On Thursday, the four teams responding to the city’s request for proposals described what they would build if they are sold a city-owned parking lot where the market has operated since 1993.
“We have been talking about the City Market for at least 30 years,” said Charlottesville Mayor Satyendra Huja to an audience of almost 70 people in Council Chambers. “We hope that we won’t be talking about it for another 30 years.”
Cecile Gorham, chairwoman of the nonprofit Market Central, a group established to promote the City Market’s role in the community, said after the presentations that she thinks it will be a difficult choice among four good proposals.
“I am really thrilled that we are where we are in the process,” she said. “I think any of these will work, so as a community we need to decide which of their features we like the most.”
Seven years ago, just before the nation’s economic downturn, the city held a design competition to generate creative ideas for the development of the surface parking lots between Water and South streets.
The city owns a 102-space metered parking lot which is across First Street from a larger parking lot owned by the Charlottesville Parking Center. The two-block area is one of the last remaining undeveloped sites downtown.
While the real estate market was in a slump, interest in redevelopment waned, but planning for a permanent home for the City Market continued unabated. During a three-year period from 2010-2013, a task force and multiple consultants studied various locations for the market.
“We must now be in a place where we have come back from the recession,” Gorham said. “All four of the presenters believe this can work.”
In December, councilors agreed to issue the request for proposals for a mixed-use development to occur on the market site. That ended consideration of recommendations from the last consultant who had compared moving the market to a site on Garrett Street to enhancements for the market at its existing location.
The RFP stipulated that proposals retain at least the 105 market vendor stalls as well as the 102 parking spaces available to the public when the market is not in operation. All four proposals provide for a greater number of market stalls and parking spaces than exist today, though in a variety of configurations.
Two of the four proposals limit their planning to the city’s parking lot. The others contemplate use of an adjacent private parking lot in the same block. One of those envisions a second phase encompassing the Charlottesville Parking Center’s lot.
Jason Vickers-Smith of the Richmond-based WVS Companies submitted the proposal covering both blocks.
“We wanted to create a space that could be for a seven day year-round market,” he said of the building his plan has centered on a closed First Street. “We wanted the market space … to be a flexible space that could be used in a variety of ways.
“We want a central market building that would be air conditioned and heated and used throughout the year. It’s kind of a modern take on an industrial design … with roll up glass doors on the side.”
Gregory Powe, the architect for Keith Woodard’s Market Plaza, emphasized an approach that made the market the ground-level centerpiece of an L-shaped nine-story building.
“What we are proposing to do is make an exciting place to live and work and play,” he said. “We are proposing 58,000 square feet of Class A office spaces [and] 67 new residences … but the focus of course is the City Market.”
The Market Plaza proposal also closes First Street and recommends its conversion into an extension of the Downtown Mall.
Allen de Olazarra, chairman and CEO of Equitable Real Estate Partners, said he was excited at the opportunity to “help to re-urbanize Charlottesville” and help downtown workers find an affordable place to live.
“We are not going after the upscale market or the luxury residential at all,” de Olazarra said. “We think the real need is more in the way of workforce housing.”
The fourth proposal is from local developer Jim Stultz, president of CBS Investments.
“Our development is shovel ready,” said Stultz of his six-story project called Market Square. “No approval is needed to close city streets, no negotiation is needed to purchase land not owned by the city.”
“Our design is best described as an open air farmers market,” Stultz said. “It’s a market protected by a 30-foot roof.”
All four proposals include commercial space and residential units as required by the city. In three of the proposals, the amount to be paid to the city ranges from $2 million to $4.15 million. Woodard has declined to share publicly his purchase price offer.
Chris Engel, the city’s director of economic development, said the City Council would likely discuss the proposals further in a future closed session.
“Sale of city property is one of the reasons why City Council can meet in a closed session,” he said. “Then we can ensure we are getting a good deal and we can negotiate without doing that in public.”
Councilors said there would be another opportunity for public input and a decision would be made in early summer. If a project goes forward, the City Market will be moved to a temporary home for two seasons.
A majority of councilors indicated their intention to select one of the four options. Councilor Dede Smith said taking no action, while possible, was not a preferred outcome.
“Council will discuss this in early May and make decision in June,” Huja said.
The four proposals can be reviewed on the city’s website.