Urban blight: Group seeks fix for Main Street, Amtrak lot

news-amtrakparkinglotThe owners of the Amtrak parking lot have graded and filled potholes, but have never paved the lot.

Although there have been many big plans for the revitalization of West Main Street, including a streetcar, a multi-story mixed use building, and several ambitious UVA expansion projects, a new business group deplores the current state of West Main–- particularly the dust that rises daily from the pot-holed parking lot surrounding the Amtrak station.

Calling the lot a "blight on the Midtown landscape" as well as a "health hazard," and "an environmental travesty," the newly formed Midtown Association calls on the private owners of the Amtrak parking lot to pave it.

“The history of this situation between the City and the property owners borders on municipal negligence and professional irresponsibility,” reads an Association statement. “Something has to be done.”

In the 1990s, the City pushed Norfolk Southern Corporation to sell the parcel to Gabe Silverman and Allan Cadgene in hopes of fostering a public-private partnership whose centerpiece would have been a transit center built into the hillside with retail above. Those plans were scrapped in 2001, when the city and developers couldn't agree. But by then the developers owned the land.

snap-dustThe Midtown Association calls the dust that wafts from the Amtrak parking lot–- such as this scene one April morning–- a "blight."

Real estate broker Charlie Kabbash currently has the 3.44-acre parking lot listed for sale for $13.5 million (a nice turn on something that cost $707,838 in 1997), but neither he nor Silverman returned requests for comment.

Neighborhood Development Chief Jim Tolbert says he’s aware of the dust problem and has spoken with the lot owners as well as representatives of the new Association.

“I can’t get into details about the parking lot, but we are working on the legalities of this issue,” says Tolbert. “I have been concerned, as have many others, but there are legal reasons we haven’t been able to get the lot paved. We have appealed to the owners to no avail.”

That's a little ironic because it was the late 1990s City Council that, besides pressing the railroad to sell, won the owners a $763,000 federal "enhancement" grant to build a road to the train station. Drainage pipes were laid, lighting was added, but despite a claim as recently as 2004 from Silverman that the paving job "was going to happen," no asphalt ever appeared. Tolbert says that Silverman and Cadgene submitted a site plan to pave the property, but "let it expire."

Addressing other concerns, Tolbert points out that the first phase of a West Main streetscaping is underway at the intersection of JPA and West Main, which includes widening sidewalks, adding new trees, lighting, and underground utilities. The current project represents a $750,000 investment from Charlottesville matched by a $2.5 million UVA investment. However, the joint project will only extend to Roosevelt Brown Boulevard (9th and 10th Street), well short of the area vexing the Midtown Association.

Tolbert did say, however, that all sidewalks from Ridge Street to JPA have been repaired, a crosswalk was installed at 8th Street, and that light signals have been coordinated to smooth the flow of traffic and pedestrians along West Main.

"I think you can see they [the Midtown Association] have not been ignored, and we are very willing to work with them," says Tolbert.

In an effort to spur change, the Association is also discussing the idea of having a Midtown design charette, spearheaded by West Main property owner and architect Bill Atwood, who was instrumental in organizing a charette held for the Downtown Mall in the 1980s, a precursor to its successful revitalization.

"We really want to bring notice back to this great neighborhood," says Seasonal Cook co-owner and Midtown Association member Eleanor Porter.

“We do not want to get lost as the space between the Corner and the Mall," says fellow Association founder Mark Gresge, the owner of l'©toile restaurant.


bangbro:Businesses do pay their fair share”Šthink about it”Š walmart sells a dvd player for 100 bucks. They net 3% profit or 3.00 which they pay 20% taxes to the goverment and the rest gets divided among the 150 million share holders as a divdend which the government gets another 15% of.


Really? As Jim Webb effectively pointed out, 5 of the top 400 corporations paid NO TAXES. Corporations don't pay much in the way of taxes, they find all sorts of loopholes you and I can't afford to find.

I agree about the double taxation thing on dividends.

