Fed Building Gets Stronger, Faces Vacancies 

click to enlarge street42_federal_reserve_100.jpg

Soon after 9/11, the Federal Reserve Bank Building in Richmond emerged in media reports as a potential terrorist target. The concern seemed founded. After all, the aluminum-clad, downtown office tower is home to one of only 12 such banks in the country. The 26-story building also happened to have been designed by the same renowned architect who helped design the World Trade Center, Minoru Yamasaki.

Five years later, signs of increased security at the Richmond building are obvious, and more confidential safety measures are being implemented behind the scenes. But was the building ever truly a terrorist target? And how has the perception of danger affected leasing within the building?

The reported threats against the building were only rumors, says Laura Fortunato, a spokeswoman for Richmond's Federal Reserve Bank, which sits on Byrd Street between Seventh Street and the Manchester Bridge.

"There had been some erroneous reports in the media at that time," she says. "That didn't play out, that there had been any specific threat to this bank."

Nor are security upgrades at the building tied directly to 9/11, she says. The Richmond building, along with the entire Federal Reserve system, stepped up security following the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. The Richmond building gained fencing, barriers fashioned from large boulders, and the type of entry screening found at airports. Those improvements were completed last year, just in time to start phase two.

Some of the obvious construction work stems from routine maintenance, such as re-facing marble walls. Passersby also may notice a new canine team patrolling the perimeter and sniffing deliveries and construction materials. Beyond that, Fortunato says she can't divulge details of this second phase of security upgrades.

"You always want to enhance and upgrade the security barrier," she says. "But as technology changes, there are different things we can do to strengthen our security here."

At the low-tech end of the spectrum, real estate experts say, the building benefits from its position on a large piece of land as well as from its self-sufficiency.

"It's an absolute island," says Mark Douglas, a senior vice president at Thalhimer/Cushman & Wakefield in Richmond. "It's a fort. You can do everything but sleep there. It's got food, onsite property management, a weight room with showers and lockers, underground parking."

Two law firms take up 51,000 square feet within the building. One of them, Hirschler Fleischer, needs more space and will move out next year, Fortunato says. The other firm, LeClair Ryan, houses four of its attorneys there on the 16th floor and has expressed a desire to renew its lease, Fortunato says. Bank officials are just now starting to market the space that will be vacated by Hirschler Fleischer.

"We don't anticipate a problem," Fortunato says. "There's interest."

The Federal Reserve building isn't alone among downtown office towers facing high vacancy rates. The Bank of America Tower, for example, has more than 127,000 square feet of available office space, according to real estate industry data. The 20-story Eighth & Main Building has 120,000 square feet available, while the six-story Richmond Plaza, across the street from the Federal Reserve, has about 21,000 square feet available. ,b>S,/b>

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