Riverwalk Anchors Yorktown’s Revival

Thu May 27, 2004 - Southeast Edition
Angela B. Hurni

Historic Yorktown, on the shores of the York River in Virginia, is being revitalized in a $12.5-million Riverwalk Landing project, which has been under construction since the beginning of the year.

Newport News, VA-based W. M. Jordan Company was awarded the design/build contract for the 7-acre (2.8-ha) waterfront development. The project includes eight new buildings, a renovated historic freight shed and a two-level parking terrace.

Riverwalk Landing will include 21,000 sq. ft. (1,890 sq m) of retail and restaurant space, including a 10,450-sq.-ft. (940.5 sq m) first class seafood restaurant with riverfront dining. Ten to twelve small retail shops ranging from 505 to 1,900 sq. ft .(45.45 to 171 sq m) also are being built. Additionally, the design incorporates public restrooms and public plazas, one featuring a small outdoor performance area.

The Riverwalk Landing project is just one part of York County’s revitalization. According to John Hudgins, York County’s Director of the Environmental and Development Services Department and Riverwalk Landing project manager, there are three major projects included in the revitalization. In addition to the Riverwalk Landing, the largest of the three projects, the second is the $2.8-million shore erosion and pier project, which includes a 395-ft. (11,850 cm) T-shaped pier built to accommodate tall ships and a small pier for recreational boaters. W.M. Jordan’s current contract includes an abutment and gate house for the two piers on the second contract.

The third contract is for the mile-long (1.6 km) pedestrian Riverwalk, a scenic brick walkway along the York River that will connect the National Park Service Visitor Center and the Yorktown Victory Center. The shore erosion/pier project and the $1.7- million Riverwalk extension have not been bid yet.

“The developing and redeveloping of the waterfront area has been going on for a period in excess of 13 years,” said Hudgins.

The revitalization of York County, according to Hudgins, could end up costing more than $25 million.

Riverwalk Landing is being developed in a historically significant area, the site where the American Revolution was won. As a result, Yorktown is visited by tourists and residents alike, and the project is meant to improve the town and enhance the waterfront for those visitors. All of the new structures will be compatible with the historic look of Yorktown, which includes the masonry and hand-molded brick facades, as well as the slate roofing.

Rancorn Wildman Architects PLC, Newport News, has provided the project’s design in the spirit of the colonial architecture that is currently seen in the town’s historic buildings. Richmond, VA-based Glave & Holmes Associates provided the design for the 270-space parking terrace and was assisted by Rancorn with the historical details in order to achieve a colonial facade for the structure.

While York County is the developer of the Riverwalk Landing project, Historic Yorktown is operated by the National Park Service. Archaeologists have worked closely with W.M. Jordan to ensure that anything historically relevant at the site will be removed and preserved. Since the beginning, archaeologists have found numerous artifacts, as well as three human skeletons and one of a horse.

The first skeleton was found along with cannonballs and smaller ordnance and is believed to be a young male who may have played a role in the historic Battle of Yorktown in 1781. The remains of the second skeleton were removed and sent to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. The third skeleton is believed to be from the first half of the 20th century and possibly a victim of a hurricane in 1933. It was found buried under a parking lot.

Bernie Taylor, project superintendent of W.M. Jordan, is enthusiastic about the job and the interesting things that the archaeologists find, which have included 16th century artifacts. He said that the construction team works closely with the archaeologists, and “they are on call in case we find something.”

Because of an agreement with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), any work performed in the roadway must be done with an archaeologist on site at all times. Taylor said, “They’ve been great. They haven’t held us up at all.”

The construction crews have been working in the early dawn hours so that visitors will not be too inconvenienced during the day. “We have lighting all over the site and have started working at two or three in the morning,” said Taylor.

Over the past several weeks, crews have been pouring concrete for the ground slab and the parking deck. The first pour, approximately 860 cu. yds. (653.6 cu m), required more than 100 truckloads –– this task also began at three in the morning.

The first floor of the parking deck, poured next, used a total of 904 cu yds (687 cu m). Branscome Concrete Inc., Newport News, is supplying the concrete for the job, and Century Concrete Inc., Virginia Beach, is providing the form work and performing the pouring and the finishing.

The construction site is located on a 100-year flood plain, and the area was hit hard during last year’s Hurricane Isabel. In order to break the flood plain, the site had to be raised an average of 3 ft. (10.5 cm). Taylor said crews had to cut into the hillside behind the parking terrace and remove thousands of cubic yards of dirt in order to raise the site.

“Hopefully, in the event of another hurricane, we will be okay and not flood,” he said.

Another water-related challenge is that the crews need to be aware of the local tide levels when performing storm water work. Taylor said “since the storm water runs out to the river, the storm water work has to be coordinated with the tides so the water doesn’t flow into the trenches.”

W.M. Jordan and its subcontractors have multiple cranes of various sizes on site at all times. Crews are using two truck cranes for steel erection and a rubber-tired hydraulic crane for installation of concrete forms and rebar on the parking terrace. Taylor confirmed that the largest on the job is a 60-ton (54 t) crane. He also said that there are three or four excavators “going at all times.”

Additional equipment used on site includes dozers, backhoes, JLG lifts, and Cat skid steer loaders, which are being used for a variety of tasks.

According to Taylor, crews use the skid steers to “sweep roads every afternoon then change the broom out to use it as a forklift. All day long it has other uses.”

Warwick Air Conditioning Inc., Hampton, VA, is the mechanical contractor for the Riverwalk Landing project, which is going to have nine buildings using the Geoexchange system. The system is touted as being a cost-effective HVAC solution and an environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional heating and cooling technologies. Since the geothermal heat pump system will be hidden under the open green space in the center of the project, the need for visible HVAC equipment is eliminated.

A total of 90 wells, roughly 250 ft. (76 m) deep apiece, will be drilled in the 210 by 75 ft. (64 by 22.8 m) well field with a total capacity of 90 tons (81 t).

“They’re using a drilling rig and putting down an average of five wells a day,” said Taylor.

Many of the mechanical systems will be concealed above the ceilings of buildings and others will be outdoor package rooftop units hidden in the roof wells. All of this improves the aesthetics of the project.

Taylor further detailed, “The design of the building has hidden everything mechanical, even vents for plumbing systems.”

A great deal is being done on the construction site to preserve landmarks that are well known in the area. One such landmark was Nick’s Seafood Pavilion, built in the 1950s and removed to make way for the project. The owner, the Mathews family, collected artifacts and statues that were displayed in the restaurant. “[Nick’s] is such an icon here,” explained Taylor, “not a day goes by that people don’t ask about it.”

The county saved another relic of the past, the terrazzo mermaid, from the floor of Nick’s and will use it in the foyer of the new restaurant. “It will be a monument to the Mathews,” said Taylor.

Another landmark, the Freight Shed Building, formerly owned by the National Park Service, will be completely renovated with 1,800 sq. ft. (162 sq m) of space for exhibits and visitor information.

Since the 1930s, the Freight Shed sat over the water and had been used as the Yorktown Post Office. The building, with walls of solid brick 1 ft. thick, was moved to the land and situated on a permanent foundation. This was all done while keeping the landmark intact. Taylor said that a house moving company moved the building from the water to the famous site of the Battle of Yorktown.

Taylor believes that the project is moving along smoothly and in a timely manner toward its April 2005 completion date.

“We’ve only just gotten started. We’ve moved very quickly, and 20 to 25 percent of the project is done,” he said.