ONARCHITECTURE- Cornered: CVS to replace Plan 9, Satellite?
Six months ago, when the Hook learned that, about a year after he purchased the former Eljo's building for a reported $4.7 million, developer Hunter Craig had added the Chancellor Building to his shopping cart (he paid $2.6 for the Chancellor, home of the White Spot, Freeman-Victorius frame shop, and the Corner Market), we wondered if there might be some big changes in store for the Corner. However, it wasn't Craig who confirmed our suspicions ("I like the Corner just the way it is," he said), but long-time Corner property owner Terry Vassalos.
"I think it's a turning point," said Vassalos.
He oughta know– he owns the the Corner parking lot and the Anderson Brothers Building (home of Plan 9 and its subtenants the Satellite Ballroom, Higher Grounds, and Just Curry). He said then that the construction of two nearby student megaplexes— 225 14th Street and the GrandMarc on 15th Street— which are adding 265 new residential units to the area, would revitalize the area with more pedestrians.
"I'd like to see fewer restaurants and more retail," he said. "I think a big chain retail store would be great for the Corner."
At the time, Vassalos insisted that he had no plans to put such a store in the Anderson Building.
However, for nearly two weeks, the rumor that a CVS Pharmacy will be moving into the Anderson Building and displacing the current tenants, has been circulating in the blogosphere and on email lists.
Predictablly, folks are upset that Satellite and Plan 9 may be getting the boot, just as many were upset when Anderson Brothers Bookstore was sold– after a remarkable 112 years in business– to a national college bookstore chain in 1988. Around the same time, Corner icons like Chancellor's Drug Store and the University Cafeteria also closed. Twenty years later, it appears another changing of the guard may be taking place.
Indeed, Vassalos indirectly confirms he's in talks with the pharmacy chain, mentioning that "they have studied the location," but he's not yet naming them as the new tenants. He does confirm, however, that he's in negotiations with Plan 9 concerning its lease agreement. "It's very complicated," he says.
"It's about to come to a head," said Plan 9 owner Jim Bland, who, understanding how upset some folks might be about Plan 9 and the Satellite Ballroom having to move, promises to let the media know what happens. "We're very close," he told the Hook last week. "It could be before the week is out."
Vassalos, however, says it could be another month before things are worked out.
(At press time on Tuesday, March 11, a deal had still not been struck.)
What those negotiations involve, if Plan 9 is trying to get an extension on their lease or Vassalos is trying to buy them out of it, neither party is willing to say.
"We're concerned, first and foremost, with our employees and the other tenants," says Bland, who admits that some Plan 9 employees heard things through the grapevine before they heard it from the company.
Oddly enough, Rob Hargett of the Richmond-based Rebeeke Company, the developer for CVS in Virginia, says he's not involved in the Corner project. In 2006, Hargett tried to propose a CVS for the corner of West Main and Ridge/McIntire, where the RSC Rental building is, but it was shot down by the Board of Architectural Review.
In fact, Hargett accused the BAR then of not "understanding economics" and said he was going to need "a week" to get over his anger before deciding what to do next. Eventually, he walked away from the project.
(In February last year, another Richmond-based developer, Bob Englander, proposed a plan to build a 9-story mixed-use building on the same corner, sans CVS, but the Planning Commission denied a request to rezone the property in August. A month later, however, City Council approved the project, but only after Englander sweetened the pot with another $100,000 in proffers for affordable housing, bringing the proffer total to $300,000.)
"I'd be surprised if rumors about a CVS on the Corner turn out to be true," says BAR vice chair Syd Knight, though he thinks a pharmacy would be good for the Corner. "That location doesn't fit the standard CVS model. It's difficult for the non-UVA population to reach, and it has no parking or truck access for deliveries. Those are some of the problems they cite when they talk about the shortcomings of the Downtown Mall store. Why would they want to recreate them on the Corner?"
(Unlike the RSC building, the Anderson Brothers Building is a historic structure, which the BAR will certainly emphasize whenever a design proposal comes before them. Built in the 1890s, it's one of only a few "ironfront" buildings in town, with facades covered in cast iron to make them look like stone.
Again, Vassalos says "They [CVS, presumably] have studied the location" and determined that the ever-increasing foot traffic on the Corner could sustain a store.
Mike DeAngelis, national director of public relations for CVS, neither confirmed nor denied the company's interest in the Anderson Building site, but emphasized that CVS makes public comments only if there's a signed agreement for a site.
Vassalos says he understands that some people might be upset about Plan 9, Satellite, and Just Curry losing their leases, and he points out that he's been a steward of small business on the Corner for years. "But as a business man..." he says with a shrug and a smile.
Indeed, considering that CVS would probably pay a hefty price for the space and would likely renovate extensively, a deal with the chain might be too good to pass up.
"Besides, I don't think the Corner should be all bars and restaurants," Vassalos adds, echoing his past statements. "More retail will be good for the Corner."