Dominion gets new digs downtown … 

Street Talk

Dominion Expands Downtown OfficesFear Race Crowd? Rise Above ItGraffiti Spree Puzzles PoliceShirley Plantation Plans Polo Field

Dominion Expands Downtown Offices

The city can expect another 1,100 employees downtown, thanks to some consolidation at Richmond-based Dominion.

The energy company has put its building in Innsbrook up for sale and plans to move the employees who work there into its three downtown buildings, one of them the former headquarters of Fort James Corp., which moved its headquarters out of state in 1998. Dominion recently announced the news in an internal memo.

City Hall officials, naturally, are pleased to hear the news. "Hot dog!" city spokeswoman Michele Quander-Collins exclaims over the phone when informed of Dominion's decision. "Can you see me leaping out of my chair?"

In 1998, Dominion paid $18.5 million for the former Fort James complex, which includes the six-story, 95,000-square-foot building at 120 Tredegar St. and the three-story Pump House building.

Dominion says the move is a matter of efficiency. "Well, we've got additional space downtown," says Jim Norvelle, a company spokesman, "and we'd just like to get all our folks together."

The employees currently filling the company's suburban office park location, the Innsbrook Technical Center, include those who work in the nuclear, fossil and hydro groups — Dominion's energy-generating divisions — and in Dominion's energy-trading arm.

The Innsbrook building also houses the company's systems-operations center and includes a large telecommunications tower. It would, Norvelle hints broadly, make a great new home for a high-tech company.

Plus, a new tenant would likely have a reliable power supply. "Oh yeah," Norvelle says. "No problem there."

Once the Innsbrook building sells, it will take another two to three years to move the 1,100 employees. There's room for them at the company's tower building at Seventh and Cary streets, the Grayland Avenue location in the Fan, and at the former Fort James complex.

In addition to the people-shuffling, Norvelle says, Dominion may undertake some expansion and renovation projects as well.

Jason Roop

Fear Race Crowd? Rise Above It

Some people are simply above carpooling to the Strawberry Hill Steeplechase Races. They prefer arriving by turbo-power.

One of them is Richard MacDonald, an aerial photographer and Web designer. He went to the races for the first time last year and got hooked.

But that was also the year that Atlantic Rural Exposition Inc., which sponsors the races, moved the venue to Colonial Downs. Traffic along I-64 was a mess, heavy rains obliterated parking, and hundreds of race-goers were turned away.

At this year's race, scheduled for April 14, race organizers hope to avoid all that by charging for the carload to encourage carpooling. But that's not good enough for MacDonald. He's over the traffic — or at least he will be.

MacDonald is coordinating rides to the race by helicopter.

He got the idea from Rob Roberts, a pilot for HeloAir Inc., which is a client of MacDonald's company, New Media Systems. Roberts, who often flies people back and forth to NASCAR events, thought of the solution last year. "I just blurted it out, half-jokingly: Next year, just fly in," Roberts recalls.

After all, Colonial Downs has its own helipad for landing. So MacDonald crunched the numbers with HeloAir and developed a plan.

The lifts cost $225 per person, which includes admission to the race. As it stands, there are a few seats left in the three jet helicopters — a Bell JetRanger, LongRanger and Bell 407 — that will fly to Colonial Downs by 11 a.m. and leave sometime after 6 p.m. (Race organizers are restricting the flying times.)

"This is just going to add to the adventure," says MacDonald, who's taking reservations at 323-9007. More information is available at www.newmediasystems.net.

Of course, there's no room for coolers on the chopper. That's why MacDonald is getting two friends to truck in his group's food and beverages — and brave I-64.

J.R.

Graffiti Spree Puzzles Police

On March 15, residents of a Fan neighborhood were stunned to find at least 30 cars sprayed with graffiti.

One resident, who asks that his identity be withheld for fear of copycat crimes, found that his BMW had been tagged. It had been parked in its regular place behind an apartment building at Strawberry and West Grace streets. The owner of the car says he hardly recognized his vehicle.

"It's really odd," he says. "The person had to be at least 6 feet tall or stand on top of the car to do it."

The lights had been painted over in green, red and yellow. A long, careful stripe had been painted, too, from the front of the car to the back. The BMW logo had been fastidiously spray-painted over. Not a dribble of paint had strayed outside the logo.

The car owner was one of at least 30 Fan residents who live near Grace and the Boulevard who called police from midnight to 8 a.m. to report similar incidents, says Richmond Police spokeswoman Christy Collins. So far, police have few clues.

The cost of the damage per vehicle is estimated to be between $500 to several thousand dollars, Collins says. That racks up a collective bill of at least $15,000.

It was a peculiar kind of graffiti job, the car owner says, one that seems to have been done carefully, slowly and likely by several culprits. "There was a plan, and it definitely had to involve more than one person," the Fan resident says.

No witnesses have turned up. Police encourage anyone with information about the crimes to call Crime Stoppers at 780-1000 or the property-unit division of the Northwest Customer Service Zone at 646-1166.

Collins says police are eager to catch the culprit or culprits. "This is just malicious property damage," Collins says. "Pure vandalism."

Brandon Walters

Shirley Plantation Plans Polo Field

Looking for another place to play polo? Soon you — and your horse — will be able to take a 45-minute drive from Richmond to Shirley Plantation in Charles City.

The 10th-generation owners of the 700-acre plantation, which dates from 1613, are investing about $50,000 to create a polo field as part of a plan to restore some of their land and boost their ability to hold special events.

Charles Carter, who owns and operates the plantation with his sister, Harriet Carter Pittman, came up with the idea. He didn't know much about polo until a mallet-swinging neighbor invited him to a game last summer.

Carter was thrilled to see the action: eight people on a field maneuvering half-ton animals at 30 miles an hour. "These people are crazy," he remembers thinking. "It's not quite ice hockey with horses, but it's a lot of speed."

Meanwhile, the plantation was in the middle of some land-improvement projects and had some construction equipment on hand. There was also lots of room for a polo field, which requires 12 1/2 acres, or an area the size of about 14 football fields.

So Carter started working. This week, if the weather permits, he hopes to finish grading, rock-picking and seeding the field to have Bermuda grass growing by June. "Once the grass is on it," he says, "I'll breathe a big sigh of relief."

Central Virginia's polo clubs are excited by the news, Carter says. Other popular fields are in Charlottesville, Virginia Beach and near Fredericksburg. So Shirley's field would be a central spot. Of course, there's also former Heilig-Meyers boss Bill DeRusha's field in Goochland County, where the Commonwealth Cup — the polo match with the highest attendance in the country — is held annually.

But by the fall, Carter thinks the plantation will be able to hold a polo event of its own — that is, after it serves as host of a Civil War re-enactment.

And when there aren't any events, Carter's neighbor will have a field day, Carter says: "He's got the best practice field in the planet, basically, all to himself."

J.R.

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