City to hand over Jefferson School
In order to ensure that the project gets $4.4 million in federal tax credits, City Council appears eager to give away or sell the Jefferson School complex and let one man, Richmond lawyer Dan Gecker, choose the five-person board that will own the school that played a key role in Charlottesville education history.
“We’ve done a lot,” said City Councilor Kendra Hamilton, “and I think people understand that we care deeply. But I am advocating for letting go.”
At the Council meeting tonight, Gecker and Assistant City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney explained that getting the $4.4 million in federal tax credits requires that the property fall into private hands. Additionally, they said, the project could earn another $3.5 million in state credits, and the $7.9 million sum of credits could be sold to help fund the project.
Located near the corner of Main and Fourth Street NW, the existing buildings date back to 1926 when the Jefferson High School, a segregated facility for African Americans, was built. In 1951, it became Jefferson Elementary and closed in 1964 when Charlottesville finally desegregated.
In 2004, a City-picked task force estimated that, based on $150 per square-foot, the nearly 74,000 square-foot complex should cost about $11 million to renovate. Nonetheless, the renovation figure discussed at tonight’s meeting was $30 million, and Councilors seemed eager for Gecker’s help.
Now celebrated as a tax-credit expert, Gecker had a brush with fame back in 1998, when his then client Kathleen Willey accused President Bill Clinton of groping her in a private study beside the Oval Office during a job hunt.
Gecker and Toney hope the City will provide some names for the five appointments to run the partnership that will own the complex and another 15 individuals who will run a proposed African American Cultural Center that will serve as a prime tenant. The Carver Recreational Center, already located on the property, would be renovated as part of the complex.
Frank Friedman, president of Piedmont Virginia Community College, at the same meeting noting that the College now gets just 18 percent of students from the City, expressed interest in the College gaining some of that renovated space downtown. “Access,” Friedman said, “is what we’re all about.”