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 email@example.com. He promises to forward their comments to the landlord.