Old Metropolitan Hall : Old Mall space gets new look

Back in 2006, the owner of the building at the corner of First and Main Streets on the Downtown Mall, developer Keith Woodard, had plans for a 9-story "super" tower with an underground parking garage. But city planners, alarmed by the idea, along with an economy that tanked, put the kibbosh on Woodard's grand dreams for 101 East Main Street. And so the big space on the building's Mall-side ground floor remained vacant for another six years or so until C-Ville Weekly co-owner Bill Chapman (also one of the Hook's co-owners) and his partner Travis Wilburn, a former C-Ville Weekly adman, came up with the idea of creating a private meeting and reception space that could accommodate large gatherings in an intimate setting. The Old Metropolitan Hall was born, and Wilburn says there are plenty of parties to host.

"We've actually been surprised by the high demand for the space," he says. "We're already booking into 2014, hosting weddings, corporate parties, non-profit fundraisers, birthday parties, and even events for festivals."

It's a startling transformation for the space that was once home to the The Metropolitan Café in the 1940s and 50s, and also housed a bakery for a short time. Indeed, for the last 20 years or so it hasn't had much of an identity.

Not so anymore– and the place is cavernous. There's actually a whole floor beneath the Mall level, and the upper floor has 14-foot ceilings. Chapman and Wilburn appear to have taken their cue from chefs Tim Burgess and Vincent Derquenne, who took the space that was once home to Métropolitain, then Metro, and later Cassis, and turned it into a private dining/event space called The Space Downtown. At first, they told Dish, it was just because they found the idea of opening another restaurant (they own Bizou and Bang!) daunting, but when they held Burgess' own wedding celebration in the space and it went off without a hitch, the wheels started spinning. Today, the place is a popular event space, and nearby Tempo and C&O restaurants also have private event spaces.

Wilburn, however, says the Old Metropolitan space is like no other on the Mall.

“I don’t see competition whatsoever," he says. "Those other places are absolutely perfect in what they do, but we set it up as a blank slate for you. You can use whatever caterer you want, you can decorate it however you want—there’s really nothing else like what we’re doing.”

The creation of this space came about as an offshoot of Chapman and Wilburn’s established company Stay Charlottesville, which rents out furnished Charlottesville homes to visitors for weekends or longer. Adding the event space allows for what Wilburn calls “synergistic marketing,” since folks seeking a place to stay may also need a place to hold a party– and vice versa.

“With people coming in for events, why not also provide them with this fantastic venue?" Wilburn asks. "We want to meet the needs of people coming into Charlottesville for special events.”

Indeed, it's not uncommon now to see tuxedoed gentlemen and women in gowns milling about the Old Metropolitan Hall's entrance, while deep inside, well-dressed happy people seem to be lined up eight rows back. Pretty good advertising in and of itself.

And hey, you'll all get a chance to check it out for yourself on May 3rd, when the new Old Metropolitan Hall opens its doors to the general public for the first time for its first ever First Friday event, a one-night-only exhibit of Elizabeth Kleberg's photomontages from 5:00 to 7:30pm. Now who is going to get there first?