Retail migration: Could Stonefield threaten Barracks?

Last week, we looked at store vacancy data for the Downtown Mall, completed in July by the City's Office of Economic Development, but what about the City's other retail centers? And what effect might the coming shops at Stonefield (known for some time as Albemarle Place) have on our existing centers?

Long-successful Barracks Road enjoys a zero percent vacancy rate, with only the former Quiznos sub shop unoccupied, and not counted because it has been closed for only a few months. Vacancy rates on the Corner and Preston Plaza are also now at zero with the arrival of the Java Dragon coffee shop in Preston, which replaced the Blue Ridge Eco Shop (which moved to the Downtown Mall), and clothing store Jack Wills on the Corner, which replaced the Corner Market. 

Seminole Square continues to have the most vacancies of the studied districts. In January 2011, the rate was 13 percent, but it had fallen to 9.4 percent by the time the July study was completed. Currently, there are five empty stores in Seminole Square.

So how might Stonefield affect the shopping center next door with the historically high vacancy rate?

Leigh Hughes, a senior associate with Seminole Square's landlord, CB Richard Ellis, says Stonefield's arrival will be a "net positive" for the shopping center, as the eventual completion of the $35 million Hillsdale Drive Extension and the planned $4.7 million 250 Bypass on-ramp widening project will address traffic issues and create a "vibrant commercial corridor."

"We can visualize the intersection of Hydraulic Road and Route 29 becoming the equivalent of our area's 'corner of Main and Main,'" says Hughes, referring to a term that, in commercial development circles, means the most sought-after location.

Of course, it's still too early to know exactly what Stonefield will become. It's being billed as an "elegant mix" of retail, office space, apartments, and an as-yet unnamed boutique hotel, but so far the only known tenants are a Trader Joe's, a 14-screen Regal Theater, and two restaurants, Osaka Sushi and Travinia Italian Kitchen. There's also no telling when the VDOT road projects that Hughes mentioned will be complete, as VDOT has no timeline for the on-ramp project, and funding for extending the Hillsdale project beyond the Seminole Regal theater won't be available until 2015. 

However, if that "elegant" retail arrives at Stonefield, it won't be Seminole Square that will have to worry, says one local real estate development expert. It will be Barracks Road.

"There's a tremendous demand for retail in Charlottesville," says Hook real estate expert Richard Spurzem. "Barracks Road isn't real fancy or all that special, but it is phenomenally successful. And that's because there are no other options."

The way Spurzem sees it, if Stonefield follows through on its promise to bring high-end retail shops to Charlottesville, Barracks Road might have reason to worry.

"If and when Stonefield gets high-end little stores," he says, "there's a real risk that they would pull the best shops out of Barracks. If that happens, Barracks would be dead."

Should that happen, Spurzem thinks that Barracks would be wise to become more downscale. That transformation, should it come to pass, could also give city leaders pause, as sales and real estate taxes from Barracks provide a big chunk of city revenue. Indeed, according to city records, the real estate alone at Barracks is assessed at nearly $100 million.

As Spurzem recalls, early plans for Fashion Square Mall called for it to be located on city property, where Seminole Square is now, but it was eventually moved to county land down the road.

"The city was furious," says Spurzem.

Indeed, should top-performing stores in Barracks, or new ones that haven't come to town yet, be lured to Stonefield, we could see another big loss of city revenue.

"So much attention is given to the Downtown Mall," says Spurzem, "but Barracks is everything."

Curious about that, the Hook asked Commissioner of Revenue Lee Richards for a breakdown of sales and meals tax revenue by area, but unfortunately, says Lee, the city's current software system cannot track such things. Oddly enough, Lee says, they used to be able to provide that information in the past, but until the current system is updated, it's impossible to tell which areas of town are contributing the most to city coffers. But it's not hard to guess.

"The Hydraulic Road Kroger's probably funds the city more than the entire Downtown Mall," Spurzem speculates.

However, Spurzem has his doubts that Stonefield will get those high-end little shops anytime soon, or the residential properties promised.

