Out of the park

Q: Hey Ace, I hear that the free parking lot next to C&O was recently bought and will soon be turned into some big construction project? True?—Lots of luck

A: True, Lots. The parking lot on the corner of Water and Fifth streets has been purchased and is slated for development, meaning that the final free parking lot in the City is about to go bye-bye. You can start circling for those ever-more-precious parking spaces now.

The 40-odd-space car lot was snapped up about nine months ago by Bill Nitchmann, a developer whose other properties include the Albemarle Bank building just off the Downtown Mall and the Technology Center complex on Forest Street. He took over the property from Water Street LLC (which he now runs), which bought the land from the City a few years ago in the hopes of creating something more lucrative than the parking lot it has been since 1961, Nitchmann says.

Nitchmann is poised to succeed in that endeavor, as plans have already been drawn up for what will be Water Street Plaza, a five-storey complex packed with that multi-use goodness the City is so eager to bring into its borders (consider the controversial, quasi-stalled Preston Plaza project that Mayor Maurice Cox swears will happen). Nitchmann tells Ace that plans call for retail space on the bottom floor topped by a second floor parking garage that will have nearly as many spaces as the current lot it’s taking over. But sorry, motorists—these spaces will be reserved for the folks who will be living in the upper three floors.

Nitchmann says that the residential area will be divided into 800- to 900-square-foot one-bedroom apartments, 900- to 1,500-square-foot condominiums and four penthouse suites ranging from 2,000- to 3,000-square feet. The roof will also feature a gymnasium and landscaped garden area.

It all sounds very chi chi to Ace. But then, as Nitchmann points out, that’s what a lot of the Downtown Mall has become in the past 10 years. I mean, Ace can’t even count how many upscale loft apartments have popped up recently marketed to up-and-coming single executives. (Cough, cough—Yuppies—cough.) Nitchmann’s counting on courting that market with Water Street Plaza, plus another segment of the population.

“With the amenities that the Downtown Mall now offers—movie theaters, fine restaurants, the new art building—we think it’s perfect timing for people that are retiring and moving Downtown to be close to where all the action is,” he says. “We’re really targeting individuals that are tired of driving.”

And to do it, a free parking lot is going the way of the dodo. Oh, the irony.

Nitchmann says that he’s still very much in the preliminary stages of development (zoning variances are still needed from the City) and a start date—much less an end one—has yet to be set. So for now, enjoy the free spaces while you can.

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