Discussions for this year’s list of the most powerful in Charlottesville turned not toward one particular person but an entity that truly affects Charlottesvillians’ daily lives—the Virginia Department of Transportation. Don’t worry, you’ll still see some familiar faces (last year’s power-topper Mark Brown remains embroiled in a battle with the city over the Water Street Parking Garage), as well as newcomers, such as craft beer giant Devils Backbone and Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy. And don’t forget impactful changes, such as the Landmark Hotel finally being transformed into a thing of beauty—hey, one has the power to dream, right?
1. Virginia Department of Transportation
We haven’t put a bureaucracy on our power list before, but with thousands of lives touched by Route 29, which is under construction costing millions of dollars this summer, it’s your turn, VDOT. True, the department isn’t the real power when it comes to determining major road projects. That’s pure politics, baby, and the Western Bypass was an epic, decades-long struggle, a road that died and was brought back to life in 2011 at a midnight Albemarle Board of Supervisors meeting with the help of machinations from Lynchburg and Danville legislators, before it was finally staked through the heart by the Federal Highway Administration and a change in the makeup of the BOS in 2014.
That struggle left us with Route 29 Solutions. Once this summer’s pain is over, we’ll be cruising under Rio Road at a grade-separated intersection, not squishing down to two lanes on the way to Hollymead Town Center, or maybe we’ll take the long-on-the-books Berkmar Extended or soon-to-be-started Hillsdale Extended and avoid 29 altogether. We’re already loving the extra ramp at Best Buy onto U.S. 250. And the good news is the Rio intersection construction is ahead of its scheduled September 2 reopen date. Just don’t try to make a turn there anytime soon.
2. Alan Taylor
President Riverbend Development
Taylor is like the man behind the Capshaw curtain. When he first came to town, he was known for partying it up in local restaurants, but that reputation has toned down as Riverbend seems to have its finger in every major development pie that’s come along the past few years. Wegmans? Check. CityWalk and Water Street Promenade? Check. The Coca-Cola Building on Preston Avenue and The Flats at West Village? Check. Corner of Emmet and Barracks Road for an 11,000-square-foot shopping mall that sounds sort of like a strip mall? Yup. The massive 800- to 1,500-unit Brookhill development at Route 29 and Polo Grounds Road? Riverbend is doing that one, too, and offering up land for an elementary and a high school. Talk about reputation rehab.
3. Richard Shannon
Executive vice president for health affairs at the University of Virginia Health System
Appointed in 2013 to report directly to UVA President Teresa Sullivan, Shannon was hand-picked from about 50 executive vice president hopefuls to implement the health system’s strategic plan.
Shannon has quite the résumé: He was previously the chairman of the Department of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania Health System, overseeing more than 400 faculty members, 360 residents and fellows and 1,200 staff members, and a $160 million research project. He led the effort to eliminate hospital-acquired infections at UPenn, and at UVA Medical Center he has implemented a Be Safe program—adopted this year by the National Institutes of Health’s clinical center—which has saved the hospital millions of dollars (though it’s likely to get an eye roll from the 725 staff now trained in “lean thinking” and working under the medical center mogul).
4. Mark Brown
Owner of Main Street Arena, Yellow Cab and the Charlottesville Parking Center
Brown was last year’s No. 1 power broker, and this year, we suspect he’s learned the burden of power with a seemingly unending struggle with the city over the fate of the Water Street Parking Garage. Letter writing, lawsuits and a petition have resulted in a game of one-upmanship with a city that’s been accused of selling off assets too easily and cheaply. Now Charlottesville has its teeth into this garage like a dog with a bone and has threatened the nuclear option: eminent domain. Brown seems to be a man who relishes a fight. As to who will prevail, check in again in a year—or three.
5. Wes Bellamy
Vice-mayor of Charlottesville
Bellamy teaches at Albemarle High and has been all about the youths since he landed in Charlottesville in 2009. His boxing/mentoring program, HYPE—Helping Young People Evolve—was founded to empower. He’s vice president of 100 Black Men of Central Virginia, and president of the Young Black Professional Network of Charlottesville and the Charlottesville/Albemarle Alliance of Black School Educators. With all those extracurricular activities, he found time to run for City Council twice, and after losing by five votes in 2013, he was the top vote-getter in 2015. Bellamy wasted no time in leading the charge to remove the statue of General Robert E. Lee from Lee Park, and co-wrote a resolution calling for gun legislation. Earlier this year, he was named to the NewDEAL, a national group of progressive leaders, and at 29 years old, we’re expecting to hear a lot more from Bellamy.
