The Center of Developing Entrepreneurs, now under construction on the west end of the Downtown Mall, will provide office space for more than 600 workers. But it will include only 74 parking spaces.
That drew the ire of a couple members of the Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville, who grilled builders about a potential parking shortage at their January 31 meeting in Old Metropolitan Hall.
At the meeting, representatives from CSH Development and the Wolf Ackerman architecture firm unveiled detailed plans for CODE, the latest project from hedge fund CEO Jaffray Woodriff, which will take the place of the now-demolished Main Street Arena and Escafé, and rent space to a variety of start-ups and other businesses.
“The goal of the building is to provide a healthy work environment for individuals, fledgling businesses, and established companies,” CSH president Andrew Boninti told the crowded room. “It’s designed for the collision of people, which allows for networking.”
For the most part, the crowd was receptive, sipping rosé and eagerly asking questions about new business opportunities. But midway through the meeting, Jacie Dunkle and another business owner pressed the builders on how they plan to accommodate the parking needs of hundreds of new tenants.
“Many businesses coming to this space are already downtown and already have parking,” Boninti replied. “The parking we have now is being underused.”
Later, Dunkle, owner of Tin Whistle Irish Pub and The Salad Maker, elaborated on her concerns over the phone. “There will be 670 new people looking to park,” she says, “but they’re only adding 74 spaces underground and offering some spots in the Staples parking lot.”
“I don’t blame Woodriff,” she adds. “I blame the city. It never required him to have more spaces, even though people are struggling to find parking in the city as it is.”
Boninti says parking is a concern for anything downtown. “We have secured two offsite areas four to five minutes away, which should add 50 to 75 spaces,” he says, though he declined to specify the locations.
And while the 167,000-square foot space will hold a maximum of 700 people, Boninti predicts no more than 400 will occupy it at once.
The building will have bicycle racks and showers, which could encourage employees to run or bike to work. Other Silicon Valley-inspired elements include rooftop courtyards, open staircases, and a publicly accessible ground floor with retail and food for employees working long hours.
All told, CODE could usher in a new era for downtown businesses.
“There’s been a sea shift in the historic Downtown Mall,” said Roy van Doorn, treasurer of DBAC, at the January meeting. “We’re ending the historic side of the mall and going toward the experiential side, with music, restaurants, shopping, and working.”
Like Woodriff’s record-breaking $120 million donation to the University of Virginia to build a school for data science, that statement has polarized local residents. In addition to parking concerns, Dunkle resents the shift towards “high-tech” architecture. “The ‘historic’ Downtown Mall is losing its value as being a historic venue,” she says.
Others are cautiously optimistic. “It’s always welcome to have more spaces for people who will bring business,” says José Giron, owner of Consignment House Unlimited. But he’s worried he’ll lose customers who frequented Escafé and the ice skating rink, as well as some foot traffic during the years-long building phase.