Plans for a new building that will replace the Main Street Arena and Escafé on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall are continuing to be developed and refined.
On Tuesday evening, the city’s Board of Architectural Review held a preliminary discussion on the massing and siting of a proposed seven-story, mixed-use project called the Charlottesville Technology Center. The 160,000-square-foot building would include office space, as well as coworking, lab and retail uses.
“The whole building is about creating an environment where you actually encourage people to overlap, interact, cross paths,” said Architect Fred Wolf, who is working on the project with Taliaferro Junction LLC and Jaffray Woodriff, the developer and owner of the property. The Main Street Arena building was purchased earlier this year from Mark Brown for $5.7 million.
Board members expressed general support for the proposed size and location of the building, which is proposed as a by-right building and will not require the City Council’s approval through a special-use permit.
However, board members did have questions and comments about a proposed connection called the “gallery,” which would be located between Water Street and the mall. The connection would feature steps and ramps going up from the mall to Water Street, which is at a higher elevation.
“We feel like, particularly with this site, that’s a really kind of interesting connection,” said Wolf, who also noted the gallery would be open to the public.
“You want to encourage spatially, architecturally, physically, for different people of different disciplines working in different offices to communicate, to run into each other, to have those informal interactions,” Wolf added later on in the meeting. “The idea of taking that a step further and letting a public circulation piece push through the building … could be such a great thing.”
Board member Breck Gastinger said he thinks the connection will be important to the city and suggested the design of it should feel more like part of a streetscape than a lobby or atrium.
“I think that it has the danger of feeling like a sea of handrails going up there, and that won’t have the same kind of attractiveness,” Gastinger said.
He also suggested some commercial uses could be incorporated into the gallery area.
“It has to be accessible,” Wolf responded. “So we have to find a way to get people through there.”
Wolf also said one idea is to have food windows and small retail uses that “activate that space.”
Board member Tim Mohr said he thinks the gallery connection would be one of the “most critical” aspects of the project. He said he thought the proposed design for the Water Street entrance was hard to perceive.
Other board members commented on the facades of the building and asked about ways they could be broken up.
“You have some very, very long facades,” board member Carl Schwarz said.
Gastinger also asked about how the acute angles apparent in the designs could be handled by the building’s materials.
“That’s something we’re going to work on as we start to look at facade systems,” Wolf said.
“We’re trying hard to sort of control the mass, and keep it not feeling big, by the way we are stepping it,” he added.
Wolf said the reason for the preliminary discussion was to make sure the project meets zoning requirements and that the board is comfortable with the development in terms of its massing and heights as the project moves forward.
The Board of Architectural Review did not make any decisions Tuesday night, although it eventually will consider whether to grant a certificate of appropriateness for the project.
The primary entrance and lobby to the building will be on the Downtown Mall, with secondary entrances on Water Street. A parking garage will be located beneath the building and the project also would feature an interior courtyard.
Wolf said the lobby would be “hospitality-oriented.”
“It’s going to have more of a lounge feel with some retail in it and maybe a café or small bar, and then also a kind of desk … that will help control further access into the building for people working up above,” he said.
Other projects are either approved or being planned for Water Street, including the nine-story West2nd building at the City Market lot and an eight-story building at the site of the former Clock Shop of Virginia.