6. Keith Woodard
Owner of Woodard Properties
Tesla-driving Woodard shows green cred with the high-end auto he drives. And he demonstrated his commitment to affordable housing when he bought Eugene Williams’ Dogwood Housing and its properties in mixed-income neighborhoods in 2007, and not because it was required to get city go-ahead on a development project. And when he gave his employees a stake in the success of Woodard Properties, even if it’s just a smart business strategy, it was at least a nod to income inequality. Woodard faces his most challenging project with Market Plaza, which will make south of the Downtown Mall a nightmare while it’s being constructed, but once completed, it will be Charlottesville’s most distinctive landmark since the Landmark.
7. Rob Bell
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates
UVA grad Bell was elected to the House of Delegates representing the 58th District in 2001, and since then he’s amassed plenty of seniority. The former prosecutor has never met a law he didn’t want to toughen, and while initially his peeping Tom legislation drew snickers, the bills he’s gotten passed over the years, such as the constitutional amendment on eminent domain, have left their marks on the commonwealth. Republican Bell has carried bills when he’s seen a need, even if it’s from the other party. For example, one that outlawed revenge porn, or seeking to overhaul Virginia’s mental health system after it tragically failed state Senator Creigh Deeds’ son. Bell didn’t alienate his base with a controversial vote for transvaginal ultrasounds in 2012, and in 2017, he’s planning a second state run for attorney general.
8. Red Light Management/ Starr Hill Presents
Music management firm and promotion company
If you think all those Starr Hill Presents shows are sponsored by one of the region’s largest craft beer producers, think again. Starr Hill Presents operates as Red Light Management’s de facto promotional arm, booking shows for the Sprint Pavilion, Jefferson Theater and Southern Café and Music Hall, as well as partnering on shows at John Paul Jones Arena.
Why the nominal similarities between one of the area’s premier music promoters and Starr Hill Brewery in Crozet? Local audio don Coran Capshaw, who founded Red Light in 1991, grew the Starr Hill Presents brand out of Starr Hill Music Hall, the original home of the brewery.
Since then, Capshaw’s Red Light Management and Starr Hill Presents have combined to become the dominant force in Charlottesville’s thriving live music scene. Red Light counts Dave Matthews Band, Alabama Shakes, Lady Antebellum, Phish, Ben Harper and My Morning Jacket as clients, and the concert-promoter division is responsible for the city’s three most important venues.
9. John Dewberry
President and CEO Dewberry Capital
Last year Phil Dulaney got the nod for holding scenic-view seekers in his derelict grip through inaction on prime real estate he owns at the entrances to two national parks—Blue Ridge and Shenandoah—on Afton Mountain. This year that award goes to Atlanta developer Dewberry, the Waynesboro-born former Georgia Tech quarterback who bought the Landmark in 2012. Although Charlottesville has chafed under the Downtown Mall skeleton since 2009, when construction halted under then-owner Halsey Minor, in Dewberry time, he’s only owned the property four years with nothing happening. Charleston waited eight years for him to complete the Dewberry Hotel there, and he always said Charlottesville would begin once Charleston was complete. That’s supposed to occur July 1.
10. Craig Littlepage
Athletic director at the University of Virginia
When the popular UVA lacrosse coach and Hall of Famer Dom Starsia was fired from the university in May and then oddly offered a three-year contract extension that he promptly turned down, Littlepage was the name making headlines for his seemingly ambiguous role in the stunt. Praised, he was, when he hired new football coach Bronco Mendenhall last winter, and he also hired basketball coach and fan favorite Tony Bennett, who has led his team to the NCAA tournament four times, making the Elite Eight this year.
But if someone in the Virginia athletic department is going to catch flak, it’s the director. That’s what Littlepage gets paid the big bucks for—just under half a million dollars before bonuses each year. (A 2013 NCAA Division I “table breakdown” said he made almost $600,000 that year.)
In his 15th year as the Cavaliers’ AD, Littlepage leads a 25-sport athletics program and has ambitious goals for the future. By 2022, he wants his department to graduate 100 percent of its student athletes, win 12 national championships along with 70 conference titles and fully comply with Title IX.
11. Mike Signer
Mayor of Charlottesville
Signer has one of those golden résumés in which nothing appears left to chance, including serving as counsel to Mark Warner when he was governor, and appointments from top Dems in the state. He ran the most expensive race ever for City Council with a war chest from his previous foray for lieutenant governor. Although he amassed the fewest votes of the three winners, when he took office in January, his mayorship was already in the bag. His first action was to change the procedure for public comment, and, predictably, public outcry ensued, although some meeting regulars commend him for running a tighter council meeting. He didn’t hesitate to correct the grammar in an e-mail from former Char-lottesville Parking Center general manager Bob Stroh. Whether that’s a factor in the city’s scorched-earth dealings with Water Street Parking Garage owner Mark Brown one can only speculate, but the city’s threat of eminent domain is going to be a huge court battle, and it’s happening under Signer’s watch.
