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Council to vote in mid-June on City Market destiny
by Sean Tubbs | Tuesday, June 03, 2014 at 6:53 p.m.

A decades-long search for a permanent home for the Charlottesville City Market may soon be over if the City Council can reach consensus on selecting one of four proposals for a private company to redevelop the parking lot where the market has operated since 1993.

“I appreciate the fact that four developers have enough confidence in the city of Charlottesville and the City Market that they would take their time and invest their money to join us in the city,” said Councilor Bob Fenwick at a public hearing Monday night.

Earlier this year, the city issued a request for proposals asking developers to submit plans for a mixed-use building that would include space for a market for at least 105 vendors and 102 public parking spots.

The council did not debate the merits of the four proposals at the hearing, and will not select a proposal until June 16. None of the five members publicly indicated a preference.

Several speakers expressed gratitude that the city is close to finding a solution.

“Since City Council requested that the market find a home 20 years ago, as far as I know there have been four consultants, six committees, task forces and study groups working on the issue,” said Cecile Gorham, chairwoman of advocacy group Market Central.

Gorham handed out a matrix to councilors by which her group will be evaluating its decision. Criteria include permanence, flexibility of public use and vendor access.

The proposals from Boston-based Equitable Real Estate Partners and Charlottesville-based CBS Rentals would only extend to the lot owned by the city.

Equitable would feature two levels of retail and four stories of apartments and would buy the land from the city for $2.75 million.

The CBS proposal, known as Market Square, was the favorite of many vendors at the hearing because it would house the market in a parking garage with 30-foot-high ceilings around a central courtyard.

“The floor plan of that market is the only one that’s recognizable as the market that we have,” said Daniel Perry, a city resident who has sold jam at the market for the past seven seasons.

“I like the roof because the labels on my jars of jam get wet in the rain and none of the other plans seem to have the same consistent roof structure,” he said.

Rachel Williamson, a vendor from Afton, said she had a petition with the signatures of 90 vendors and 115 market-goers in support of the Market Square proposal.

“We believe this because it’s the only design that leaves the market with the entire footprint it currently has, that doesn’t give away portions of our space to retail stores, and the only one that maintains open-air visibility on all four sides,” Williamson said.

CBS Rentals is offering to pay the city $4.15 million for the land.

A proposal from local developer Keith Woodard known as Market Plaza would extend to a lot that is now owned by Charlottesville Psychological Associates. No sales price has been disclosed for this option.

An L-shaped building would feature retail on both Second Street Southwest and South Street, with 58,000 square feet of office space and 67 residential units. The market would operate in an open-air section with frontage on South Street.

Vendor Amanda Welch, from Louisa County, said any of the four proposals would be an improvement over the existing site, but she is a fan of the Woodard proposal if it could be modified.

“I know a lot of the vendors like Market Square but I like [Market Plaza] if you turn it 90 degrees,” Welch said.

A fourth proposal, from Richmond-based WVS Properties, assumes that the firm can secure a deal to purchase a surface lot from the private Charlottesville Parking Center. The lot has an assessed value of $2.54 million. This proposal’s main feature would be an outdoor building dedicated to the market, surrounded by two C-shaped buildings that would have 27,500 square feet for retail use and 225 apartment units.

WVS is offering to pay $2 million for the city lot, but has not disclosed its proposed offers to Charlottesville Parking Center and Charlottesville Psychological Associates.

Brevy Cannon, a former City Council candidate and vice chairman of Market Central, urged the council to slow down the process so the private parking lot could be brought into the discussion.

“Since we’re hearing from at least one of these vendors that they think the second block is something they can incorporate into this design, it would be premature and a little irresponsible to move forward with this if in the next few months we might come to learn that the second city block is available to be part of this development,” Cannon said.

Several people who did not express a preference simply offered advice.

City resident Brian Owensby said he hopes the city would retain ownership of the land in order to ensure the market stays in place.

“We’re going to create a large structure in the middle of downtown and it’s going to affect our civic life as much as it’s going to affect what happens on Saturday mornings,” Owensby said. “Without some sort of direct control or ownership of the site, I worry we’ll have a lot of user conflicts.”

Ben Stowe, a vendor from Nelson County, said he wanted to make sure the selected proposal did not close the market during construction.

“This is our full-time job, and it’s a very important source of income for us,” Stowe said.

 

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