All wet? Barracks Road plan strips canopy

The latest plans to update the area's oldest shopping center have riled some of its merchants, who contend that Barracks Road Shopping Center's owner is more interested in a trendy look than customer comfort.

Renovation plans filed with the city show the original 10-foot canopy in the main section of Barracks Road removed from Talbot's to Panera Bread, and replaced with a series of awnings and pergolas. Some merchants fear exposure to foul weather will deter shoppers in an already gloomy economy.

Steve Metz at Lynne Goldman Studio used to own a store on the Downtown Mall and says he's experienced first hand the public's unwillingness to shop when exposed to the elements.

"The Wednesday before Christmas, it was raining," says Metz. "There was no business downtown. We had been doing a nice business. I feel like this is going to have a negative impact on customers."

However, over at Oil and Vinegar, owner Paul Urmanski says that while he hasn't been given final renovation documents, he's not convinced that going canopy-less will help the merchants.

"I personally don't think it's going to help our business," he says. "We get a fair amount of rainy days. Also a number of hot days, and then you'll have to walk in the sun."

Metz notes that because the awnings will not be contiguous, and because at just four-feet wide, they're much narrower than the canopies, they simply can't provide the same weather protection. He believes that the Center owner, Federal Realty Investment Trust, has fallen prey to fashion.

"They're just hellbent," says Metz. "They feel like the center is too '70s, too dated. Every 10 years, shopping centers feel there's a new look that has to be done."

What many Barracks Road merchants really want is a parking deck for the space-challenged center, according to Metz. A year ago, Federal, which also operates nearby Shoppers World (but incorrectly gives its address on its website, as Willow Lawn Drive and West Broad Street, which is in Richmond) met with tenants and nixed that. However, merchant reaction against canopy removal was so strong, CEO Don Woods told his tenants that was off the table, says Metz.

"What they're doing now is doing it without telling the public," says Metz. "It's a fait accompli."

He's also aggrieved that Federal inserted a clause in all new and renewed leases that will charge tenants $3 per square foot for the revamping. "In spite of the fact they're doing this and I don't want it, I have to pay an additional $6,600, which to me is a hefty amount," he complains.

"We are not prepared to release anything at this time because it has not had final internal approval," says Federal spokeswoman Janelle Stevenson.

In Charlottesville's Neighborhood Development, planner Mary Joy Scala says she gave administrative approval for the canopy removal, which requires no public input.

"It's not a historic district," says Scala. "As long as they go by entrance corridor standards... " (She notes that the City is, however, requesting historic protection for the 1959 Wachovia Bank building.)

Federal submitted a comprehensive signage plan, says Scala. The site plan the company filed for Barracks Road Shopping Center restructures traffic flow, removing barricades so that cars have a straight shot from Emmet at Burger King to Millmont Street, and adds more crosswalks and islands with landscaping. Turrets and towers also are placed atop the existing structure.

As for the perennially crowded parking lot, Scala says the number of spaces increases from 1,359 to 1,484.

Metz is not convinced customers will thrill to shopping sans canopy at Barracks Road, and would like them to email their opinions to him at keepthecanopy@earthlink.net. He promises to forward their comments to the landlord.
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12 comments

The canopy also seems to trap warmth in the winter, making it quite comfortable to walk up and down the sidewalk on all but the coldest, windiest days. I used to go to Barracks Road many Saturday afternoons - the canopy kept it cool in the summer as well. Too bad - if there's no canopy perhaps the mature trees on the Downtown Mall will provide better shade.

Removing the canopy sounds like just another case of some idiot consultant selling a bad idea to a developer who then has to rationalize paying the consultant for said bad idea by actually implementing it - ignoring what their customers (tenants) want.

Call me old fashioned, but the original BRSC design was a funky blend of traditional 1950s Virginiana with poured concrete canopies. Then came the shingle-style in the 80s. Now, we remove the canopies and put in canvas awnings like the Downtown Mall (my business has an awning, and they do wear out...just look at the new Downtown pavilion). Who knows...next to go is the Stainback & Scribner-designed "Rotunda" Bank at the Southeast corner of the BRSC, even though it has "historic protection".
Short Pump...here we come!

Yes, Fashion Square and Short Pump will be the draw on hot summer and cold winter days. I agree with Music Lover, the current use of wide sidewalks covered by a wide canopy helps to make shopping enjoyable in inclement weather. For some reason, this seems like a decision that had its roots in city hall.

Insane. I grew up in town and can remember walking 'neath the shady retreat from the sun since I was just a kid. What next, take out the fountain by 5 Guys as an eye-sore? Surely that's 'dated' too. There are aspects of that center that make it special and different and that is why it is preferred. I guess these changes will be a boon for the other strip center owners in town. I suppose smart retailers will head to the corner and the Downtown Mall to maintain a customer-friendly experience for their patrons. I guess the Williamsburg Outlet Mall was the shape of things to come. We must be getting old.

Massive difference between Barracks and Short Pump is that they had enough gumption to make Short Pump a SMOKE FREE MALL.

I can't even imagine one day here in the village without walking 10 feet and not seeing a smoker walking around trying to kill a child. Tomorrow I'll be on the downtown pedestrian (except for the cross streets) mall watching parents smoking in one hand, kids in the other.

So C-Ville. Virginia is for lovers...of cancer.

Yes, especially colong cancer.

One of the Dumbest. Ideas. EVER.

Removal of the canopy must be the first of the renovations. I do not see how removing a canopy could increase rental rates so there must be something else involved. The owner knows what they are doing.

And for those of you who think that removing the canopy will cause shoppers to go to Fashion Square...you are wrong. Been to Fashion Square lately? What a piece of crap. It's like Wal-Mart.

Barracks Road is actually for sale, the entire shopping center, so why would they blow this money now? Stupid... Moronic actually.

"And for those of you who think that removing the canopy will cause shoppers to go to Fashion Square¢Ã¢â??¬Šyou are wrong." I can't speak for other people, but I don't plan to go there when walking around is uncomfortable.

I really like shopping at Barracks and one of the main reasons is... yup, you guessed it: the canopies. I like that you can be outdoors and not cooped up in an indoor mall, but that you can still avoid the sun and rain.

Thanks for providing the email address - I will write!

I am stunned to read in the Daily Progress and to hear on Channel 29 News that some of the canopy at Barracks Road Shopping Center may be removed. My residence of 35 years is just west of Barracks Road from the shopping center and it has been for many years a pleasure to shop and stroll with the canopy as protection from the sun and weather. Why even consider changing or tampering with such a vital part of the plan?

If several shop owners want to have a different appearance that they feel the canopy does not allow, then in my opinion, let them take their business elsewhere. It seems to me most who have commented on this change do not want it to happen.

Please don't mess with perfection!