The Residence Inn and the Landmark would double the number of Downtown Mall hotel rooms overnight.
This building, now filled with potters, was built for Oldsmobiles in 1957.
Even before the Landmark mess gets sorted out, a developer has made plans to build a new hotel in Charlottesville that will transform a high-profile corner of West Main Street where a funky used-book store and other businesses have set up shop.
A Marriott extended-stay Residence Inn, comprising seven stories around an interior courtyard standing atop an underground parking area, would be one of the largest buildings ever built in Charlottesville at about 113,000 square feet of space under roof. The developer is Charles Wendell of Virginia Inn Management Inc., and he says Charlottesville's in for a treat.
"If you're coming from the Interstate and come up Fifth Street," says Wendell, "your eye will take you across to the corner, and it's just going to be stunning, especially at night."
Plans submitted to the City show a series of low-rise red-brick forms facing West Main. Amenities include an indoor swimming pool, a two-story "hearth room," and a firepit-equipped courtyard. There would be two levels of in-ground parking with 133 rooms and suites above.
The new hotel will be the 21st that Wendell has owned or developed, but this will be his first in Virginia. His previous efforts have included lodgings in North and South Carolina– plus in such college vicinities as Athens, Georgia; Morgantown, West Virginia; and Jacksonville, Florida.
"We like those towns," says Wendell, who expresses hope that Main Street– whose transformation has long been the dream of local planners– will see more development between the University of Virginia and the Downtown Mall.
"I lived in Charlottesville once and always loved it," says the 63-year-old native of Fayetteville, West Virginia. He worked here in 1970 as a recently-trained (and recently-married) certified public accountant with Hantzmon Wiebel and would return to visit when his youngest son attended UVA Law.
As the sidebar to this story indicates, the Charlottesville area appears poised to experience a bumper crop of new hotels, and that has caught the eye of hotel economics expert George Overstreet, who teaches at UVA's McIntire School of Commerce.
"That's gonna be a pretty decent shift in supply," says Overstreet, who counts the current number of local rooms as 3,100. The four publicly-confirmed projects would add a total of 508 rooms in the next two years, a 16 percent jump.
"When you get a shift like that," says Overstreet, "you typically get a drop in prices and occupancy."
Overstreet notes that the Omni and Boar's Head Inn, two major players in the high-end market, have each launched or recently finished major room upgrades that should help them weather any glut.
"I think this is good for Charlottesville and the county," says Overstreet. "But will it be good for the existing hotels? The really weak ones would find themselves in a financial bind."
With another one located beside the Barracks Road Shopping Center, Wendell's Residence Inn would become the second such outpost of the Marriott chain in Charlottesville. There, the recent price of an overnight ranged from $164 for a studio to $204 for a two-bedroom unit.
Meanwhile, rooms at downtown's only major hotel, the Omni, typically start at $225. A reporter asked Wendell if he's concerned about the possibility that the Landmark– an 11-story boutique hotel on the Downtown Mall– might reemerge as downtown competition.
"There's always gonna be competition," says Wendell. "You concentrate on what you do well and let that take care of itself."
In keeping with its location in "downtown corridor" zoning, Wendell needs no special city permission other than approval from the B.A.R.– the Board of Architectural Review. His team's May presentation was withdrawn after Board members reportedly expressed concerns about a thick and continuous cornice running along the facade facing Main Street.
The new rendering, submitted by Daggett & Grigg architects, retains the concept of low-rise, red-brick buildings along Main with the seven-story hotel block tucked behind, but this latest design opens up the central courtyard to give the impression of separate structures fronting Main Street.
Two structures that won't survive the transition are the complex at 301 and 315 West Main that long held RSC Equipment Rental and before that an auto dealership called Mooney Oldsmobile. While the buildings narrowly escaped demolition in 1962 when city leaders razed most of the Vinegar Hill neighborhood and its adjacent commercial district, the B.A.R. approved their demolition in 2010.
A reporter finds Bob Mooney, grandson of the late dealership founder, on the ground level at what had been the old Mooney Oldsmobile body shop. After RSC moved out about five years ago, he began transforming the two buildings (three, if you count his ground-level warren) into a hodgepodge of businesses. The one-acre site now includes two auto repair shops and his own wood-working shop on the ground floor, as well as a cornucopia of colorful retail businesses above.
"I tried to find one tenant to take the whole property, and I couldn't find one," says Mooney. "But I was finding people who needed a nook and a cranny."
As Mooney sought redevelopment offers– which included a CVS pharmacy whose design the BAR rejected and a nine-story condo tower that couldn't find financing– a wave of young creatives moved into the nooks and crannies. The businesses include a public ceramics studio, a hip-hop clothing store, a bicycle repair shop (that recently closed), a confectionery, and a sprawling bookstore. They also include the studio of Cat Thrasher, a photographer who snared the old RSC parts department due to its pair of 20-paned casement windows.
"That's a photographer's dream to have giant north-facing windows," says Thrasher.
Thrasher liked the space so much that she held her own wedding there, and she feels sad about the prospect of leaving just as Main Street is getting a renaissance of sorts. An expansion of the Main Street Market with a pho restaurant and a meatballery come on the heels of all the foot traffic that's been generated by Random Row Bookstore and the rest of the Mooney complex.
"We've all been getting sorta successful, so it's really depressing," says Thrasher. "Not only will I not find another space like this in Charlottesville, I don't think I'll find a space like this anywhere."
She harbors no ill will toward Mooney since he's been open about his intentions, and she says the rents always reflected the future uncertainty. The developer says he might break ground as soon as Christmas.
"We all knew this was coming," says Thrasher. "We always knew we were gonna get kicked out, and that's why it was feasible."
With the developer estimating his total investment, including land and furniture, topping $25 million, even the soon-to-be-displaced photographer calls the hotel a "win" for the city.
"We've been waiting for it to happen," says Charlottesville planning director Jim Tolbert, enthused about this hotel as well as the expansion of the Main Street Market and the $141 million Battle Building that the University is erecting near 11th Street.
That doesn't mean anyone relishes the prospect of development.
Inside Random Row Books– which has carved a hip name for itself by hosting controversial speakers, poetry slams, and up-and-coming musical acts– the thousands of books lining the walls will have to go somewhere. But where?
Says owner Ryan DeRamus: "I have no idea."