ON ARCHITECTURE- P.O. demo: University Station finally going down

Three years after closing, the University Station Post office has a date with the wrecking ball.

Three years after taking its last letter, it looks like the old University Station Post 0ffice on 11th Street finally has a date with a wrecking ball. Last week, Waco Inc., a Richmond-based construction contracting company, applied for a permit to demolish the 6,818-square-foot, circa-1965 structure at 118 11th Street.

"This property is a non-contributing structure in the West Main Architectural Design Control District," reports City preservation planner Mary Joy Scala in an email, "therefore it may be demolished without the Board of Architectural Review's approval." 

Indeed, the old post office building isn't exactly a prize piece of West Main architecture (it is literally a brick box), but it has contributed to some big Charlottesville history in a small way. Located next to Trax, the nightclub made world-famous by the Dave Matthews Band that was demolished in 2002 to make way for a UVA hospital building, the Post Office was where the merchandising arming of the DMB was born.

"At first, we were going over there with five packages," Chris Tetzeli recalled in a 2006 interview.

Tetzeli, a long-time Red Light Management employee, who now heads of ATO Records, would take early DMB merchandise orders from a small office inside Trax.

"They were very friendly," said Tetzeli. "When it started becoming 50 packages, they weren't as happy to see us."

Eventually, that little shipping business grew into MusicToday.com, a artist-to-fan e-commerce operation in the former ConAgra food-processing plant in Crozet with over 200 employees, which sold $100 million worth of concert tickets, CDs, merchandise, and fan-club memberships in 2005.

In 2006, LiveNation Inc., the world's largest concert promotion company, bought a majority stake in the company, which now has over 700 clients using its services, including heavyweights like The Rolling Stones, Eminem, Justin Timberlake, Tiger Woods, Nine Inch Nails, and Jeff Gordon. Most recently, Live Nation announced a proposed merger with Ticketmaster, whose lawyers once attempted to shut down MusicToday, according to founder Coran Capshaw in a 2006 story in Fast Company magazine.

While no one is likely to shed a tear for the old post office, despite the DMB connection, the demo is likely to jar the memory of those who remember the demos that took place behind the building 20 years ago. Near the south side of the corner of 10th Street, crews from Parham Construction (the company doing the current Downtown Mall re-skinning) made West Main Street history when their bulldozers flattened two 1850s structures protected under the City's historic ordinance. The developer, S.W. Heischman, told a local paper at the time that the buildings were not historic, a notion that a local architect at the time called "sickening." In the the end, Parham Construction owner Ronnie Parham plead guilty to two counts of demolishing a historic building without BAR approval and paid a $50,000 fine.

In 2002, Heischman's son, Kim, would purchase the old post office under University Station LLC for $1.8 million, adding another piece to the land that his late father cleared at 10th and Main, which is still vacant. In 2006, the younger Heischman declined to renew the Post Office's lease, telling the Hook he had "several options" for the property. 

Since 2000, plans have been afoot to build a massive mixed-use development on the site. Once it was to be called Holsinger Square, which was later changed to University Station.

"We're working on it diligently," project architect John Matthews told the Hook back in 2004. "Thanks to the new zoning ordinance, it can be a much larger development– potentially hundreds of thousands of square feet with multiple levels of below-grade parking."

Four years later, Matthews appears to be just as excited, though decidedly more tight-lipped. "There's alot going on here, and it's a very exciting project," he told the Hook, but said he needed permission from the developers before he could elaborate. But the developers appear to be tight-lipped as well. At press time, Matthews had still not secured permission to talk about the project.