The Landlords: Development's top players

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The Landlords
Charlottesville sits on the tippy top of the South in fertile rolling country in the Chesapeake Bay watershed that’s been making landowners wealthy for 400 years. Through the ’80s, the real estate game consisted primarily of the buying and selling of horse farms and trying to sell property to UVA for twice its value. The city rode the wave of the real estate boom through the ’90s like a sleepy surfer on a storm swell and then the buying and selling got ferocious as the stakes rose right up until 2007, when the spectacular collapse of Hunter Craig’s Biscuit Run development played taps on a dizzying decade of growth. Donald Trump and Steve Case have their wineries and Sissy Spacek and John Grisham their farms, but a few key players continue to push the Monopoly pieces around the board.

Coran Capshaw (Photo by Ashley Twiggs)

1. Coran Capshaw
Founder, Red Light Management; CEO, Musictoday
Here are the vital stats on Coran Capshaw: He’s the founder of Red Light Management, co-founder of ATO Records, CEO of Musictoday LLC, and the creator of Starr Hill Presents, a live event promotion company that promotes notable music festivals like Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Mile High Music Festival, Dave Matthews Band Caravan, and Outside Lands. Capshaw, ranked No. 2 on the Billboard Power 100 of 2012, personally manages Dave Matthews Band, Tim McGraw, Phish, Alicia Keys, and others. That’s him in the music game.

He’s also the money behind several Charlottesville restaurants—including Blue Light Grill, Positively 4th Street, Mono Loco, Ten, and Five Guys (if you’re counting national chains)—in addition to music venues like The Jefferson Theater.

A self-made man who got to the very top from very near the bottom, some people around town still remember when he sold firewood to homeowners at Wintergreen. Famous for his love of privacy and for holding all the strings in a business empire that stretches to every corner of the country, Capshaw touches all aspects of our town.

The proud subject of a well-populated Wikipedia page could have shown up on at least three of our power lists in this issue, but we chose to put him in the real estate section, as he’s the man behind a huge residential condominium complex, City Walk, which is poised to rise just down the railroad tracks from the nTelos Wireless Pavilion, which he developed in partnership with the city.

From the way people whisper his name, you’d think Capshaw was a cross between Darth Vader and Clint Eastwood, but the guy is also famous for taking misguided young people under his wing, and has raised close to $5 million for local charities through the Bama Works Fund.

2. Michael Strine
Chief Operating Officer at UVA
As Executive Vice President and COO of UVA, Michael Strine is responsible for administering UVA’s $2.6 billion budget. The ninth-highest paid public employee in the state with a state salary of $297,000 and a total take of $450,000, Strine controls several major operational and administrative areas for the University, among them the hundreds of buildings the school had spawned over the years. Strine inherited his role from Leonard Sandridge. (Talk about big shoes to fill—that guy has a street named after him!) Sandridge was confident that the University would be able to accommodate its growth within its existing footprint for the next 25 years. Strine might have different ideas.

Strine’s job responsibilities include collaborating with R. Edward Howell, the VP and CEO of the UVA Medical Center. He’s also certainly at the table when David J. Neuman, the Stanford-bred “UVA Architect” responsible for master planning, and Tim Rose, CEO of the private foundation that typically acquires land for the school, move their chess pieces.
If you got Capshaw, Strine, and Silverman (see below) into the same room, Charlottesville’s West Main Street problem could be solved in less than, say, 12 hours.

Gabe Silverman (Photo courtesy subject)

3. Gabe Silverman and Allan Cadgene
Development partners
If you see a big building on West Main Street, chances are Gabe Silverman owns it or rebuilt it. No one outside of Coran Capshaw and Colonel Thomas Walker can claim to have influenced the landscape of Downtown Charlottesville the way Silverman has. With the backing of his business partner Allan Cadgene, the 71-year-old Silverman has made his mark by redeveloping iconic spaces, from the Amtrak Station and Main Street Market to the Ix Project and the A&N building.

A Charlottesville resident since the ’80s, Silverman is the local face of his partnership with Cadgene. The latter, a 65-year-old Stanford and Yale Law graduate and resident of San Francisco, is a more mysterious figure. He played the role of condescending owner in a 2006 spat, via mail correspondence, with local author John Grisham concerning the towing of Grisham’s Porsche from a Silverman and Cadgene-owned parking lot.