My biggest complaint in the US is we get NOTHING for what we pay in taxes. We get subsides to pet groups right or left, but God forbid something goes into a service everyone can utilize.

Mistake, that should read ONLY five paid taxes.

medicinebird:Caesonia, if you think construction is cheap, you must never have hired anyone to build something for you.


No, I don't think construction is cheap. I just know I was able to rent a grader for 500$ a day, grade it, and then lay down fresh gravel for a total footage of about that lot for LOTS less than 3/4 of a million dollars.

The big joke is these contractors often charge a lot and do piss poor work. All I have hired in this area haven't been worth diddly, except for one. I did it better.

Did you guys miss the excavation work when it happened and the picture above? What do you think one of those little road grader machines cost per hour? The article also mentions that the city and the university are spending $3.25 million on their project. They aren't exactly comparable, but it does demonstrate how quickly the money goes when you do work like that.

It ironic that the merchants in that area have any problem at all with that parking lot. If it hadn't been there or a development had gone in without LOTS of parking added to it to support other business, that strip wouldn't have blossomed anything like it has. The bridge project nearly killed everything and lack of parking certainly would have.

The changes that did happen to the parking lot were a considerable improvement over what had been there. Also, everything I ever heard about the failed project suggested the city had been the unreasonable partner in the negotiations. I'd have to research to remember what exactly the problem was, but considering what Silverman has done with the Old Michie building and Main Street Market, I'm inclined to think his vision of what ought to have been done would be much better than what city staff would have pushed for.

Look at the awful City Hall Annex for an obvious example of missed opportunity and failed management. They ended up with an ugly box that fails to address the corner, the amphitheater, the mall, or even the old City Hall and they missed its intended location by about 4 feet. That's a HUGE error in construction, and they didn't even notice, but Mr. Tolbert thinks he ought to have something to say about how real developers do their jobs?

City staff have a history of resisting innovative thinking when it comes to developers. No wonder they don't feel inclined to bend over backwards to accommodate the city's wishes. Oliver Kuttner says he won't even try here anymore. The corner of South 1st and Water streets is one of the most interesting places downtown. Main Street Market is another. Imagine what else we could have had by now if it weren't for Mr. Tolbert's own department standing in the way.

If anything ought to cause the city to force some action, is the sight of the hideous apartments on the other side of the tracks. I'd be happy to breathe dust as a trade off for not having to look at them.

maybe they should see if they can borrow the pitbull who is cornholing arbys over a sign from albearle county and let him go crazy with building violations until they fix the dust problem.

By the way the dust problem can be fixed without having to asphault. there are other methods and tar sprays etc that could fix 90% of it tomorrow.

The owner is just a greedy b....... Just like the rest of the speculators. There does not seem to be anything like a "reasonable return" on any investment. This is why this town is still filled with down-and-out homes near the downtown mall. It will remain this way forever unless the city forces speculators to fix these properties themselves. The City should declare eminent domain on the railroad yard property and develop it into a park.

Isn't Atwood the guy that's so desperate to line Main St with tall buildings? If so, then of course he's going to try and steer the design charette to go his way. Dusty parking lot aside, W Main is one of the few areas that still retains some of Charlottesville's original charm, AND it has great mountain views. Places like Starr Hill, the 2-3 story red brick buildings, the train station, and Mel's etc, instantly evoke Charlottesville. Once these business owners and the Planning Commission succeed in thoroughly yuppifying that stretch, that's when many of those great old buildings will start coming down, and Atwood will have the sterile towers he's been dreaming of.

As always, public finds go to subsidize 'private' activites that amount ot little more than personal money making schemes. It's just one more bit of proff the business rarely brings back neighborhoods, or takes risks. Neighborhoods bring back business.

All this available area to revitalize and develop, but we have to destroy a newly revitalized Belmont, and turn those nice homes into businesses instead. Why? Well, becuase a lot of home owners made the neighborhood nice.

How did the city reward Belmont? Giving their neighborhood funds to the Downtown Mall, where there are vacancies.

