Power. We know it when we feel it. Sometimes it’s a server who dawdles while taking our order when we’re starving. Or, on a grander scale, it’s the people who hire and fire, who make the decisions that affect people’s lives, both for good or ill, and in at least a couple of cases, even determine life or death.
The folks named to this year’s list of most powerful Charlottesvillians have the ability to accomplish something—in every realm, from development and government to economy and tourism—in the local fishpond. It’s not an exact science. In fact, it’s pretty subjective, because if there’s one thing we’ve learned about the nature of power, it’s that it’s always shifting.
The Enterpriser: Mark Brown
Before he was 30, Mark Brown had entered the realm of big-time downtown developers with the 2010 purchase of what was then the ice rink at the west end of the Downtown Mall. A relative unknown at the time, Brown turned the struggling ice skating business into the now profitable Main Street Arena, and has spent the last few years making more bold moves that have landed him headlines.
First he purchased Yellow Cab in 2012 and aggressively pursued exclusive access for his new fleet of high-tech hybrid cars at the Charlottesville Albemarle Airport. Then, late last year, Brown seemingly came out of nowhere to buy the Charlottesville Parking Center, the for-profit corporation that owns and/or operates the two downtown parking garages and the flat lot adjacent to the Water Street garage. Coupled with the arena, that last purchase makes Brown one of the largest property holders downtown, and while he has frequently pointed out that parking rates are set by the city, there’s no question that he’s carrying more clout than ever. He’s pushing for metered parking on the streets downtown, and those who find him difficult to deal with might want to get used to it ’cause at age 34, the guy’s going to be around for a long time.
The Entropizer: Phil Dulaney
Some people exercise their power with bold, sweeping actions. But make no mistake: Inaction can be its own form of power. Exhibit A: Phil Dulaney, whose dilapidated buildings atop Afton Mountain and sprinkled around Charlottesville assault the eyeballs of all who pass. You may be driving a $2 million Bugatti Veyron on your way to meet the President of the United States for lunch at the Boar’s Head Inn, but unless you’ve mastered the art of driving with your eyes closed, you will be forced to see the decaying ruins of Charlottesville Oil Company along the otherwise bucolic Ivy Road. And even if you’re rich, don’t think you can just buy his properties and fix them up yourself. Oh, no. In response to criticism of the state of Afton Mountain structures, including the Inn at Afton and the former Howard Johnson restaurant and motor lodge, Dulaney told C-VILLE back in February that he’ll handle his properties his own way. “I don’t like being pushed around,” he said. Boom! That’s power.
The Survivor: Teresa Sullivan
Of course the head of Charlottesville’s largest employer and Virginia’s flagship university would be on a power list. Sullivan, 65, is UVA’s eighth president and first female to hold that position. But Fortune called her “the unluckiest president in America,” starting with her unprecedented dismissal in 2012 barely two years into her contract. The faculty, alums and students rallied to her side, and the Board of Visitors rehired her, but easier times weren’t necessarily ahead.
These days, there’s plenty of love coming from the board, which extended Sullivan’s contract by two years, but also allowed an early exit by fall 2017 if her successor has been found. And the board upped her $494,000 base salary $15,000 this fiscal year and $25,000 the next. The only visitor to abstain in the vote to extend Sullivan’s contract? Her old ouster nemesis, Helen Dragas, who said it was because of tuition increases.
Sullivan has weathered storms like the murder of Hannah Graham and the now-discredited Rolling Stone article, “A Rape on Campus.” Her greatest power? Surviving.
The Manager: Coran Capshaw
When you read about Coran Capshaw in Billboard’s Power 100 (he’s No. 6, down from No. 2 in 2012) there’s no mention of the vast quantities of real estate he owns that have surely put a mark on Charlottesville. In fact, while recent City Council candidates have decried the massive apartment complexes going up around town—like the Flats on West Main and City Walk—guess what? Capshaw owned both before selling to developers through his Riverbend Development. And underway are Fifth Street Station, with its much anticipated Wegman’s and the soon-to-be-redeveloped Coca-Cola Building on Preston Avenue.
And yet, these major real estate holdings seem like mere trifles in Capshaw’s business empire. His original claim to fame was as manager of hometown sensation Dave Matthews Band. His Red Light Management still oversees DMB, but has grown to be the largest independent artist management firm in the world with more than 200 artists, according to Billboard. So when bands like Alabama Shakes or My Morning Jacket play here at the nTelos Wireless Pavilion or The Jefferson Theater—other Capshaw ventures—it’s not a coincidence.
