Boomtown flats: Downtown's building frenzy

If it seems like new construction projects are springing up all over town, you're not imagining it. Charlottesville is officially in a building boom.

"In the five years I've been here," says planning chief Jim Tolbert, "this is by far more than I've ever seen."

While the University of Virginia– particularly with its $130 million John Paul Jones Arena– leads in filling construction firm coffers, it's private developers who are flooding Tolbert's neighborhood development office with permit applications.

"My building official told me the most applications he'd ever done in one week was 29," says Tolbert. "Then, one week in March he did 72. And our planners are receiving more site plans than ever before."

Over 2,000 new housing units are planned over the next five years– so many that the Charlottesville School Board decided to go ahead and redistrict for the projected 500 children who might soon fill its schools.

"Most redistrictings are politically charged, and people get upset," says School Board member Peggy Van Yahres. "We didn't have any complaints on this. That's the way to redistrict, when nobody lives there."

The Downtown Mall will see its share of new housing, with luxury condos such as at the new "Holsinger" slated to rise on the site of the Fifth Street parking lot, as well as phase two of the Norcross apartments, and renovation of the long-vacant buildings beside the Wachovia tower.

In October, construction is set to begin on President's Plaza at the east end of the Mall, with the Coran Capshaw-run amphitheater and new federally funded transit center.

Construction should be ending in October– but won't be– at the historic Paramount Theater. Along with Live Arts, completed in 2003, and the amphitheater, to be finished in time for next summer, the Downtown Mall will be an entertainment hot spot. Where all those thousands of potential theater and concertgoers will park: still to be determined. Or maybe they'll all take a bus to the new transit center.

The city is about to embark on other civic projects. Court Square has been a $3.4 million mess all summer as it becomes swaddled in historic brick. The $10 million Juvenile & Domestic Relations remodel, like much of the other construction, will be starting in October– and that project does include a three-story garage.

"We're spending a lot more on capital projects," says Bill Letteri, the city's very busy chief of facilities, who just finished up a $1.8 million remodel of the Levy Opera House to accommodate the relocated J&D court during the construction of its permanent home.

Towers sprouting on the Downtown Mall are another sign of urbanization– not quite Manhattan canyonization, because they're set back, but more neck-craning than the average two- to three-story buildings now on the mall.

Lee Danielson, whose ice rink and Regal cinema made him the father of the Downtown Mall's rebirth in the '90s, is working on a 9-story hotel in the old Central Fidelity building across from the Wachovia tower. Meanwhile, next door to Wachovia, in four buildings that that have sat empty for years, Keith Woodard wants to put his own 9- to 10-story tower.

No slouches themselves, the Holsinger condos will be a healthy five stories tall.

Downtown is pushing farther south with Gabe Silverman's renovation of the Frank Ix Building, soon to house two of Charlottesville's three new televisions stations. Anchoring Coran Capshaw's Ivy Industries building will be ACAC.

Get your hard hats ready. It's going to be a jackhammer of a year.

with additional reporting by Courteney Stuart

Maintaining the Jefferson-quo: Court Square stays historic with a multi-million dollar brick facelift, while other parts of Downtown Mall go for a 21st-century look.





Where: President's Plaza on east end of the Downtown Mall

Developer: Charlottesville Pavilion LLC (Coran Capshaw)

Tenants: 4,000 concertgoers

Project Cost: $3.5 million

Groundbreaking: October

Completion: May 2005

The good news is that Fridays after 5 will survive the new and improved amphitheater– and presumably won't skip a beat starting up again next summer.

But there's always concern about putting a public facility in the hands of a private contractor. Then again, no one is disputing that Capshaw has the entertainment and the construction contacts. Some local architects are complaining the soaring canvas-and-arch structure will dominate the site along with that end of the mall. But similar arches are visible in coverage of the Olympics from Athens. Forget historic. This civic icon looks to the future.



Transit Center

Where: President's Plaza, east end of the mall

Developer: City of Charlottesville

Size: 10,000 sq. ft.

Tenants: Charlottesville Transit System, visitors center

Project cost: $6.5 million

Groundbreaking: October

Completion: December 2005

What public building is without controversy? The yet-unnamed transit center is no exception. Once, it was going to be located at the Amtrak station on West Main. When the deal fell through with Gabe Silverman, who's still lambasting the city on that move, the east end of the Mall was available, and the city had mega-millions in federal grants, so the next thing anyone knows, Seventh Street is closing.

The transit center's modern glass style troubles historic architecture fans, especially since it's touted as the bus travelers' "first glimpse of the city." But wait– these bus riders already live here– the Greyhound station remains on West Main Street. The turning point in city policy is that a historic preservation district designation no longer means all the buildings will look old.



Bill Nitchman


The Holsinger

Where: Fifth St. SE and Water St.

Developer: Water Street LLC (Bill Nitchman)

Size: .388 acres

Tenants: first floor retail, 17 condos

Condo cost: $250,000 to $900,000 for penthouses


Completion: October 2005

Long thought of as the C&O parking lot, one of the last of the city's surface lots is about to turn into luxury condos. The city sold the lot to Hunter Craig's Water Street LLC in 2001 for $228,000. Bill Nitchman bought the LLC from Craig but declines to say how much he paid for the lot, other than, "Let's just say [Craig] was happy." Nitchman, who also owns Canvasback Real Estate and Investments, calls the project "a whole new perspective to downtown living." He's already found takers for three of the 1,000- to 2,700-sq.-ft. condos, and one of the four 3,000-sq.-ft. penthouses. Standard issue: granite countertops, wood floors, gas ranges, and balconies, with phenomenal views from the penthouses.