12. Dave Frey
Lockn’ Festival co-founder
When Frey founded the Lockn’ Festival with Peter Shapiro in 2013, he knew how difficult the game was. He’d launched the H.O.R.D.E. Festival in the ’90s with Blues Traveler’s John Popper and worked on a number of other outdoor music jams during his two decades in the business. He knew these things could take several years to turn a profit.
And so it went for Lockn’—year one was a loss. Year two was right around even. Only now, after three years of the venture, does Frey get to bust out the black pen when he goes over his balance sheet.
With an eye on the future, he and Shapiro have invested heavily in the Lockn’ site just outside Charlottesville in Arrington, and he sees no reason the festival can’t draw as many as 50,000 people in the coming years. That would put it on par with Austin’s venerable Fun Fun Fun Fest, move it into the same ballpark as Tennessee’s Bonnaroo and make it one more nationally visible sign of Charlottesville’s arrival as a music destination.
13. Devils Backbone Brewing Company
Craft beer brewery in Nelson County
There was a whole lot brewing this year at Devils Backbone—and that’s the reasoning behind owners Steve and Heidi Crandall’s decision to sell the company to Anheuser-Busch InBev. In April, the Crandalls announced the company had been sold to the beer behemoth, in an effort to increase production from 60,000 barrels annually in 2015 to the goal of 150,000. After failing to get a traditional bank loan and eschewing private banking and equity, the Crandalls said the way forward was clear.
DB is one of nine craft breweries ABI has purchased since 2011. Some suggest Devils Backbone’s Vienna Lager would make a great candidate for national sales—with the right quantities and distributorship it could compete with Yuengling or Boston Beer Company’s Boston Lager.
As for shakeups at the Nelson County flagship brewery, no immediate changes are on the horizon—ABI says it will be status quo operationally for the next five years.
With its popular basecamp brewpub as well as an outpost brewery and tap room, one can only hope any atten- tion gained from a national spotlight on DB will shine a light further on one of our region’s bubbling industries.
14. Jody Kielbasa
UVA vice provost for the arts and director of the Virginia Film Festival
A film festival brought accomplished thespian and director Kielbasa to Charlottesville. But Mr. Jefferson’s University may be the thing to keep him here.
Kielbasa, a professional screen and stage actor with multiple theater degrees, started work as executive director of Florida’s Sarasota Film Festival in 1993. Before long, he turned it into one of the largest, best-attended film festivals in the Southeast. The Virginia Film Festival plucked him away from his director’s chair in 2009, and he promptly delivered record-breaking attendance. He’s continued to grow the event over the past seven years, drawing more high-profile guests, adding a community-wide family day and launching student filmmaking initiatives.
In 2013, UVA hired Kielbasa as its vice provost for the arts. In that role he continues to apply his uncanny combination of arts and administrative skills, setting the university’s artistic direction along with working on the arts advisory committee and on fundraising initiatives and coordinating artistic collaborations throughout the school.
15. Paul Beyer
Founder of the Tom Tom Founders Festival
Beyer is the poster child for turning an idea, or, in his case, an unending supply of ideas, into reality. What began four years ago as a desire for a festival in Charlottesville akin to South by Southwest, albeit a bit more buttoned up and business-focused, has transformed, through some growing pains (i.e. a massive identity crisis) and editing, into a seven-day festival featuring 80 events covering the spectrum of music, arts, food and innovation. From its first year as a music festival with 6,700 attendees to drawing 38,000 this year, Beyer sees the festival as not necessarily growing in scope but prestige. Many internationally known speakers, such as Google execs, company founders and up-and-coming youth entrepreneurs, are lassoed through word-of-mouth recs from friends of Tom Tom and its board. The more its presence grows, the bigger its clout.
New this year was a full-day, youth-centered forum, featuring millennial entrepreneurs with success stories to spark the next generation of thinkers. The main goal of the festival is for all of these creative collaborators to make connections and, eventually, harness that energy to benefit the city.
Beyer says the touchstone of this year’s festival was less about what’s happening currently, and more about looking forward to what effects it could have on the city and inspiring people to see our town in a new way.
