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CarMax opening office in Lady Byrd Hat building in downtown Richmond

CarMax opening office in Lady Byrd Hat building in downtown Richmond

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Automotive retailer CarMax Inc. plans to open an office in a renovated historic building along the Canal Walk in downtown Richmond.

The new office space will be the fast-growing retailer’s first location in downtown Richmond as the chain looks to attract tech-savvy employees who like working in old buildings with open spaces, exposed beams and hardwood floors.

“Team members have the opportunity to work in a unique environment similar to a startup, but backed by the support of a large, established company,” said Shamim Mohammad, CarMax’s senior vice president and chief information officer.

CarMax is leasing space in the historic Lady Byrd Hat building at 140 Virginia St. for its new digital and technology innovation center. That space had been used by the former Toad’s Place music venue, which closed in March 2009 after two years.

The 26,000-square-feet of space downtown would accommodate between 80 and 120 CarMax employees including those working in the digital, information technology and marketing departments, the company said.

Some of those workers would relocate from CarMax’s corporate office in the West Creek office park in Goochland County, where the Fortune 500 chain has operated its 250,000-square-foot headquarters since 2005.

Others will be new employees who will be part of an initiative to hire more than 50 people for technology and digital positions, some of whom will work in the new location.

“We are looking for a variety of experience levels to develop best-in-class platforms and advance our website, mobile apps and associate platforms to help CarMax continue to deliver an unparalleled customer experience,” Mohammad said.

CarMax has job openings for a variety of technology and digital positions including application architects, security analysts and software developers. They will be charged with using innovative technology to enhance the e-commerce capabilities that CarMax offers customers, the company said.

“We ... really want to be the customer-experience leader and really expand our digital capabilities,” spokeswoman Catherine Gryp said.

The renewed focus on technology — and attracting creative, tech-savvy employees — is part of CarMax’s DNA. For instance, the first employee hired at CarMax was a computer programmer, not an auto expert.

The hope is that the Lady Byrd Hat building, with its exposed brick and hardwood floors in a historic building along the Canal Walk, will be a cool place that will help attract those techies, Gryp said.

“We’re looking for 50 technology rock stars who want to help CarMax use innovative technology to revolutionize car buying again while working in a premier workplace environment,” said Jim Lyski, CarMax’s chief marketing officer.

“We think technology and design professionals will really enjoy this cool space and it will help stimulate the creative process, which is so important in technology-based design.”

Part of the reason for leasing space downtown was to put employees in a different working environment. But another reason is that CarMax is rapidly filling up space at its corporate headquarters, where about 1,000 employees work.

The chain currently is hiring for another 80 positions there, with more likely as CarMax continues to open additional stores nationwide. Plans call for opening 13 to 16 new stores each year for the next two years.

CarMax owns 130 acres west of state Route 288 and north of Tuckahoe Creek Parkway for its corporate headquarters campus. The chain said in 2005 when it opened its offices there that it could build up to two or three more similar-sized buildings and garages — for a total of about 1 million square feet of space — as the retailer hired more corporate employees.

The retailer is still considering adding a second building at West Creek, but has no immediate plans, the company said.

CarMax signed a lease with Fulton Hill Properties to take space on the lower level, or canal level, of the Lady Byrd Hat building, and part of the main floor which had been used mostly for the former concert venue.

The building is near the Turning Basin and near the 162-unit Vistas on the James condominium development.

Built in 1894, the Lady Byrd Hat building originally housed the Virginia Paper Co. and then was home to the Lady Byrd Hat Co. in 1965.

Fulton Hill Properties transformed the 52,000-square-foot building into offices and an entertainment venue in the late 1990s.

CarMax joins other tenants, including Butler Royals, The Roseline Financial Group and Off the Hookah restaurant and nightclub.

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