Silverman is Charlottesville’s answer to Keith Richards, a crass, chain-smoking developer with big ideas, a deeply tanned face, and a black T-shirt. He’s made plenty of friends and enemies over the years, but he’s been recognized widely for his contributions to the arts community and no one has ever called him boring.

4. Jim Justice
Owner of Wintergreen Resort
Jim Justice lives in Lewisburg, West Virginia, but his fingerprints are all over Charlottesville. In 2010, Justice bought 4,500 acres in Albemarle County for nearly $24 million. He owns the Greenbrier Resort (purchased in 2009 for $20.1 million), a popular vacation spot for some Charlottesvillians, and he recently acquired Wintergreen Resort for about $16.5 million, saying the property held sentimental value as one of the last places he golfed with his father.

Justice made his money in coal and agriculture. He launched Bluestone Farms, a commercial grain farming operation, and in 1993 succeeded his father as president and CEO of Bluestone Industries (now Justice Companies). Justice has suggested plans to continue purchasing and developing resorts across the Virginias with the idea of creating a line of upscale haunts that would connect the coast, the Piedmont, and the mountains. Forbes estimates his net worth at $1.2 billion.

A close friend of Jerry West’s and a highly visible member of his community in West Virginia, Justice finds time to coach high school basketball. In 2011, he was ranked No. 37 on philanthropy.com’s list of the “50 Most Generous Donors” for giving a combined $35 million to the Boy Scouts of America and Cleveland Clinic Innovations.

John Dewberry (Photo courtesy subject)

5. John Dewberry
Owner of the Landmark Hotel
If John Dewberry’s name doesn’t ring a bell, that’s probably because he’s only just arrived on the scene. The founder and CEO of Georgia development firm Dewberry Capital recently placed a winning $6.25 million bid on the shell of the long-stalled Landmark Hotel.

Dewberry, 48, was a starting quarterback for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the ’80s. He played professionally in the Canadian Football League before ditching the jersey and turning to business in 1989, using his $5,000 signing bonus to finance his first real estate investment.

Since then, Dewberry Capital has amassed more than $400 million in assets in the Southeast. In recent years, the company has snapped up a large chunk of Atlanta’s Peachtree Street in the commercial heart of the city.

Dewberry may not be a household name in Charlottesville yet, but he does have long-standing connections to the area. Born in Lynchburg, he maintains a nonresident membership at Farmington Country Club, where he was kept up to speed on the Landmark saga over rounds of golf with close friend and local realtor Steve McLean.

So what does a Georgia millionaire want with a deteriorating hunk of Downtown Mall steel? Minutes after he made the buy, Dewberry said he sees the property becoming the second in a chain of elegant boutique hotels in upscale markets around the country (the first is already underway in Charleston).

Time will tell if his investment is more successful than Halsey Minor’s, but for now, Dewberry appears poised to become an important player.


IF I HAD THE POWER…

Brandon Collins (File photo)

Brandon Collins
Secretary of the Socialist Party of Central Virginia; former candidate for City Council, age 39
“Rather than being a real estate developer with a blank slate to do whatever I want, which is essentially how things happen now, I would suggest that all development be people-driven and I would seek to build on standards set by the community with attention to the needs of individual tenants.

Developers want money—they see profits and opportunity. They do not care that most of the people in Charlottesville pay too much for housing. Opening the political process so we can set better standards for development is a step in the right direction. Those standards should be focused on affordable housing and employment, however, nothing short of complete transformation of the social relationship between workers and owners will fundamentally ‘solve’ our affordable housing crisis.

That said, the current set aside of 15 percent affordable units for certain developments is not enough! We need the number to be at least 51 percent to have any effect on market rentals. UVA, our largest employer, and the biggest impact on housing costs, has a responsibility to pay a living wage, and to limit new development. With the billions in its capital fund, UVA can afford to create student housing that doesn’t increase rents or accentuate the speed of gentrification in nearby neighborhoods.

The Landmark, the Marriott being planned for West Main, and any other business development should bring living wage jobs, in great numbers, for low skilled workers. Developers and CRHA should create communities collectively owned and operated by tenants. Redevelopment of public housing should be an interest to developers in terms of community building, not profit seeking. No incentives or public monies should be offered for anything short of what the community desires.”

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