But it’s not all acquisitioning for Capshaw. Earlier this year, he sold his flagship restaurant, Blue Light Grill, and he finally unloaded his historic Greenwood estate, Seven Oaks, which had been on the market for about seven years, for $5.5 million last October.
The Spy-meister: Ketti Davison
You probably wouldn’t recognize Colonel Ketti Davison if you ran into her on the Downtown Mall, but let’s just say that Davison, who took command of the National Ground Intelligence Center on May 26, could direct a drone strike to your house. Kidding. Davison is in charge of gathering for the Army foreign ground forces intelligence, not domestic. Still, the rest of the world, watch out. And here at home, she carries a lot of clout being the boss at one of the biggest employers in Albemarle County, with around 1,200 employees.
The MoJo: Maurice Jones
Few saw it coming that the former NBC29 sportscaster/city flack would one day rule City Hall and its $156 million budget, but lack of experience has never slowed Maurice Jones, who has been city manager since 2010. He didn’t have experience in fundraising when the Miller Center hired him as development director, and he didn’t seem to have much experience in running a city when he came back to work as assistant manager in 2008. But back in 2005, the affable Jones said the important thing is to meet people and build relationships, and it appears to be working.
Despite Jones waiting five months to report what became a misuse of public funds scandal in the registrar’s office last year, City Council indicated June 15 it will keep him around when his contract expires December 7. And he keeps his $180K job, although he told the Daily Progress he won’t be seeking a $17,000 bonus for meeting goals to improve the Charlottesville Housing and Redevelopment Authority.
The Philanthropists: Woodriff, Weschler, Bills, Et al.
Have you ever taken in a show at the Paramount, dropped your kids off at the Boys and Girls Club or read a story on the Charlottesville Tomorrow website? To the delight of scores of local nonprofit organizations, this town’s most financially successful citizens are also known for their largesse. Check out the donor lists for various organizations, and chances are good you’ll see certain names including the ones above pop up repeatedly. Former hedge fund manager and current Warren Buffett right-hand-man Ted Weschler (a co-owner of this paper) has supported numerous nonprofits and ventures including the Focused Ultrasound Foundation. Michael Bills is co-founder of Charlottesville Tomorrow, and is married to another well known local philanthropist, Sonjia Smith. And in the area of charitable giving, it’s hard to compete with Jaffray Woodriff, a hedge fund manager who gives millions away to nonprofits locally and farther afield through his Quantitative Foundation. Thanks for sharing the wealth!
The Idea Man: Keith Woodard
Keith Woodard has quietly been accumulating properties since he moved here from Kentucky in 1976 with a degree in architecture. His early efforts were in quality student housing, and Woodard Properties currently houses nearly 750 students, according to its website. In the 1980s, he moved into commercial properties and renovated the Exchange Center on the Downtown Mall. His holdings include McIntire Plaza and the Market Street parking lot that’s racked up a lot of complaints from towed parkers.
He bought four semi-historic buildings on the mall that other developers had failed to get city approvals to tear down—and Woodard’s plans to build a nine-story mixed use structure didn’t fly either. Sure the buildings sat empty and created a ghost town stretch on the Downtown Mall for about five years, but today they house Derrière de Soie and other high-end retailers.
Woodard showed his humanitarian side when he bought Dogwood Properties in 2007 from local civil rights leader Eugene Williams, who believed in affordable housing and mixed-income neighborhoods. And in 2008, he adapted a radical management approach called the Great Game of Business that gives employees a stake in his company’s success.
And now Woodard tackles his most ambitious project yet: Market Plaza, another nine-story residential, retail and office behemoth on a city-owned parking lot on Water Street that includes outdoor space for City Market. This time, despite grousing about tall structures changing the face of Charlottesville, City Council gave a thumbs up.
The Dem Power Couple: Denise Lunsford and Richard Brewer
Denise Lunsford, Albemarle commonwealth’s attorney, and Richard Brewer, president and CEO of Commonwealth Assisted Living, with its 20 facilities across the state, are powerhouses in their own right. But together, by virtue of Brewer’s volunteer job as chair of the Albemarle County Democratic Committee, the couple has a headlock on who the party backs—and who it doesn’t.
