From a.a. adams to urban outfitters business electricity allergy


Urban Outfitters’ store designers loved the look of the old plaster, which is still clinging to the wall – a mashup of a faded floral mural overlaid by a newer geometric print. For local contractors such as Provost, that was one of the first signs that this job and this retailer veered far from the ordinary.

In downtown Norfolk, the retailer’s real estate team visited other properties before deciding on the A.A. Adams building, which faces the MacArthur Center mall. Built in 1910 as part of the block-long Fentress Building, the Urban site housed a Singer Sewing shop, variety store and most recently the Time Lounge nightclub, according to William Inge, who works in the Norfolk Public Library’s Sargeant Memorial Collection.

Making a retail space look old and new at the same time doesn’t come cheap. Though he wouldn’t give the price in this case, Wright said retrofitting an existing structure, particularly an older one, always costs more than building from scratch.

Contractors have to upgrade features to comply with city codes and make modern materials fit with their aged counterparts. They have no prototype to follow from store to store, because each Urban Outfitters is different. And then there’s the meticulous mandates of their employer.

Throughout the retailer’s Norfolk space, large books of construction plans, about 80 pages each, lay on tables, outlining every detail of the store. The superintendent for Murray Costello Construction Inc., the contractor in charge of the project, takes photographs of each piece of work completed daily and emails them to the Urban Outfitters designers, who blow them up and study them intently.

So The Pilot relied on Provost, who has refurbished many of Wright’s properties, and other local contractors to piece together a picture of Urban Outfitters‘ approach to store development. Provost said other downtown Norfolk sites could benefit from a champion that takes similar care with construction.

Following the retailer’s direction, Provost sliced across the front corners of the second and third floors, pulling up the floorboards to create rustic, triangular skylights that allow illumination from both upper levels. "For visual effect," he explained, walking through the construction site in early May.

Joe Donahue, the foreman for Fee’s Electrical Service Inc. in Portsmouth, was instructed to design an interesting configuration for the conduit, through which cables for electricity, security and audio all run. He envisioned a waterfall. "That’s what it looks like to me."

It’s no easy feat to lift a window weighing 340 pounds up three stories when the space is too tight and too fragile for machinery. That was the challenge facing Lew Drake’s crew of glaziers, who installed three stories of windows crowning the front of Urban Outfitters.

Only a narrow stairwell provides access to the third level, and there’s no floor under the windows there. So, on the last day of May, nine men in groups of three raised the panes by hand from one level to the next, using scaffolding they’d fashioned.

Earl Smaltz, wearing a harness attached to a rope and connected to a secure hook, balanced in the open window frame, with one foot on the brick sill and one outside the building. He’s used to perils, he said, explaining that he had dangled 23 stories high to install the vertical glass panels of the downtown Wells Fargo Center for another Walker & Laberge project.

Most modern construction uses thermal units, "insulated glass," that provide a cushion of air to control temperature, Drake said. And most new buildings have aluminum window frames that protect from wind and water and allow installation from the outside, he said.