Never fear

A top Charlottesville developer team is feuding. However, if local news accounts have given the impression that the mammoth properties built by Lee Danielson and Colin Rolph are in some danger of falling into strange hands, those close to the controversy insist such fears are unfounded.

In fact, one gets the distinct sense from reading the court papers in Rolph v. Danielson that when the fat lady sings, it will be the soft-spoken Rolph and not the louder Danielson who ends up as sole owner of the once jointly owned properties. Why?

It all goes back to cash– or lack thereof.

In the early ‘90s, before he found Rolph, Danielson peppered the then-mordant Downtown Mall with purchase contracts– and wound up buyer of just a few.

Monster structures like The Terraces (built from the shell of Woolworth’s) and York Place (built from the shell of Rose’s) were once under contract to Danielson in his pre-Rolph days. But both buildings slipped from Danielson’s grasp when he wouldn’t– or couldn’t– close the deal, and both were scooped up by competing developers.

During cozier days, cash-strapped Danielson took loans totaling $5.4 million from Rolph, but, despite allegedly receiving a fat inheritence, Danielson didn’t pay up.

With the ownership of their various companies stuck at 50 percent each and with the two men and their wives as the only members of the board, the companies were hopelessly deadlocked.

In September, Rolph sued to break the deadlock. Besides requesting a few million dollars, the suit’s specific goal was to put the properties into the hands of a receiver.

In Danielson’s eyes, or at least according to what he told the Daily Progress last July, he too has an ax to grind: He considers Rolph a spendthrift who transfers cash from the duo’s profitable ventures to prop up the dog: the Charlottesville Ice Park.

Although a local icon since its May 1, 1996, ribbon-cutting (by then Mayor David Toscano and a big polar bear on skates), the $4 million structure burns corporate cash.

“The Ice Park should have closed down long ago,” Danielson told the Progress last summer. “Economically, it has not worked.”

Not for him perhaps. But the Park and the adjacent Regal Cinema six-plex Rolph and Danielson built have achieved many civic goals. Business at Mall restaurants is booming, apartments are on the rise, and the Mall itself teems with more people on any given afternoon than it used to see in a week.

In fact, about the only Downtown Mall property that looks ghostly is the duo’s string of boarded-up storefronts at 101-111 East Main Street. Formerly housing Gitchell’s Studio and Antojito’s Bakery, the buildings were bought at auction in 1999. Even if the bickering men hadn’t been thwarted by City officials in their effort to demolish the buildings, a 50-50 stalemate can’t be a good way to hold property. In all, the two operate approximately $11 million worth of commercial property, and the person now calling the shots is Gaylon Beights, the court-appointed receiver. It’s his job– says spokesperson Pam Fitzgerald– to manage, analyze, and value the holdings.

Phone messages to the feuding developers went unreturned, but we found Rolph briskly walking along the Downtown Mall earlier this week. “I can’t say anything,” said the coffee-toting developer. “I’m under a judge’s order.”

Two years ago, when this reporter broke the story that Danielson was moving back to his home state of California, Rolph downplayed any fears. “I think I survived quite well pre-Lee,” Rolph declared. “I survived pretty well with Lee. So I’m sure I’ll survive post-Lee.”


Read more on: Downtown Mall