Thanks taxpayers, for subsidizing businesses once again.

Jim: Parking fees or not, the owners were given 3/4 of a million to do just that - pave the lot with a road to the railway. They didn't do it. No excuses on this one.

Why is this conversation not focused on the idiot that owns the lot and refuses to fix it. Its an eyesore and a safety hazard. He also owns the First Street Parking lot that tows out of towners regularly. Why is he not on the hot seat?

"The owners a $763,000 federal ââ?¬Å?enhancement” grant to build a road to the train station."

Uh...so what happened to the tax dollars? They obviously didn't go into building/paving the road/parking lot.

Doesn't the US Attorney usually consider such thievery "fraud" or something?

Please pave that dust-bowl, cancer causing, eye-watering, sneeze factory of dust. It is disgusting when the wind picks up, especially when dining outside or walking on main street. Please. Please. Please. Also, maybe the streetlights on all of main street made brighter. Thereby, making the street more pedestrian friendly at night.

PS - How about fixing the sidewalks throughout the city neighborhoods, not just in business areas. Thanks, NTK (a city tax payer)

Green is just talk for this city. The city recommends composting but will ticket you if you have a compost pile. That's Mr. Tolbert's department too.

Anyway, if the city hadn't dropped the ball on the project that was supposed to have been built, the problem would exist and we wouldn't have wasted millions of tax dollars on that ugly and pointless bus transfer station downtown.

I'd love to think that with the money Silverman will eventually make on that property that paving it would be an easy choice. But he's probably down a good chunk of money on it now between the original purchase price and taxes on the land. This is money I highly doubt is being paid down in parking revenues. I'd hope he's paying the taxes off parking fees. But it's doubtful he could pave it on those alone, and I can't blame him for being uninterested in paving it. So I guess it's time for the city to offend the libertarian in me and please the rest of me (just like the indoor smoking ban) and force him to do something with it. I won't object.

Why do you call it the "AMTRAK" lot? Why don't you call it the
"WILD WING CAFE" lot? Just as many WWC customers stirring up the dust as Amtrak customers, I bet.

So salmon, what do potholes being there now have to do with the money that was spent in the past?

Caesonia, you keep conveniently ignoring the cost of the drainage work to make your point. Them concrete pipes don't come cheap. If you're new to town, then I understand that you might not be aware of the work that was done there, but then if you are new to town, you had plenty of others to choose from.

Road graders are about 500$ a day to rent. That was a day's work and a couple of loads of crusher dust and gravel. None of it comes to anything close to 3/4 of a million.

I certainly won't defend the stupidity of the city on these things, but I haven;t really been mad keen on a lot of the stuff developers do either.

For me the point is pretty simple- I am tired of the taxpayer being expected to subsidize business operations. I am sick of paying taxes in country that never sees fit to give me anything back for it. It all goes to businesses in this land of competition. What a bloody farce.

Kabbash is a blight on all of downtown. The vast majority of empty storefronts have his hideous name on all over the drooping "for lease" signs that have been up for years (A&N is like a beige crypt).

Original charm? I don't think empty lots and empty buildings are all that charming. Yeah, there are a few good spots, but most of it is a wasteland. West Main could really be a nice spot in the future, once some of the vacant lots are filled in - but its not going to happen any time soon. Until then, that dusty lot needs to get paved. Is it not a violation of zoning in some way?

It seems to me that for $13M the Midtown association can do whatever they want with the lot.

Pave? That doesn't seem as green as the current pervious surface.

This is just a typical situation where the government failed to check out the details before they wrote the check.

It is no wonder they cannot ever seem to live within their means.

Businesses do pay their fair share...think about it... walmart sells a dvd player for 100 bucks. They net 3% profit or 3.00 which they pay 20% taxes to the goverment and the rest gets divided among the 150 million share holders as a divdend which the government gets another 15% of.

