Covering over 65 acres, Stonefield will have 1.2 million square feet of building space.
As originally planned, the scale of Albemarle Place was going to be like a small city--with street-level retail and offices and residences on the floors above.
Old rendering of Albemarle Place
Last week, local officials and developers lined up behind a row of golden shovels to break ground on a tract of land at the corner of Route 29 and Hydraulic Road, from which will spring a 65-acre village-style development three times the size of the Downtown Mall.
It's been a long time coming.
First rezoned in 2001 and finally approved in 2003, The Shops at Stonefield– previously known as Albemarle Place– will have 1.2 million square feet of building space, including a 135-room luxury hotel, a 14-screen IMAX theater complex, and 245 residences in the first phase of construction. In addition to a greatly anticipated Trader Joe's, the developers revealed that restaurants Osaka Sushi and Travinia Italian Kitchen have also signed on for a predicted November 1, 2012 grand opening of the "town center" portion of the project– with various apartments and townhouses slated for completion in 2013.
So why the name change? Why The Shops at Stonefield?
"It's a name that has an organic connotation," says Robbie Robertson, the developer's communications director, "a name that's reflective of the natural elements of the area, such as the local stone and wood that will be used."
Robertson also says they wanted to re-brand the development as they "take it in a new direction." Robertson concedes it could be a challenge to get people to embrace the Stonefield name (almost a decade as Albemarle Place has burned the older name into many brains), a problem he hopes to fix with a social media campaign.
Of course, this wasn't the first groundbreaking. Back in 2006, a reporter snapped photos of the location after previous developers demolished the old Blockbuster videos building and began clearing land. However, a sour economy– along with the discovery that the aging sewage infrastructure known as the MeadowCreek Interceptor didn't have the needed capacity– halted the project, which was supposed to eventually see residences atop the retail as well as structured parking.
However, a new developer has taken over, South Carolina-based Edens & Avant, whose executives were on hand last week to celebrate the project's new beginning. Again earth movers and construction crews are clearing land, and just last week a reporter saw a crew lifting a massive fuel tank out of the ground in front of the shuttered and doomed 7-Eleven building.
But this will not be Albemarle Place. Indeed, "the shops" part of the new name is telling. Whereas Albemarle Place was characterized as a "test case" for the County's Neighborhood Model, incorporating hundreds of offices and residences atop retail addresses in a walkable village with structured parking (like the Downtown Mall), Stonefield will be more of a shopping center with a neighborhood feel, incorporating residences on the periphery of the "town center " and laying down traditional shopping center-like parking lots.
Not exactly the shining example of the Neighborhood Model it was first promised to be.
Still, accommodating the development is costing a bundle. The Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority has been busy with a $25.5-million upgrade of the Interceptor, which is expected to be completed this summer. Some major road projects are also being planned: an extra lane along U.S. 29 from Westfield Road to Hydraulic (paid for by the developer), a $4.7 million City project (Edens & Avant is putting up $1 million for design work, and the state will fund the bulk of it) continuing the lane between Hydraulic to the 250 Bypass, a second lane on the 250 westbound on-ramp, and another lane from there to Barracks Road.
Traffic at the interchange already gets snarled with 51,000 vehicles every day, according to VDOT, and although Stonefield has an interior road network that could help some drivers bypass the intersection, it is expected to make things worse. However, while the Westfield to Hydraulic project will be completed on the development's timeline, the Route 29/250 interchange project is still waiting for funding approval and isn't expected to be finished until 2014.
"Great things come to those who wait," said Tom Gallagher, VP of Development at Edens & Avant, at the May 10 groundbreaking, before he introduced County Supe Dennis Rooker, who represents the surrounding Rio Magisterial District.
"It's a happy day," Rooker told the crowd. "We couldn't have hoped for a better partner."
Development officials said that Stonefield is expected to create 1,700 construction jobs (local company Faulconer Construction got the contract), 722 retail and hotel jobs, and generate $3.5 million in annual revenue for the County. They estimate that Trader Joe's and the Regal Theater alone will draw over 1.3 million annual customers.
Considering the increased burden on sewage infrastructure, the Hook asked Rooker if the developers might incorporate a Worrell Water Technologies Living Machine system to process its sewage on-site. In 2009, Rooker told the Hook that there was "no reason we couldn't do this locally."
As previously reported, the locally based company (owned by former Daily Progress owner Tom Worrell) has installed its unique wastewater treatment system at locations around the world. The system turns sewage into clean water using natural filters and micro-organisms at a lower cost than conventional systems. However, asked if Eden & Avant might take advantage of such an eco-friendly local technology, Rooker was not optimistic.
"I doubt they will consider it," said Rooker. "It’s something that needs to be planned into a project from the start."
Gallagher, however, says he plans to visit the company's headquarters, which is just down the road from the development he's spearheading. While Gallagher concedes he doesn't know anything about the Living Machine, what he has heard has him intrigued.
"It sounds interesting," he says.