Developers explore redeveloping Artful Lodger building downtown

The western end of Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall is seeing a swelling of development interest as construction of the Center of Developing Entrepreneurs office building begins at the site of the now-demolished Main Street Arena.

Jeffrey Levien’s Heirloom Development took an exploratory step toward redeveloping the Market Street Promenade, the building that’s home to the Artful Lodger and other stores, on Wednesday when the Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review approved a demolition permit for the shopping center.

“With the CODE building going up and all of downtown developing even more densely, this seems like a prime location to be able to get good, underground parking and mixed use as part of the Downtown Mall,” said Jeff Dreyfus, of Bushman Dreyfus Architects.

Bushman Dreyfus Architects has partnered with Levien previously to design Six Hundred West Main, a luxury apartment building planned for West Main Street. The apartment building will wrap around the Blue Moon Diner because the BAR rejected Levien’s 2015 request to demolish the diner.

The demolition of Market Street Promenade, though advancing, would be years down the road.

“We are in the ‘due diligence’ phase of study right now, and we need to understand whether or not the removal of the building would be allowed as the project moves forward,” Dreyfus said.

In addition, the current tenants already have leased their spaces for two to three years.

Carla Shifflett, the owner of Posture Studio Pilates, said that she is interested in what happens next with her studio’s location. If the building does get torn down at the end of her lease and is replaced by a mixed-use apartment building, she may lease space in the new building.

However, Shifflett’s decision depends on the wishes of her current clientele and factors like the number of parking spaces assigned to her business.

“I’ve loved this space, but change happens,” she said. “I wasn’t necessarily thrilled or attached when I first came here, and it’s been wonderful. I’m excited to see what happens.”

Out of concern that Market Street Promenade’s demolition would happen but the development would not, the BAR made the approval contingent on the city approving a certificate of appropriateness and building permit for the new use.

“Otherwise, we could lose this building and it could be sold to another developer who likes parking lots,” said BAR and Planning Commission member Jody Lahendro. “It might be an underutilized site, but it adds vitality, use and urban character that a parking lot would not.”

Four BAR members approved the conditional demolition permit. Two board members recused themselves from the vote, and three board members were absent.

Demolition permits typically expire after 18 months, but Dreyfus asked for an extension to 30 months. An approved site plan extends the window before demolition to five years.

A pedestrian walks past Market Street Promenade towards the Whiskey Jar and the now-demolished Main Street Arena on the Downtown Mall. Credit: Credit: Emily Hays, Charlottesville Tomorrow