Prize patrol: CCDC unveils Water Street designs
On Saturday, the Charlottesville Community Design Center will unveil designs received as part of a national competition that was organized at the request of the City to generate ideas for the future development of the Water Street parking lots.
According to current CCDC director Jane Fisher, 63 entries arrived by the deadline last Friday, including 3 from international design firms. Members of the public are welcome to view the designs at the Center's downtown studio beginning Saturday at 6pm, says Fisher, and are invited to vote for their "People's Choice" favorites. After considering the public feedback, the selected jury will make their picks on Sunday, she says, and a winner will be announced on October 5.
Amid concerns about unchecked development on the valuable site– it has been estimated that one of the lots could fetch as much as $10 million– a group of influential citizens– including Mitch Van Yahres, Blake Caravati, Maurice Cox, and UVA architect Bill Morrish– sent a letter last year to Mayor David Brown asking that the City provide a "broad, highly professional urban design vision" for the sites. While no potential developer will be required to use the winning design, the City hopes the competition and public discussion might influence and encourage a thoughtful design.
Earlier this year, the design competition raised a few eyebrows when it was revealed that the CCDC planned to offer a $25,000 to $50,000 grand prize and charge the City $103,000 for its services.
After responding to an RFP quietly issued by the City in December last year– indeed, the CCDC was the only proposal the City received– former CCDC director and founder Katie Swenson appeared before Council on January 16. Despite concerns about the cost expressed by Councilor Dave Norris, and some skepticism from Kevin Lynch, Council approved the proposal as part of its consent agenda without a formal vote or any questions from the public.
However, when word of the competition got out, it quickly attracted criticism.
"I'm appalled at the amount the city wants to award the winner of this design," North Downtown resident Marion Samuels told the Hook, "a design that probably will never be used. What is the city trying to prove?"
At the time, North Downtown Neighborhood Association president Colette Hall also criticized the expenditure. "Fifty-thousand for a prize is a lot of money in a time when Council is trying to aid people with affordable housing issues and rising real estate assessments," she told the Hook. Hall, who regularly attends City Council meetings, also said she was unaware at the time that the CCDC was charging the City $103,000 for its efforts. "I'm the only one who ever speaks about the 'Consent Agenda,'" she responded, "exactly because City Council approves millions of dollars without any public comment or question."
At this past Monday's City Council meeting, Hall again complained about the design competition, saying that neighbors she had spoken to still thought it was an "outrageous amount of our tax dollars for a design competition, especially if a future developer would not be required to use the design." Hall also complained that no North Downtown resident had been appointed to the design jury, despite the neighborhood's request for inclusion.