16. Will Richey
Co-owner of The Alley Light, The Pie Chest and The Bebedero; owner of The Whiskey Jar and Revolutionary Soup
Richey joined the restaurant scene from an interesting vantage point: the wine world. As a former wine steward at l’etoile as well as a wine distributor, his entree into the restaurant-owning world was buying Revolutionary Soup in 2005. His portfolio has grown to include The Rev Soup Corner (2007), The Whiskey Jar (2012), The Alley Light (2014), The Pie Chest (2015) and, the latest addition, The Bebedero, which opened this spring. Not to mention Red Row Farm in Esmont, which he bought five years ago to serve as a local food source for his myriad ventures. Accolades for The Alley Light include a 2015 James Beard nomination for Best New Restaurant, which comes on the heels of its inaugural chef’s own James Beard nomination (Jose de Brito parted ways with The Alley Light in May to join the staff at The Inn at Little Washington). Spotting and cultivating talent appears to be one of Richey’s strengths. Take Rachel Pennington, originally the baker at The Whiskey Jar, with whom he opened The Pie Chest, or the employees from The Whiskey Jar who teamed up with him for The Bebedero, the city’s newest (and usually packed) Mexican joint.
17. Jennifer Hoyt Tidwell
She’s probably best known for making Charlottesville a national women’s arm wrestling hot spot through Charlottesville Lady Arm Wrestlers (CLAW), but Hoyt Tidwell is also a web director, small business owner, performance artist, actor, director, writer, casting agent and producer.
Since moving to Charlottesville in 1993, Hoyt Tidwell has founded two tech companies (web design firm Category 4—now Convoy—and online video production house PepinVision), held a seat on The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative advisory board, helped launch the Performers Exchange Project, performed at Live Arts, served as executive director of CLAW USA and helped Mudhouse Coffee reinvent its web presence.
Most recently, Hoyt Tidwell directed and produced NO WAKE as The Bridge’s 2016 public artist-in-residence. That far-reaching effort may be the best evidence yet of this artist’s unique skill set.
18. Adam Frazier, Matthew Hart and Melissa Close-Hart
The team behind The Local, The Junction and The Local Smokehouse
New restaurants seem to be popping up in Charlottesville at the same rate that startups appear on the Silicon Valley tech scene. And at the center of that restaurant resurgence is Belmont, which will soon be the I-lived-there-way-before-it-was-cool Williamsburg of Central Virginia. A driving force in that scene is a trio that continues to expand the neighborhood’s dining options: restaurateur Adam Frazier and husband-and-wife Matthew Hart and Melissa Close-Hart (four-time James Beard semi-finalist). Frazier is the man behind The Local (at which Hart is the executive chef), the soon-to-open Junction (at which Close-Hart will helm the kitchen) as well as a revamped Belmont BBQ space, now The Local Smokehouse (for which Hart also serves as executive chef).
Junction may be the most highly anticipated opening in the neighborhood this year, after plans for the saloon-style restaurant where Mexican meets the Old West were revealed in late 2014. In fact, the restaurant’s preview dinner benefiting the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank sold out four minutes after it was announced in March.
19. Easton Porter Group
Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards, Red Pump Kitchen and Easton Events
When you hear the word “tastemakers” in Charlottesville, the names Lynn Easton and Dean Andrews are never far behind. The couple owns Easton Porter Group, which runs ventures locally at Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards, Red Pump Kitchen and Easton Events, and further afield at Charleston, South Carolina’s boutique hotel Zero George and Cannon Green restaurant.
In 2015, Easton Porter Group appeared on the Inc. 5000, a list of America’s fastest-growing private companies. It landed at No. 453, citing a more than 1,000 percent growth over the previous three years and $9.8 million in revenue in 2014. Easton herself often shows up as a top event planner in notable magazines such as Martha Stewart Weddings. In 2014, Vogue named her to its list of best wedding planners.
If we’re talking power in terms of Charlottesville’s changing landscape, this couple continues to raise the taste level (and tourism) in our area, detail by detail.
20. Lyn Bolen Warren
Founder/director of Les Yeux du Monde art gallery
Bolen Warren has turned a small space in the hills northeast of Charlottesville into the city’s most important art gallery.
Les Yeux du Monde Art Gallery was launched out of her rural home in October 1995, but Bolen Warren moved it to a downtown location, where it began to make a name among the local arts community. Street cred firmly established, the gallery relocated to its current home, an ultra-modern gallery designed by architecture firm WG Clark Architects, in 2009.
Les Yeux du Monde, which translates to The Eyes of the World, serves as a home to artist-quite-literally-in-residence Russ Warren, who married Bolen Warren in 2005, but it’s also an outlet for influential local, regional and national art talent. The gallery’s most recent show featured images of Syria by award-winning photojournalist Ed Kashi, who’s been published in National Geographic, the New York Times and Time magazine, and has permanent collections on display from New Orleans to Santa Fe.