Task force tip: City Market wants to dream big

At a meeting on Thursday, July 7 at City Space on the Downtown Mall, the task force charged with finding a permanent location for the Charlottesville City Market is expected to recommend that the market stay put.

"It proposes a mixed-use 'Market District' involving the existing market site, the First Street South right-of-way and the Charlottesville Parking Center site," says local architect Gary Okerlund, who sits on the task force. "It's a complex but bold opportunity in which the city must take a strong lead."

Okerlund points to the controversial $150,000 design competition held by the City in 2007 to generate development ideas (the contest was called "Market Value," and incorprating the market was in the guidelines) for the two downtown parking lots (see the winners here), which many felt was a waste of money considering there was no developer actually interested in developing the site. The City Market Task Force, however, appears to think such a development is possible, and they will ask the city for a three-year agreement to begin to make it happen.

"The results could be exciting and equal the efforts in many other cities where a market is seen as a strong social and cultural landmark, and an economic magnet of real significance," says Okerlund, "or it can end up a rather ordinary market-in-a-parking lot, depending on the long-range vision of our leadership."

Originally, it was thought the task force would recommend an alternative site for the market, having grown tired of its "temporary" and cramped current location in the Water Street parking lot, and there was talk of moving to the Frank Ix property or the old Martha Jefferson Hospital site. But after farmers market expert David K. O’Neil visited in April, encouraging the task force to make a case for a permanent market in its current location, its looks like they've dug in their heels on the idea of staying put. And making the market grand.

"The recommendation does not include a design," says Okerlund, "but asks that the mixed-use district encompass the entire two blocks, contain structured parking underground, new retail, office, residential space overlooking the market site, a much larger market site capable of expansion and also serving as a public park."

Whoa! Underground parking? Sounds great, but is this plan realistic? Where will the money come from? And even if there were a willing developer, wouldn't it take years before something like this came to fruition?

"I think it's prudent to let the task force finish their job," says Kathy Kildea with Market Central Inc., the non-profit for the City Market, "and I look forward to attending the work session to hear the full presentation to Council."

"I am open to considering the notion that the market stays on Water St. in some form or fashion," says Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris, pointing out that Council will have to weigh the advantages of the task force's vision versus the economic benefits, "but I'm also interested to hear more about a couple of additional options that the task force explored, namely the Ix Factory downtown and the old circus grounds on High Street."

Again, to join the discussion, head over to City Space on the Downtown Mall on Thursday from 5 to 7pm.

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