Is CarMax’s New Downtown Outpost a Sign of Things to Come For Richmond? 

click to enlarge The man who made Innsbrook, Sidney Gunst Jr., has his eye on the trends.

Scott Elmquist

The man who made Innsbrook, Sidney Gunst Jr., has his eye on the trends.

CarMax made headlines two weeks ago with its plans to lease 26,000 square feet in the 1894-era Hat Factory building at the Canal Walk for technology specialists and other workers. It’s a foray into downtown for the Henrico County-based used car outlet with a national reach.

How big of a trend is this?

To get some perspective, Style spoke with developer Sidney J. Gunst Jr., who, at the age of 28 in 1979, completely changed the Richmond area’s landscape. He gave suburban growth a huge boost by developing 291 acres of farmland into Innsbrook, which was quickly occupied by companies looking for office-park settings.

His move, in turn, anchored big, expensive subdivisions that gave rise to Short Pump and other areas while expanding the metropolitan area’s reach to new borders.

Style: How do you see CarMax’s plans to locate some of its technical functions at the Hat Factory? Does it portend a back-to-the-city movement?

Gunst: I am acutely aware of this phenomenon. It is related to what the millennials want. They want a total experience. It is about work, life and play that is different from the suburbs.

How pervasive is this?

You are seeing infill development. Innsbrook is approved by [Henrico] County to be mixed-use although it hasn’t happened yet, but it’s going to happen.

What are some of the problems in dealing with the trend?

It’s been running counter to zoning ordinances forever which promote separate uses and low-density development and necessitated driving. Millennials like suburbs and the schools but they want a different experience.

Is there data available showing how big the back-to-Richmond movement is?

No. There really hasn’t been enough of it yet, but it’s enough to show a trend. It shows the need to reflect on lifestyles. Developers, counties and companies need to know this. You can’t decree economic success. The market decides.

How long will it last?

You are seeing lifestyle changes. The companies are not driving this. Younger people under 30 are the ones that they need to hire. This is a nationwide phenomenon. It’s not the end of suburbs. It’s the end of nonintegrated use. S


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