‘Best’-laid plans forming

Consultant analyzing uses for building
A consulting firm is working to help Henrico County officials determine the best way to utilize the former Best Products headquarters building, located at Parham Road and I-95, which the county purchased last December for $6.2 million.

The county hired the Washington, D.C. office of architecture and design firm Gensler this summer to conduct a study of the 93-acre site and county agencies that could be relocated there. The firm expects to complete its study and make recommendations by April, Henrico General Services Director Chris Winstead told the Citizen last week.

County officials jumped at the chance to acquire the site, which was vacated by Best Products in 1998 and later used by Bank of America until 2010. It features 286,000 square feet of usable office space – more than what exists at the county’s western government center and annex on Parham Road.

“It’s exciting for us,” Winstead said of the possibilities for the building. “It’s a great opportunity. The reason we exist is to serve our citizens. Whatever happens at Best Plaza, it’s going to be something focused on, ‘How do we better serve our citizens in the years ahead?’”

Officials from Gensler and its local partner firm, BCWH, have been interviewing and surveying officials from each county agency viewed as a potential fit for the Best site – those whose needs are limited primarily to office space – Winstead said.

After receiving Gensler’s recommendation in the spring, county officials will hire an architectural firm to design the first phase of occupancy. (Officials intend to move agencies into the building in several phases rather than all at once, Winstead said.)

In addition to providing centralized space for a number of county agencies, the Best building will provide Henrico with relief from rental fees. The county currently leases about 141,000 square feet of office space at 12 different locations to house various departments, Winstead said.

“There would be a sizable reduction in the amount of leased space over time,” Winstead said. “Certainly, that is an opportunity for us, and we’re definitely sensitive to that. We see this as a very good opportunity to map out a plan for many, many years to come.”

Freeing up office space at the county’s western government center could provide opportunity for the expansion of the county’s courthouse, which is quickly outgrowing its space there. For nearly a decade, county officials have discussed the need for a new courthouse, but the price tag has been estimated at more than $80 million. Without a bond referendum, no funding for such a facility expense exists.

The Best Products building was built in three phases during an eight-year period, beginning in 1977. In addition to office space, the complex includes a cafeteria, jogging trails and a softball field.

The building itself features an open floor plan, Winstead said, with an atrium that is several stories in height. The facility is in relatively good shape, he said, but a number of improvements will be necessary before county employees move in.

Officials also intend to upgrade the site to make it more energy efficient, Winstead said.
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