Featheridge reversal: Dragas backs out of Kluge mansion buy
Helen Dragas hasn't backed off the Board of Visitors, but she has backed out of purchasing an Albemarle estate that had been providing a home away from home in the bucolic serenity of rural Albemarle County.
In an online-only Hook story published June 22, knowledgable sources revealed that the UVA Rector had contracted to buy a southern Albemarle estate called Featheridge. Dragas' own emails, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, showed that she was already using the former home of late-billionaire and media tycoon John Kluge to hold meetings in the week leading up to Sullivan's firing.
On the morning of Friday, June 8, the day that she and then Vice-Rector Mark Kington dropped the axe on the university's first female president, Teresa Sullivan, Dragas invited Kington to join her at a next-day meeting with University provost John Simon and vice president Michael Strine, most likely, she says, "at Featheridge."
"Let me know if you want my guest cottage," she told Kington in an email.
But in the aftermath of UVA June, with blistering criticism coming at her from nearly every direction, the Rector declined to complete the purchase that might have given her a comfortable perch from which to lead the search for a new president.
"She walked away," says Roger Voisinet, a longtime area realtor familiar with the deal.
It may have been a hard decision to forego nearly 6,000 square feet of historic living space on 55 glorious acres overlooking the Hardware River.
At the estate, located on Secretarys Road off Route 20, about halfway between Charlottesville and Scottsville, Kluge and his wife, Maria "Tussi" Kuttner Kluge, would frequently host programs for UVA's Mindfulness Center as well as T'ai Chi charity events.
After Kluge's death in 2010, Tussi Kluge remained in the historic dwelling that one visitor describes as "exquisitely tasteful." The visitor recalls a "perfect kitchen– not too huge but beautifully equipped" and says the historic house, though spacious, was "comfortable" and "not ostentatious."
According to realtors, the property was never formally placed into the MLS, the Multiple Listing Service; and County records show that it hasn't changed hands since Kluge bought it in 1994. Tussi Kluge did not return a reporter's calls for comment.
Featheridge would not have been Dragas' first Albemarle County retreat. Sources indicate that she'd previously taken up residence as a renter at Southern Cross Farm in the Keswick area. And while the rector and her husband keep a 6,500 square-foot waterfront home in Virginia Beach as their primary residence, Dragas revealed in a recent interview with a Darden School publication that when she and her family enjoy rural getaways in Albemarle County, the parents instruct the children to turn off electronics.
The name "Featheridge" may conjure images of delicacy and lightness. However, after firing Sullivan, Dragas initially refused to concede that a mistake was made, and she ran up a damage-control publicity bill topping $200,000. The Dragas methods caused one online commenter to suggest that a better name for her UVA-area home would be "Sledgehammercliff."
Tussi Kluge had told acquaintances that Dragas' planned purchase of the property, currently assessed for $1.6 million, would have included furniture and furnishings, say sources familiar with their conversations. The sources portray Dragas' purchase of what are described as "eclectic" furnishings as evidence of the Rector's willingness to elevate decision-making over personal preferences.
Any haste in acquiring the property, says UVA-based psychiatrist Andy Thomson, could be evidence that Dragas never expected the scathing fall-out– including widespread and ongoing calls for her resignation. And her subsequent withdrawal from the purchase might indicate that Dragas, although outwardly defiant about her actions, has done some reconsidering– at least when it comes to real estate.
Having been reappointed to a second four-year term by Governor Bob McDonnell and having vowed to remain at the helm while working with the woman she tried to axe, Dragas may yet desire a second home in Albemarle County, but perhaps she's waiting for the General Assembly to meet before making any purchase, since several legislators have expressed a wish to see her removed from the BOV.
Dragas has not returned multiple calls for comment.