NEWS- Razing the Roof: Furniture store sells for $3.2 million

The high price tag means a huge windfall for Under the Roof owner Deb Henshaw and her partners. Together, they purchased the building for $2 million less in 2002.

Since 1994, Under the Roof has been known for selling modern-looking, high-end furniture from its midtown Charlottesville location. Now, 13 years later, it turns out that an item other than tables and chairs has sold for top dollar: the building itself.

Architect Bill Atwood and developer John Bartelt have purchased the prime 0.384 acres from Under the Roof owner Deb Henshaw and her partners for $3.2 million.

"We didn't drop a penny from what they wanted," says a confident-sounding Atwood. "People want to be in the urban realm."

With that in mind, Atwood plans to build big. He'll bulldoze both the furniture store and the Studio Art building across the street, which Bartelt already owns, to build an Art Deco complex that might soar as many as seven stories over Main Street.

"Our mission is to get some retail down there and good food service, but mostly affordable, work-force housing," Atwood says. "Most of the people who work for me can't live in Charlottesville or Albemarle, and that's terrible. They have to live in Orange or Waynesboro."

The playful Atwood, who once advertised his architectural services by depicting himself up in a tree, has dubbed his undertaking the "East Lawn Project," a name that's sort of an in-your-face to UVA which– in addition to building its much-anticipated South Lawn Project– has been eyeing the Studio Art building for its ever-expanding medical complex.

Atwood says his Art Deco design ideas for the project will also be a departure from the traditional "Jeffersonian" look of the Grounds.

"I've been drinking the Jefferson Kool-Aid for 32 years," says Atwood, "but I'm beginning to think he'd be anxious to see more of a mix than we've witnessed. I think that the true, honest look of Charlottesville is the '30s motif with a lot of metal-clad, columned colonnades and lots of glass window treatments like at Starr Hill, for an overall clean, modern look."

Atwood concedes that he and Bartelt paid a premium for the furniture building which sold for just $1.2 million in 2002, but he was anxious to take a gamble on a property that falls on what he calls "the rope."

"Imagine a rope that runs from Water Street to the Rotunda, the heart of Charlottesville," Atwood says. "Everything along that rope is worth its weight in gold.

"If you stand on the rope and pick up a rock and throw it, everything it lands on is worth its weight in gold. Pick up that rock and throw it again, and it's not."

The poetic Atwood says that people who control that area in the next five years will do very well financially. "The cultural revolution is moving against the cul-de-sac and toward that part of town," says Atwood. "The picket fence system is over."

Dave Phillips, president of CAAR, the Charlottesville Albemarle Association of Realtors, says he thinks Atwood's pretty savvy.

"The future of the city is on Main Street because of its location near the hospital, UVA, the Corner, restaurants, shopping," he says. "It has everything in there."

To support his prediction of an ascending Charlottesville, Atwood cites CAAR data indicating that Charlottesville's price per finished square foot of real estate has already surpassed Albemarle's, and third-quarter median sales prices were up 17.2 percent from third quarter 2006. In addition, second quarter 2007 saw an 18.1 percent increase over that same period in 2006.

That's not to mention that the difference in median sales prices between Albemarle and Charlottesville has shrunk from $78,000 this time last year to $31,644, a decrease of over 40 percent. Phillips says that's reflective of a national trend of two big demographics migrating to America's cities.

"You're seeing a large number of Baby Boomers who are becoming empty-nesters and are tired of the commute from the suburbs, tired of the yardwork, and are moving into condos and single-family homes," he says. "You also have a lot of Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers getting into the market who want the exciting lifestyle of the city and to be able to walk to the nightlife. Those two trends have been going on for about a year now."

That's not the only reason Atwood says he's betting on an urban revitalization. Now that global warming is a constant preoccupation, he thinks Albemarle residents are catching on to the idea that city life is greener.

"People are realizing that they can leave a smaller carbon footprint if they live in the city," he says. "People can walk to the amenities they want, except maybe golf courses."

But one amenity that won't be as conveniently available along West Main in the near future is high-tech furniture from Under the Roof. Henshaw is moving her entire business operation to her recently renovated Waynesboro location.

Despite the relocation, Henshaw says the move will mean a better overall experience for her customers. "The cost structure there will allow us to lower our prices and offer more selection," she says. "The drive is easier and more beautiful than trekking up 29 North."

She heaps praise on Charlottesville's neighbor to the west. "Target, Kohl's, and PetSmart are also opening in Waynesboro," says Henshaw. "It's up and coming."

Henshaw says she won't feel any twinge of nostalgia once the store relocates. "I've enjoyed being here very much," she says. "I would say that I will miss seeing the same familiar faces, but I plan on seeing them in Waynesboro."

For bargain hunters, Henshaw has declared an "emergency liquidation sale" running now until the store's closing on December 17.

And when the sale's over, Kane Furniture stands right across the street.



Is the BAR going to let Atwood bulldoze those buildings?

Great! We really need more unaffordable upscale apartments!!

Also, the "kool aid" reference is so distasteful (it refers to a really sad tragedy).