A $300 million makeover of state buildings along Capitol Square includes a new parking deck with 500 spaces but none, so far, planned for the public.
Instead, the deck at North Ninth and East Broad streets will provide parking for employees of state agencies and the General Assembly, whose members will be able to use a tunnel planned beneath Ninth Street to connect with a new legislative building on the cleared site of the General Assembly Building.
Or that was the plan presented last week to the state Art and Architectural Review Commission.
“It’s not off the table that there could be some visitor or other private parking,” Joe Damico, director of the Virginia Department of General Services, told the commission.
The commission found little to love about the state’s first stab at creating something visually striking for a building that is mostly parking deck.
“To me, this is a classic example of a boring building,” said Tom Papa, founder and managing director of Fountainhead, a real estate development and management company in South Richmond.
In contrast, the commission lavished praise a year ago on the initial design of the new General Assembly Building, soon to begin rising on the southeast corner of the intersection. The 15-story building is the centerpiece of a bond package that includes the deck and the restoration of Old City Hall, facing Capitol Square next to the new legislative complex.
It’s all about the location — at a heavily traveled intersection at the gateway to downtown Richmond and Capitol Square, with a glut of historic buildings.
“You could not have a more critical location,” said Calder Loth, a retired state architectural historian, who counted 10 or more registered historic landmarks in the vicinity of what is now a vacant gravel lot.
“It should look like it belongs,” Loth told the state-hired architect for the project, Bob Burns, principal at Commonwealth Architects in Richmond.
The commission also is concerned about what uses will occupy the first floor of the building the deck is in, which will have six floors above ground and one below that together will encompass almost 50,000 square feet.
Currently, the state plans to house state agencies on the first floor of the building, but the commissioners said they would like something that generates more street life on the sidewalks along Broad and Ninth streets.
“I just hope this isn’t going to be another dead zone at a very important street crossing,” Loth said.
Damico, whose agency oversees development and maintenance of state government buildings, said the state needs more space for its agencies. The roughly 7,000 square feet of space at street level on Broad is envisioned for agencies with heavy foot traffic, he said, although he did not rule out potential retail uses.
“We want to make sure we meet the needs of state agencies, both executive branch and legislative branch,” he said.
Legislators are temporarily occupying the Pocahontas Building on the south side of Capitol Square until a new General Assembly Building opens in 2022. They say they haven’t delved into the details of the new deck, including whether parking would be available to the public, especially during busy legislative sessions.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, said he had assumed that the public would use parking spaces beneath the Library of Virginia, across Broad Street, that previously had been reserved for legislators during the sessions.
“We haven’t specifically discussed it,” Jones said Monday.
Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, who also is co-chairman of the Finance Committee, said he hasn’t been involved in discussions about the plans, but emphasized, “We need to make the Capitol more accessible and user friendly to the public.”
“Some retail would stimulate some activity, especially if a variety of eating options were included,” Norment said.
The commission ultimately approved the plan, but with expectations for changes and more details, including lighting, color, building materials and use of salvaged artifacts from the old Murphy Hotel, which stood on the site and later contained state offices.
“We’re trying not to get too far ahead of the General Assembly Building,” said Commonwealth Architects’ Burns.