be the end user that could commit to a big chunk of the space and be willing to pay for it?  (Somethings legal firms will do this and Richmond has some large law firms) 

Dominion could have but they split it into two buildings. 

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 5/18/2020 at 7:39 PM, KJHburg said:

I have said this in the Nashville and Raleigh forums when this is brought up (Nashville bemoans it can't get another building over 500 feet (they have 2)  and Raleigh which has one over 500 feet.)  Charlotte has 7 soon to be 8.   I  am sure a developer in Virginia would love to build a tall tower in Richmond but it does get to who would lease it and fill it?   Charlotte's growth has been driven by our financial industry which requires lots of office space so when a bank moves around they anchor a new tower.  Bank of America leased almost 600,000 in their new Bank of America Tower at Legacy (632 feet)  Ally Bank is consolidating to a 26 story building across the street with over 712,000 sq ft.  our big power company Duke Energy is consolidating into a 1 Million sq ft 660 foot tower underway now.  The point is that Charlotte has huge office space users Wells Fargo, Duke, BofA, Ally, US Bank and they all require lots of space.  

Raleigh is fast growing city yet they don't have as many tall buildings by a long shot as Charlotte.  Their tech companies are split between suburbs and some downtown but even they don't use this kind of space.  The State of NC does require a lot of space but like most governments is looking for the cheapest space options and would never anchor a brand new high rise building. This is true for Nashville and the TN state govt. too.  The Commonwealth of VA built a taller building than most states ever would consider in the James Monroe Bldg (even huge Texas does not have a high rise for state employees that tall)    The 2nd tallest building in VA is now the Capital One Tower up in Tysons and again it is a bank.  Tall buildings are expensive to build and you have to have tenants willing to pay for them.  It took San Antonio another fast growing city 30 years to get a new high rise office tower built in downtown.  Downtown Tampa almost 20 years.    Tech companies and financial firms are key to new high rises if you look around the country now.  Yes sometimes hotels or condos and apartments but a 30 story hotel is never as tall as newly built 30 story office tower.  Imagine if Capital One's offices out in the west suburbs were built in a high rise downtown for it would be pretty tall I would think. (My friend used to work there and I know it is huge) 

So the key who would be the end user that could commit to a big chunk of the space and be willing to pay for it?  (Somethings legal firms will do this and Richmond has some large law firms) 

This is good analysis!

  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.