For rent: WCVL studio not signed

Two weeks ago, the supposed future home of WCVL, the "all Charlottesville all the time" TV station, was sporting several big "for lease" signs in its windows. That left some media watchers wondering if the station had run into trouble.

"They're already down," says WCVL co-owner Denny King of the signs. "That was a big mistake."

"It was a mistake on my part," admits Stu Rifkin with HasBrouck Real Estate, who is trying to lease the city-owned space. "I have every expectation WCVL is going to occupy that space."

So does King. The same week the signs appeared, he says, he and partner Bob Sigman got half of the $2 million they say they need to get their station on the air.

"I had very positive investor meetings last week," says King, "and I just took a very recognizable citizen through [the building]."

However, city officials acknowledge that the company, Mediacast LLC, hasn't signed a lease. Therefore, the 9,871-square-foot space under the Market Street garage– long known as the home of WINA talk radio– is still for rent and still sporting smaller signs indicating its availability.

If Mediacast leases the property, the company will pay about $10 a square foot, according to Rifkin, who says retail space on the Mall goes for between $15 and $20 per square foot.

So is WCVL getting a sweetheart deal?

No, says Aubrey Watts, Charlottesville's director of economic development. He points out that only a very small portion of the space actually fronts on the popular mall. "They're getting it for market rate," says Watts. "We made a big investment there, and we want to get it back."

"I don't think the TV station is getting a discount rate because they're a TV station," says Bob Stroh, general manager of the Charlottesville Parking Center, which runs the Market Street garage. "The price is based on how much space you take; the small retail space in front would be much higher."

But both Watts and Stroh say that while King has certainly expressed interest over the past months, the huge space is available until WCVL signs a contract.

"The reality is there hasn't been any movement on it, and the city doesn't want to lease to anyone but WCVL," says Rifkin.

"It would be nice if the TV station took it," says Stroh, "but if the Hook wants to expand, they can take it."

King sounds unconcerned that his dream station could be leased to another tenant. "We're right where we need to be," he says.

WCVL wants the old WINA space for its station.