Stagnating retail project gets new owner

Stagnating retail project gets new owner

A little more than a year ago, representatives from the still-conceptual Albemarle Place gathered with the city, county and Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority (RWSA) to discuss the Meadow Creek interceptor, the main hub for sewage all along Route 29N. For the owners of Albemarle Place—a mixed-use project planned for 700 residential units and roughly 40 new stores surrounding the Sperry Marine facility—the meeting was a flabbergasting experience. Frank Cox, its master planner, listened with a slack jaw as officials disclosed that the interceptor—installed in the 1950s—was already at capacity and would have to be replaced before Albemarle Place could be built.

Albemarle Place has changed developers, but plans should still be the same—if it ever gets built.

“It caught everyone with their pants down,” says Cox. “Certainly Mark Graham.”

Previous coverage:

Sewage holds back Albemarle Place
RWSA to issue report on Meadow Creek interceptor next month

“I don’t know that it was surprising,” says Graham, the county director of community development. According to him, questions were raised about the interceptor’s capacity as early as 2001. “We just simply didn’t know.”

Regardless, when that news broke, Albemarle Place’s ownership group was rattled and shaken. Whole Foods—Albemarle Place’s first planned tenant—announced that it would instead move to a site off Hydraulic near K-Mart, taking their 55,000 square feet of retail space with them.

To add wood to the fire, one of the owners sold their stake to national developer Edens & Avant, which “develops, owns and operates community-oriented places in primary markets throughout the East Coast,” according to their website. They are responsible for over 140 shopping centers in 16 states, including Albemarle Place.

Even adding a national firm to the mix can’t ameliorate the effects of the housing market’s recent downturn. “Retail development follows residential rooftops,” Cox says euphemistically, going on to explain that for now “the ownership group is taking a pause.”

“There are a lot of doubting Toms wondering if it’s ever going to get off the ground,” Cox says, including himself in the skeptical category despite news earlier this month that design has begun on a new and expanded Meadow Creek interceptor. According to the RWSA’s Tom Frederick, consultants Greeley and Hansen will finish the design this spring, allowing for 16 months of construction on the $25 million dollar sewage router. December ’09 is the predicted finish date. Gary Fern of the Albemarle County Service Authority says that his staff is currently meeting with Edens & Avant to try and coordinate the simultaneous construction of Albemarle Place.

Nevertheless, Cox has been connected to the project since 2000 and the years of frustration seem to have worn away his capacity for blind belief. “Until the marketplace re-emerges and until all the utility services are finalized, it is very doubtful that the ownership group will pull the trigger,” Cox says. “We need to know there is sewer capacity for the entire project.”

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