Just ask Lawrence Gaughan, who ran as a Democrat for Congress last year and now is running as an independent for the county Board of Supervisors after he got a cold shoulder from his own party. Clerk of Court Debbie Shipp was elected as a Democrat, but is running for reelection as an independent after Jon Zug announced a challenge more than a year ago and secured the Dem nomination—and he works as a prosecutor for Lunsford. Heck, even some Republicans seeem fearful of getting on the wrong side of this couple.
Not that everything has been smooth sailing for the pair. While assisted living remains a growth business, being an elected prosecutor for eight years inevitably puts a target on one’s back, never more so than with the controversial Mark Weiner conviction. Lunsford faces a contested reelection run along with a high-profile capital case against Jesse Matthew.
The Voice: Jeff Fogel
If power can be defined as the ability to give a voice to the voiceless, attorney Jeff Fogel would be yodeling at the top of the list. A free speech advocate, he filed suit against the City of Charlottesville on behalf of downtown panhandlers, claiming the new city law prohibiting begging at the cross streets was a constitutional no-no. Federal judge Norman K. Moon agreed, and wrote a harsh rebuke of the city, noting that the mall is the site of the free speech monument, and that the organization behind that monument, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, filed an amicus brief on behalf of the panhandlers. With the wind of that victory now at his back, Fogel has sued the city again, this time seeking the story behind each time police detain someone.
The Fixer: Susan Payne
On the popular ABC television series “Scandal,” actress Kerry Washington plays Olivia Pope, a crisis PR guru who will go to any length to help her high-profile clients manage sticky situations. If the setting for “Scandal” were moved from Washington, D.C. to Charlottesville and recast, we’d definitely place Susan Payne in the lead role. To the best of our knowledge, she’s never capped a knee on behalf of a client like Pope once did, but she’s definitely the one the big dogs call when they need to put their best foot forward. When Hunter Craig unloaded Biscuit Run for a state park and tax credits, he called Payne, Ross and Associates. And who can forget Halsey Minor’s proud groundbreaking ceremony of the Landmark Hotel on the Downtown Mall? And her influence goes beyond the local. She’s married to former congressman L.F. Payne and she’s chairwoman of the board of the Virginia Tourism Corporation, so she most definitely has the power to keep Charlottesville in the state and national spotlight.
The Ruler: Cheryl Higgins
All judges wield power—anyone who’s gotten so much as a speeding ticket knows that—but sitting on the bench of the Albemarle County Circuit Court means Higgins holds the reins over any wrongdoing in one of the geographically largest counties in the state. Getting a divorce? Higgins will decide who gets the dough. Got a case of sticky fingers? It’s up to Higgins whether you’re headed to the pokey. And she’s in a particularly high-profile position this year as she prepares to preside over the trial of Jesse Matthew, unless his lawyers convince her to step aside. It’s the county’s first capital murder case in years and one the whole country will be watching.
The Investor: Larry Kochard
The man who came in to manage UVA Investment Management Company in 2011 had to deal with both his predecessor’s abrupt departure for personal reasons and the plunge in the university’s endowment from $5 billion to $4 billion during the Great Recession.
Larry Kochard was chief investment officer at Georgetown University, and also has managed funds for the Virginia Retirement System. Since his arrival here, UVA’s long-term pool, which includes the endowment, has rebounded to $7.2 billion, and it showed a 19 percent return, according to UVIMCO’s 2014 annual report.
The New Mogul: Dave Frey
Watch out Coran, there’s a new music mogul in town, and this one has the power to draw some of the biggest musical acts in the world to a massive tract of land in Nelson County. Two years ago, Dave Frey launched the Lockn’ Music Festival on a 5,000-acre estate in Arrington. In its first year, the event drew tens of thousands to hear big name acts like Phil Lesh and The Black Crowes. But fans weren’t the only ones in attendance. Several ABC officers also on hand at the event were so scandalized by the sight of pot smoking and at least one topless sunbather that they brought the fight to Frey in an effort to take away his license. Frey paid a fine, the most scandalized ABC agent moved to another jurisdiction, and the show went on in 2014 with even bigger acts including Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Willie Nelson. This year’s event brings Carlos Santana and Robert Plant among dozens of others, and Frey’s lovin’ the Nelson scene so much he recently launched another smaller venue called the Blue Ridge Bowl.