"Stonefield will probably just have big-box stores for awhile," he says. "If that's the case, Barracks and Seminole Square won't be affected."


For people who hate to shop (me) Barracks could
focus on being a one stop place esp bring back
a department store of some description and a
good bakery.

Stonefield is going to be a prime place for the hydraulic youth to hang out.

Boycott Walmart! Though other stores also sell Chinese products we need to start somewhere. Lets bring the biggest importer down and the rest will follow.

Personally, I would not be so concerned about Stonefield and a potential affect on Barracks, but the people that find it more cost-effective to make purchases on Amazon, have the little brown truck rumble to the door, and who will probably never find a reason to patronize yet another route 29 'me too' shopping center.

And the success of Barracks is location. You can build anything you want! But one thing I've never seen anyone build is location. Stonefield thinks they have the magic location? LOL

Yeah I don't see specialized boutique retail moving to Stonefield... just high end big box stuff.

at least this hopefully will motivate Barracks to be more of a one-stop shop and maybe try to attract some "retail talent" with vacancies.

I also think Amazon's days of "no sales tax" purchasing are coming to an end which is a huge reason why people shop there.

There's a huge demand for retail in Charlottesville? Well, Stonefield isn't in Charlottesville, its conveniently right across the road. But its true that peple in Charlottesville would like some retail, like they used to have on the mall. Now they are only allowed crap hip shops and failing restaurants along with blaring music, instead of stores that might meet their needs. Maybe if the City spent a little less time focusing on public housing and a little more on encouraging businesses that can meet the living needs of pedestrain oriented citizens, they might find that changes.

"Barracks Road isn't real fancy or all that special, but it is phenomenally successful. And that's because there are no other options."

hahaha my impression of the whole region

We love some sprawl

Developers develop; that's what they do.
That said, the whole thing probably represents total overstretch for the retail market around here, but that's not the point of development. The point is for everyone to get his share of all the swag from developing the project. When the loans to do so go into default a few years down the road, everyone will have got his and moved on.
But aside from that, the article asks if Barracks road will lose customers and tenants. The only way a new complex is going to do any business around here is through beggaring its neighbors by stealing their clients. The sucker pool is only but so big and shopping centers nationwide really are entering into a new paradigm of being a zero sum game.

This is random, but does anyone know what the story is with the Great Escape movie theater planned for the Hollymead Town Center area? Seems like that story just died on the vine somewhere...

Barracks Road will still thrive given the fact that they have two top producing grocery stores within the Center, not to mention the proximity to UVA and its expanding grounds. There is room for Stonefield, but I don't think you will see a ton of big boxes. Hopefully the movie theater will draw the retail, but I fear a wasteland of restaurants without enough real retail to support it.

What if they built a mall and nobody came?
Our economy is based on more and more
people buying more and more junk (pun

I dunno, I think there's a large percentage of Cvillians that traverse to Richmond and the Short Pump area (specifically thinking about Trader Joe's) that would be happy to stay local. We'll see what happens, I guess, but I'm sure these guys did their homework about the retail market here. However, I'm sure those projections rely heavily on economic recovery to continue....

Charlottesville can certainly use a killer movie theatre(s), and a Trader Joe's. Also a kick-ass (non-chain) Italian restaurant would do great here. The rest of that mall, well, we don't need and can you imagine how bad traffic is going to be at the corner of Hydraulic and 29 in five years? Yikes! Welcome to Northern Virginia folks..

@ ? : please don't let Charlottesville become like northern Virginia. . . I'm a refugee from northern Virginia, Charlottesville is much nicer.

Don't think one shopping center makes us look like Northern VA.

The intersection vdot created at rio/29 sure looks like nova to me. Hydraulic/29 will be the worst intersection in town if Stonegields gets fully built out. I don't see ANY PLANNING for the massive increase in traffic we are allowing to come there.

Barracks Road is all about location, as one savy poster has pointed out. Seminole Square is on its death bed if anyone else has noticed. If and when Stonehenge ever gets finished it will be one more nail in the coffin for Seminole Square, a slight blip on the radar for Barracks road and a pain in the tush for commuters.