The Art of Reinvention: The James Center Enters a New Era

The James Center exterior evening

Constructed in 1985, The James Center — which totals 2.5 million square feet over three buildings in the heart of downtown Richmond — was, at the time, the city’s largest mixed-use project. With nearly one million square feet of Class A office space alone, the complex remains — nearly 40 years later — a hub of the city’s Central Business District. (In fact, it’s where Baskervill’s Richmond team calls home.)

Fun fact: In the 19th century, the site – between Canal and Cary Streets – was home to the Great Turning Basin of the James River and the Kanawha Canal, a critical point for the massive maritime transportation that occurred up and down the James. The Basin served as a terminal for barges carrying everything from cotton to tobacco to coffee and spices, to unload, turn around, and head back to the Atlantic. When excavation for the Center’s three-building complex began, workers uncovered what were likely abandoned barges (dating back over 200 years!) buried deep below what is now Canal Street.

Four years ago, a local developer purchased the aging complex with an ambitious plan to “dramatically update the architectural finishes of the buildings, bringing exciting new opportunities to the James Center by better connecting our office, retail and parking.”

Soon after, Baskervill was engaged to modernize and reimagine the complex’s public spaces, including a soaring pink marble-clad atrium with an outdated water feature, the lobby spaces of all buildings, and the skybridge connector linking James Center One to the buildings Two and Three. The renovation’s main goal: revitalize and renew the spaces to return the James Center to its status as the premier office building complex in Richmond.

The strategy: completely reimagine the space for the future, while celebrating its past. In addition to updates to the dated architectural features – including flooring, wall coverings and treatments, finishes, and removal of the “lazy river” – the renovation also modernized the property’s 33 elevators, added amenities like a large conference center, and improved overall circulation between the office, retail, and parking areas. ‘80s-era brass fixtures were replaced with glass and stainless steel, dark wood paneling gave way to updated artwork, and soft seating was added throughout the atrium area, inviting both tenants and guests to touch down and work at their leisure.

The owner made additional investments in several other areas during the same period to truly reposition the building, including updates to the building automation systems, garage lighting, improved cellular service and WiFi capabilities, new roofs, and exterior cleaning and restoration.

James Center Atrium before (left) and after (right)

Today, the power of transformation is evident in spaces that reflect the complex’s adaptable future. Gone is the imposing pink marble and ‘80s ambiance; in its place, clean lines and a neutral palette that draw on the influence of the nearby James River and Capitol Square. It’s hard to deny the impact of a good before-and-after, and we’re especially fond of this one.   


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