The Man Behind the Message: David Martel
A year after UVA President Teresa Sullivan survived a BOV coup, she brought in her own communications guy, David Martel, who previously was at University of Connecticut and specializes in strategic communication, media relations, marketing and branding. As chief communications officer, he reports directly to Sullivan, in contrast to during the 2012 ouster, when university communications was appropriated by then-rector Helen Dragas until she hired a PR firm to handle the debacle.
It’s been a tough year to be brand-meister for UVA when murder, rape and the bloody arrest of a black student are in the national news. And it didn’t help that the response penned for Sullivan in the wake of the now-discredited Rolling Stone article seemed more concerned with how the article “negatively portrayed” the university than with the alleged sexual assault of a student. But by the arrest of Martese Johnson, Sullivan’s statement and concern were spot-on.
The Driver: Liza Borches
If you want to buy a car in this town (and much as most people claim they love alternative transportation, everyone needs at least one set of motorized wheels, right?), chances are good you’ll check out at least a couple of lots under Borches’ control. As the president and CEO of the Carter Automotive Group, the company her family founded in 1924, Liza Borches heads up 11 car dealerships in Central Virginia, including Volvo of Charlottesville and Colonial Honda, Kia and Nissan as well as the Colonial Auto Group here in Charlottesville. She’s a shrewd businesswoman, no doubt, and has received numerous awards and recognitions. She’s also a founding member of Women United, a nonprofit organization formed in 2005 to encourage and support women philanthropists that’s poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into local causes.
The Tom-aniac: Paul Beyer
When homebuilder scion Paul Beyer first appeared on the public scene to run for City Council in 2011, the then-29-year-old NYU grad lost by a scant 31 votes, and some figured he’d be running for office again before too long. Instead, he showed up a year later with this crazy South by Southwest idea called the Tom Tom Founders Festival, featuring music, art and innovation—for free. In a festival-clogged town, it seemed like a nice idea that would die quietly. Instead, Beyer just finished his fourth Tom Tom fest, and he’s created a behemoth.
Beyer scaled back the original month-long event to a week, but length of time is about the only thing he’s scaled back. After partnering with UVA and Darden’s iLab, this year Tom Tom boasted 384 participants in the Founders Summit, including the entrepreneurs who founded Reddit and the Container Store, plus six block parties, four pitch events and dozens of free events. Prediction for the future? It’s only going to get bigger.
The Party Planners: Lynn Easton and Dean Andrews
How did Charlottesville become an East Coast wedding mecca? If Lynn Easton and Dean Andrews asked that question while gazing into a mirror, they’d see a big part of the answer. As operators of the Easton & Porter hospitality group, they run high-end event planning company Easton Events and co-own gorgeous winery estate Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards (which has landed on a slew of national wedding “Best of” lists) as well as downtown restaurant Red Pump Kitchen. The couple, perhaps more than anyone else in this area, have helped develop the local wedding industry into a juggernaut that (red) pumps millions into the economy every year.
The Apprentice: Eric Trump
The son of the Donald may not live here, but as executive VP of development and acquisitions at the Trump Organization, Eric Trump has stamped the Trump brand on Albemarle County.
Trump, 31, oversaw the transformation of Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard into Trump Winery, and in 2013 Wine Enthusiast named him rising star of the year. While his plans for a golf course on the former John Kluge property ultimately were thwarted by a conservation easement and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, Trump did find a way around county bed-and-breakfast zoning and opened the former Albemarle House as what its website calls the “luxury boutique hotel,” Albemarle Estate, this spring.
Albemarle seems to be the rare failure in Trump’s golf course portfolio. He’s expanded the organization’s holdings from three in 2006 to 15. And his Eric Trump Foundation has donated and pledged $28 million to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, which helps mitigate those unfortunate African safari dead-leopard shots making the rounds online.
The Seller: Loring Woodriff
Local real estate firms all over town are partnering with big national or even international firms, but not Loring Woodriff. She founded her own firm a decade ago and has grown it from a tiny boutique agency to a nearly 30-agent force with the fourth highest sales of any firm in the area, according to her website. And she has no plans to fold her firm into a larger entity, no matter how high profile the name. “I’m 100 percent fiercely independent,” Woodriff told C-VILLE a few months back. Fierce is powerful.
Correction June 1, 2015: The original version of this story incorrectly identified Coran Capshaw as the developer of the Flats on West Main and City Walk, as well as the current name of his Riverbend Development. Both have been corrected.