Ix nixed: New location for City Market?
For years, the old Frank Ix building has been one of the most unusual, interesting spaces in the downtown area, but as you may have noticed on your way down Monticello Avenue, demolition on the Ix is well underway.
"We're tearing it down because we just can't insure it anymore," says Ix complex project manager Fabian Kuttner. After the demo, Kuttner says the owners plan to pretty up the lot and perhaps build a pond at one end of the 17-acre property, which also includes an office park. He also hopes the Charlottesville City Market might be interested in locating at Ix. More on that later.
The circa 1928 building, which until 1999 was home to a fabric factory called Frank Ix & Sons, has held several spectacular parties in recent years, including the Second Street Gallery's first Artini dance in 2006 when 500 people danced into the wee hours as lightning flashed outside and torrential rains came through the cracks in the roof.
In addition to serving as the site for later galas such as Shentai and the "Charlottesville Wunderkammer," the building also held the following year's Artini which featured bikini-clad painted dancers serving 5,000 drinks while circus performers spun fire and whirled hula hoops.
Unfortunately, the same industrial decay look that made it such an ideal event location also led to its downfall. Following the Artini in the summer of 2007, the city put the kabosh on events at the Ix, citing safety concerns.
A building code official said then that various leaks had weakened the interior wood flooring and floor supports, and because the windows had been removed, the building was exposed to continuing storm damage.
Kuttner says the owners–- his father, Ludwig, as well as Allan Cadgene and Gabe Silverman–- spent around $40,000 trying to bring the building up to code, but that there was just too much expensive work to be done to satisfy the building official, the fire marshal, and the insurance company. For example, Kuttner estimates that it would have cost $3 million to install new windows, and he expresses regret that a former Ix partner made the decision to remove them in the first place. And there's really no development money out there now, says Kuttner.
Kuttner floated the idea of leasing the property to the City Market, which has been lobbying for a new location, if they can come to some kind of agreement.
"It's a great location, large enough, and there's parking," says Kathy Kildea with Market Central, a non-profit organization assisting the popular farmers market in finding a home. "But the biggest issue with that location is longevity."
Kuttner mentions that the Ix partners would be interested in a short-term leasing arrangement for the City Market, maybe 4 to 6 years, but Kildea points out that flies in the face of the desire for a permanent home. Indeed, Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris echos the same sentiment.
"I think it's safe to say that the City would not be interested in a short-term lease at any site," he says.
City Council appointed a Task Force to study potential sites for the City Market, and work will begin in January, says Norris, with the Task Force given 90 days to come back with recommendations.
"Permanence and affordability are some of the criteria we set forth," says Norris. "If the Ix property is made available for this purpose on a long-term or permanent and affordable basis, then I'm sure the Task Force will consider it closely."
Another idea, Kuttner says, is one that his light car-making, X Prize-winning brother, Oliver, has put forward: closing off the nearby section of Monticello Avenue near the Ix and putting the Market right on the road. The Avenue has four lanes, a tree-lined median, and sidewalks on both sides, and traffic could be routed along Garrett Street when its closed. Indeed, using networks of city streets, parks, and donated parking lots for farmer's markets are a common practice in places like New York City, Philadelphia, and Portland.
"Monticello Avenue is an intriguing possibility," says Norris, " and the Task Force will be looking at the pros and cons of that site as well."
Kildea thinks the Monticello Avenue idea is worthy of consideration, but her ideal scenario involves finding a home with a few "creature comforts like running water, electricity, and a real bathroom."
Still, when the last of the bricks of the old Ix are salvaged, it'll be a tempting space for the 111 vendors at the City Market just a few blocks away, many of whom have been crammed into a parking lot on a hill for the last 17 years.