NEWS- All wet? Barracks Road plan strips canopy


The Barracks Road of the future?
ROUNDS VANDUZER ARCHITECTS

The latest plan to update the area's oldest shopping center has riled some of its merchants, who contend that Barracks Road Shopping Center's owner is more interested in a trendy look than in customer comfort.

Renovation plans filed with the city show the original 10-foot canopy in the main section of Barracks Road removed from Talbots 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, who used to own a store on the Downtown Mall, 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."

Over at Oil and Vinegar, owner Paul Urmanski says that while he hasn't seen final renovation documents, he's not convinced that going canopy-less will help 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's 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 popular but space-challenged center, according to Metz. A year ago, Federal, which also operates nearby Shopper's World (but wrongly gives that mall's address on its website as Willow Lawn Drive and West Broad Street, which is in Richmond) met with tenants and nixed that proposal. 

Merchant reaction against removing the canopy was so strong that CEO Don Woods told his tenants it was off the table, says Metz. "Now they're doing it without telling the public," he says. "It's a fait accompli."

Metiz is also irked 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're not prepared to release anything at this time because it has not had final internal approval," says Federal spokeswoman Janelle Stevenson.

In Charlottesville's Office of 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 at Barracks Road.)

Federal submitted a comprehensive signage plan, Scala says. 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 proposed for 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 keepthecanopy@earthlink.net. He promises to forward all comments to his landlord.

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