Industries Commercial Real Estate

Best Mixed-Use Project

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Wells Fargo Center, 440 Monticello Ave., Norfolk

S.L. Nusbaum Realty Co.

Nusbaum partners leading the project:
Tom Johnson and Alan Nusbaum

Davis Carter Scott Ltd.
Clancy & Theys Construction Co.

The year was 2006, and three of downtown Norfolk’s largest companies needed space to grow.  With the vacancy rate in the Class A office market ranging from 6 percent to 8 percent, there wasn’t much to choose from.  “There wasn’t another office in downtown Norfolk that had the space to accommodate any of our three firms that all needed 30,000 square feet or more,” says Tom Johnson, a senior vice president and partner with S.L. Nusbaum Realty Co.

So his firm joined forces with accounting firm Goodman & Co. (now Dixon Hughes Goodman) and law firm Willcox & Savage and decided to construct a new building.  They approached the city of Norfolk for help. The result of the public-private partnership is the 22-story, $160 million Wells Fargo Center.

Opened last year, the center is the first major mixed-use project in the port city. It’s also the first office building in Hampton Roads to achieve gold certification under the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

Altogether, Wells Fargo offers two parking garages with 1,850 spaces, 255,000 square feet of office space, 50,000 square feet of retail space and 121 apartments.  With a location next to the region’s premiere shopping mall, MacArthur Center,  a stop along Norfolk’s new light-rail system and views of the Elizabeth River, it’s easy to see why the office portion is 75 percent leased and apartments are moving fast. Out of 32 apartments available for rent, Johnson says 18 are gone to tenants including everyone from students to young professionals and seniors.  The rest of the units are expected to be ready later this month.

The reason the Wells Fargo Center is doing so well, he says, is because the project makes sense. “It’s not just a mixed-use development conceived and plopped down in a suburban site. Downtown Norfolk is a mixed-use district. It’s the financial center, the cultural center and the retail center of the area.”

The project did see challenges along the way.  It got off to a strong start with Norfolk donating four acres of land. Plus, the city paid $50 million to construct the parking garages, for which tenants pay fees to the city.  In addition to the three original companies that signed on for space, Wachovia Bank agreed to move into the new project from its office in Norfolk’s World Trade Center, and it provided much of the financing for the project.
But then Wachovia was bought out by Wells Fargo. “Two months after we closed on the construction of the office building, the CEO of Wachovia was fired,” recalls Johnson. “Three months after that, Wachovia was taken over by Citigroup for one week. Then Wells Fargo bid a higher price and acquired them, so that was a bit of a stressful time for us.”

Of all things Johnson likes about the center, the mechanical penthouse is probably his favorite.  It contains a light fixture with the ability to project 16.7 million colors “of every shade, level of intensity and tone you can think of” across the building’s tower. “On Memorial Day weekend, the top was red, white and blue.” With all that firepower, it’s no wonder Wells Fargo is viewed as a beacon of downtown Norfolk’s continuing revitalization.

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