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Innsbrook ushered in corporate lifestyle

In the late 1970s, there was nothing in the corporate world of Henrico County – or Greater Richmond – quite like what the mind of Sidney Gunst envisioned. Only a few years removed from college, Gunst was dreaming big.

“I had the idea that more was better,” he recalled.

Gunst’s thoughts became clearer as he traveled the country to observe office complexes, selecting pieces of what he saw elsewhere to help hone his vision for Henrico’s Far West End. He envisioned a corporate setting in which employees could feel comfortable amid lush, well-maintained surroundings; enjoy concerts, fitness trails and a library; and generally be surrounded by other like-minded people in a true community setting.


But dreams and ideas alone would not move dirt.

“I was an ambitious young 28-year-old with an idea and no money,” recalled Gunst, who at the time was working for the Pruitt family on a development project in Henrico’s Near West End.

That’s where ambition took over. Gunst approached two real estate investors – Henry Stern and David Arenstein – and sold them on his concept. With their funding and his determination, the Innsbrook Corporate Center soon came to life.

The development of Innsbrook – today an 850-acre community of more than 400 businesses, 22,000 employees, four residential subdivision, a post office, library, shops and concert venue – ranks 18th on the Henrico Citizen’s list of the 24 most significant events in Henrico history.

Bigger is better
As it turns 29 years old this month, Innsbrook is the second-largest employment center in Greater Richmond, and its development helped shape Henrico as a business-friendly county while setting in motion much of the subsequent development of the county’s West End.

Gunst’s motivation was simple.

“I wanted to go the next level of creating a live-work-play environment,” he said. “We were marketing it as the ultimate employee benefit plan.”

At the center of his concept was attractive, cohesive landscaping – something he felt was critical in order to provide the true sense of quality and community that would be key to attracting tenants. A small billboard erected at the site as its first building was being constructed in the early 1980s promised that the community would adhere to “a commitment to excellence.” Gunst was resolute in his determination to live up to that goal, implementing more stringent development and landscaping standards than Henrico County required, as a way to set the standard for western Henrico.

Though he was able to convince his key investors to come on board without much difficulty, convincing a corporate tenant to move to the far reaches of Henrico County – and away from the downtown corridor – proved much tougher.

“It was too far out, could we deliver long-term?” Gunst recalled, citing some of the common hesitancies he heard from businesses at the time. “Nobody wants to be the first one to move in.”

Finally, after two years of discussions, Gunst landed Innsbrook’s first tenant, Hewlett Packard. Construction on its facility began in late 1981, and the company moved into its new home in April 1982. Steadily, others followed. Today, Innsbrook is home to a number of major companies, including Capital One, Dominion Virginia Power, Humana Market Point, Markel Corporation, SnagAJob.com and a plethora of others.

Innsbrook 2.0
In the mid-1990s, Highwoods Properties began a five-year process of buying out the remaining sites controlled by Gunst and his investors. That process was completed by 2000, and today Highwoods controls about 30 percent of the land in Innsbrook. The rest is owned by individual owners and businesses or real estate investment groups. (Gunst owns the Innsbrook Shoppes and serves on the Innsbrook Owners Association’s board of directors.)

Though his creation has been viewed as the epicenter of Henrico’s business community for decades, Gunst said it’s far from perfect.

“I make the joke that if I had know then what I knew later, I probably wouldn’t have done it,” he said. “It was not a fully refined plan.”

That was partially the result of county zoning regulations, which limited what could be built, and partially, Gunst said, the result of his own inexperience.

But the community soon will undergo a rebirth of sorts – a transformation that Gunst believes will make it more like the type of place it should have been to begin with. “Innsbrook 2.0,” as he terms the new concept, will make the community a more fully integrated, efficient place.

The goal is to create a true mixed-use setting, with more residential and retail space in close quarters to the existing office space. With such an extensive network of infrastructure already in place, it makes sense that it should serve more purposes, Gunst said.

He hopes the end result will be an environment in which people are less reliant upon automobiles, thereby helping to create a more sustainable community.

