A consultant hired to suggest ways to create a “market district” for Charlottesville has presented two options — build on the existing City Market site or move one block south to a new site at First and Garrett streets.

In July 2011, a City Council-appointed task force recommended that the market stay in its current location on city-owned property between Water and South streets. However, the two-block area around the market contains seven parcels of land worth roughly $5 million. 
The city hired a Maine-based company for $100,000 to study the possibility of creating a “downtown market district” that would be anchored by the City Market.
“Our goal here is to maximize the development potential of the city’s parking lot with a realistic development scenario that can move forward in the near-term,” said Ted Spitzer, of Market Ventures, at a forum held Monday at CitySpace.
Spitzer said a “market district” usually consists of multiple city blocks where goods are sold seven days a week. These can be successful and can become tourist destinations, but generally tend to be in larger cities such as Charleston, S.C.
“Having a market district so close to the Downtown Mall could result in confusing and competing district themes,” Spitzer said.
Market Ventures developed two design concepts, but a cost estimate has not been calculated for either.
Both scenarios would allow for a physical expansion of the market, addition of water and electricity on site, and bathrooms for patrons. Another new amenity could include shaded seating areas.
The study of the existing site was restricted to the city-owned lot that is currently being used as a parking lot, as well as the current site of the business H&R Block. It did not extend to adjacent property owned by the Charlottesville Parking Co., nor a private lot within the same block as the city lot.
Under the scenario, existing streets surrounding the lot would be reconfigured using a Dutch concept called “woonerf” that would eliminate curbs, allowing for stalls to be set up on the road during market times. Asphalt could be replaced with pervious pavement, and trees would be grown to provide shade.
The Garrett-First Street option would utilize a triangular parcel south of the railroad tracks owned by Station Apartments LLC.
“The owner of that has suggested in preliminary conversations that it would be available for lease at a reasonable price,” Spitzer said. “It’s a smaller lot than the city-owned lot, so we’re also looking at using the street.”
However, a landscape architect working with Market Ventures said the site could prove difficult.
“It’s behind a bunch of buildings and next to railroad tracks,” said Mark Lieberth of Land Planning & Design Associates. “It offers some good things and it offers some challenges, as well.”
Under the scenario, the street would become a plaza with stalls on Garrett Street. A wall might be constructed along the railroad tracks.
“We’re looking at getting people as far away from the tracks as possible to create a pedestrian alley,” Lieberth said.
After their presentation, Lieberth and Spitzer had a vigorous debate with vendors about the plans. Many asked for the status quo to be maintained despite the possibility of additional revenue for city coffers.
“The city owns the lot, it doesn’t have a 20-year lease, and it doesn’t require any new brain cells for our customers,” said Kathy Philhour, who has sold orchids at the market for two decades. 
The decision rests with the City Council. Market Ventures will deliver a final report within two months. 
“At that point, we will have some numbers to associate with each of these concepts so they will be able to make an informed decision about city investment dollars,” said Chris Engel, the city’s economic development director.  
Spitzer and his team will continue getting feedback on the two concepts and will survey vendors next week.