Lee Danielson



The Landmark

Where: 200 E. Main St.

Developer: Brahm LLC (Lee Danielson)

Size: 100-room hotel on .276 acres

Tenants: Holidaymakers, convention goers, random visitors

Purchase cost: $3.3 million (7/5/02)

Groundbreaking: September

Completion: Winter 2006

The Omni will soon no longer be the only hostelry downtown. Danielson is set to break ground on his boutique hotel in the former Central Fidelity/Boxer Learning building, which eventually will greet guests with a Water Street entrance– but in the meantime with more construction. Originally dubbed the "Hotel Charlottesville," the $21-million project is designed by San Francisco architect and Danielson buddy Mark Hornberger, who renovated the historic Hotel Coronado in San Diego. The Landmark's translucent glass at the top of the nine-story structure will make it a beacon of sorts downtown. Danielson calls the whole project "like herding cats" from an operational standpoint, and he declines to comment on whether financing is by Capshaw.


101-111 E. Main Street

Where: Downtown Mall

Developer: Keith Woodard

Size: 150,000 sq. ft. in 9- or 10-story tower (on 0.5 acres)

Tenants: Retail, restaurants, office on first two floors, parking, 90 condos

Cost: $1.8 million (7/21/03)

Groundbreaking: Spring 2005

Completion: 2006

For years, the strip of four buildings across from the Jefferson Theater has sat empty and desolate, a blight upon the otherwise thriving Downtown Mall. When Woodard bought the property last summer from former Danielson partner Colin Rolph, hopes were high that signs of life might soon emerge in the mostly historic structures. Not yet. While it's more complicated than starting from scratch, Woodard vowed to preserve the historic character of buildings– and he still thinks that's important. "They're not outstanding examples of architecture," he says, "but they add to the character of the Downtown Mall."



ACAC/Ivy Industries

Where: 111 Monticello Ave.

Developer: 111 Monticello Avenue LLC (Coran Capshaw)

Size: 69,000 sq.-ft. (existing) on 3.8 acres

Tenants: ACAC for sure, apartments, garage, grocery (if it doesn't go to Ix building), retail

Purchase cost: $4.975 million (8/17/01)

Groundbreaking: July 30, 2004

Completion: October 2005 (partial)

ACAC's future Monticello Avenue club gives downtown fitness fanatics one more reason to get pumped up.

The development is a partnership between ACAC founder and CEO Phil Wendel and Dave Matthews Band manager/├╝berdeveloper Coran Capshaw, who purchased the building in 2001 for nearly $5 million but has been without a major tenant since 2003, when Ivy Industries folded after falling victim to a check-kiting scheme.

Capshaw said at the groundbreaking he knew ACAC was looking for new space, and he believed the Ivy Industries building could be a perfect fit. Wendel quickly agreed, recalling his first experience at the property as "love at first 'site'."

City fathers are also excited about the development, and there are plans to improve the pedestrian thoroughfare along Second Street from the Mall to Garrett Street to increase foot traffic both to ACAC and to other developments south of the Mall.

"We want to help expand the perimeter of success we've experienced downtown over to Monticello," says city spokesman Maurice Jones.



Gabe Silverman

Frank Ix Building

Where: 201-239 Elliott Ave.

Developers: Gabe Silverman, Ludwig Kuttner, Allan Cadgene

Size: 324,626 (existing) sq. ft. on 17.478 acres

Tenants: 2 TV stations, Virginia Diodes, Total Performance, grocery store (maybe), 90 "real" lofts

Condo cost: $400,000 for average 2,000-sq.-ft. condo

Groundbreaking: already under way

Completion: 2006

Gabe Silverman has big plans for the biggest commercial tract– 17 acres worth– in town. The $20-million project offers a place to live (20 to 30 of the 90 lofts will be sold, the rest rented), work, and– something current downtown denizens most miss, besides parking– a place to grocery shop. Initial reports put the new market at the ACAC building, but Silverman says he's been talking to Phil Wendel at ACAC, and he thinks a grocery on the Monticello Avenue end of the Ix property would be a good fit, while perhaps Total Performance, a baseball training facility, might be a plus for the athletically inclined ACAC side of Monticello Ave. Artist Beatrix Ost, wife of owner Ludwig Kuttner, will contribute a 10,000-sq.-ft. ceramic tile walkway to the Ix project, according to Silverman.


Roy Haney



Next door to the ABC store

Where: 500 West Main

Developer: Roy Haney

Size: 4650 sq. ft. (at completion)

Tenants: Retail downstairs, 3 luxury apartments

Purchase cost: $50,000 (10/3/75)

Groundbreaking: already under way

Completion: October

Roy Haney is the first to admit he's not one of the big developers. He owned three West Main lots, one of which houses the ABC store, and says he was forced into building when his annual property tax rose from $2,000 to $6,000. "I couldn't leave it empty," he explains. "I had to put something on it." The location close to downtown has prompted plenty of interest, both for the 1,550-sq.-ft. commercial space downstairs, and the three two-story apartments on the second and third floors, priced at $1,000 to $1,500/month. Down the street, Walker Square is readying its 225 rental units. "That doesn't bother me," says Haney. "I already got one lady who wants one."