“Why would anybody want to have 22,000 cars leaving at 5 o’clock to drive to a shopping center to take up 22,000 parking spaces, to then drive home and take up another 22,000 parking spaces?” Gunst asked. Providing people with what they need within a short distance should eliminate many of those trips, he said.

Innsbrook doesn’t need to look far to see the same type of concept already taking shape at West Broad Village, in a development Gunst views as complementary. Rocketts Landing, another mixed-use community, continues to grow at the Henrico-Richmond line.

Innsbrook’s build-out as a business center took about 30 years, and Gunst anticipates it could take at least half as long for its rebirth to be completed. Once that happens, he said, “we can double the size, because we are a credible, desirable environment.”

Despite struggling like most others during the recent recession – Innsbrook’s vacancy rate rose as high as 22 percent – the community is now enjoying an upswing, with less than 10 percent vacancy.

The community’s resilience, Gunst believes, is proof that it is more than just a place to work. And though he scoffs at the notion that Innsbrook changed the course of West End development (“I think it would have [developed] regardless,” he said), there’s no debating the role it has played in the type of development that followed.

“I hope that we created a good example for a level of quality that affected people,” Gunst said. “We wanted to create more than Broad Street frontage. The market really embraced it.”
Community

Celebrating 106 years

Former Sandston resident Mildred Taylor celebrated her 106th birthday Aug. 9. Taylor, who now lives in Powhatan, is still a member of Sandston Baptist Church. She was visited the day after her birthday by several members of the church, who played for her a recording of the entire church membership singing happy birthday to her during worship. > Read more.

YMCA breaks ground for aquatic center

YMCA officials gathered last week to break ground on the new Tommy J. West Aquatic Center at the Shady Grove Family YMCA on Nuckols Road. The center, which will featured 7,600 square feet of competitive and recreational space, including water slides, play areas for children and warmer water for those with physical limitations, is the fourth phase of a $4 million expansion at the facility. West was president and CEO of Capital Interior Contractors and a founding member of the Central Virginia Region of the Virginia Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors. > Read more.

Rotary donates to ‘Bright Beginnings’

The Sandston Rotary Club recently donated $1,000 to the Sandston YMCA for its Bright Beginnings program, which helps provide children in need with school supplies for the new school year. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Journey to mediocrity

‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’ fails to capitalize on tasty concept
The Hundred-Foot Journey is a curious little Romeo and Juliet of a film. A family, forced out of their native India, begins a trek across Europe.

The family’s sole mode of transportation sputters and dies in a sleepy little French town, but the town’s food culture is high, and that’s a perfect place for a family of restaurateurs to settle down. There’s only one problem – the family’s rustic “Maison Mumbai” is right across the street (a hundred feet away, if the title didn’t clue you in) from a prestigious French bistro with a Michelin star, run with an iron fist by the dreaded Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren, pictured).

It’s here that a particular Romeo and Juliet story begins to develop, with Hassan (Manish Dayal) on the Indian side and Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) on the French side. > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


Enjoy the final days of summer with comedian Guy Torry, the Sam’s Club National BBQ Tour or mystery writer Mary Miley Theobald at Twin Hickory Library. Another great way to welcome the beginning of fall is to check out the UR Spider Football season opener with man’s best friend. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Bottoms up

Short Pump brewery offers more than just beer
I am still (happily) thinking about my entire experience at Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery last week. Knowing nothing about this new brewery out of Denver, I was leery of brew-pub in the heart of Short Pump Town Center – this is not what I’d usually think of as a perfect fit, and yet, it was.

The restaurant and craft brewery opened in early June and features 10 beers made by female brewmaster Becky Hammond (pictured). This is the restaurant’s second location in Virginia; the first is in Arlington. Behind glass walls, customers watched the beer brewing in massive steel barrels. For our up-and-coming beer region, it makes sense that Short Pump would jump on board.

As I walked up to the back of the mall near the comedy club, I was taken aback by what I saw: at the top of the stairs was an overflowing restaurant with outdoor seating, large umbrellas and dangling outdoor lights. > Read more.

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