So the shareholders get about 2.00 the govt gets a dollar... except the government already got

6.00 in sales tax.
Social security (15.8% when you include the employers share)
Fed unemployment tax
State unemployment tax
Real estate tax on the building
Fed taxes on wages earned
state taxes on wages earned
Car taxes paid with wages earned
real estate taxes paid with wages earned
gas taxes paid on every gallon of fuel used to deliver the goods to the store
county permits and fees
"proffers" when they built the building.

I am not defending businesses as such I am just pointing out that they are getting hosed just like the rest of us and the real villian is the government and its inability to do anything at a reasonable cost.

It is the responsibility of government to protect our money from people who will exploit the taxpayers to the fullest extent of the law. (If you could legally write off all of your food shelter and clothing through a legal loophole would you not be at least tempted to drive your tax return through it)

Caesonia, if you think construction is cheap, you must never have hired anyone to build something for you. My own short driveway has about 5 loads of gravel on it, and let me tell you, it cost a lot more than $500 even with me doing most of the work for free. You've also either missed or chosen to ignore the part of the article where it says "drainage pipes were laid, lighting was added."

If you've just moved to town, I can understand how you missed the excavation and the significant reshaping of the parking lot. If you were here at the time, you weren't very observant if you missed it. They put very big pipes into very big holes. That type of work requires hiring engineering firms for both the water and electrical work, which isn't cheap, and then the hiring of sizable crews to perform the work. It wasn't just a low budget road grader and some magically appearing gravel that was just dropped on for a facelift. It was a significant construction project with all that entails in terms of planning and execution.

As far as the taxpayers subsidizing business operations, I'm not seeing what you're talking about on this project. The city had ISTEA money that it wanted to spend and it wanted to get the biggest bang for its buck by getting a developer to take a huge risk on a major project as its partner. The developer now sits with his money tied up because the city screwed up the deal and you think he's being subsidized?

It's still unlikely that a development there would be successful without the guaranteed tenant that the transfer center was, but the city chose to pull out and blow its (read our) money on that ridiculous and ugly monster on Water Street instead. Now we've got a multi million dollar bus stop with a few public restrooms downtown. We could have had something good on Main Street, but instead the city bureaucrats left us with two blights. Blame them not their former partners.

medicine bird...have you tried to drive through or park in the lot in the last 3 months? the pot holes will rip your muffler off and you will develop respiratory failiure by the time you get from your car to your destiniation, especially if a bus is pulling through to pick up train passangers with the fans on. you make good points but you might want to revisit the lot before you proceed to expound your brazen opinions. it is a filthy, undermaintained mess. both the city and the owners should be ashamed. iŽm sure the businesses in the midtown association are sick of eating the dust and washing off there buildings. main street is constantly filthy. the srteet sweepers canŽt keep up. it is the dirtiest track of road in charlottesville. what is most ironic is that the owners of the lot also own multiple other buildings on west main. they simply have no respect for their neighbors, especially those that live in walkers square. glad to see you are passionate about the situation.

blah, blah blah.... on windy days main street is more dusty than Khartoum, Sudan during a sand-storm. The pot-holes in the dust factory of a parking lot would shame the developing world. And are an immediate embarrassment for the City's out of town vistors who arrive by train. Anyway, you pick it up and put it down, the parking lot is an ugly eye-soar and a health hazzard in the center of our "dream-town" and it should be cleaned up, IMMEDIATELY.

Who do you think would pay for any paving? Those who park there of course. Why not spray some water or oil to keep the dust down as a temporary measure? To go from $708K to $13.5 million with no significant improvements is a perfect example of runaway "greedy" free enterprise. Someone needs to clue them that the real estate bubble has burst.
I don't mind folks making a living or even a profit so thay can save, invest and survive - but this over pricing is down right obscene.
Wouldn't "moneypornographers" be a good tag? Once moneyporners get the lust for money they can't be cured and continue their obscene greed behavior forever. We all know that this is not the only example of government giveaways to greedy money grubbers/porners who laugh all the way to Hades.