Mark Brown’s buy: Main Street Arena owner makes a bid for Charlottesville Parking Center

The surface parking lot at Water and Second streets is just one of the Charlottesville Parking Center’s downtown assets that could come under Brown’s control, but it’s a big one—the future of the City Market depends on it. Staff photo The surface parking lot at Water and Second streets is just one of the Charlottesville Parking Center’s downtown assets that could come under Brown’s control, but it’s a big one—the future of the City Market depends on it. Staff photo

The company that owns or controls most of the public parking spaces in downtown Charlottesville is readying itself for a takeover by a local businessman in a move with major implications for the future of development in the city.

According to an announcement sent to the company’s shareholders (C-VILLE holds a single share), Mark Brown, owner of the Main Street Arena and Yellow Cab of Charlottesville, has offered $13.8 million to acquire all 407,039 shares of the privately held Charlottesville Parking Center, Inc. (CPC). The company owns the surface lot adjacent to the City Market at Water and Second streets as well as the land under the primarily city-owned Water Street Parking Garage, and it manages the fully city-owned Market Street Garage.

A vote on whether to accept Brown’s bid was scheduled for this week, but has been postponed until August 4 while the company distributes required financial information, said CPC President Jim Berry—a “technicality,” he said, but one that he doesn’t believe will derail the acquisition.

Many shareholders have already voted by proxy, said Berry. “We’ve had a very strong response, and they feel this is a good deal,” he said.

It’s certainly one that’s been a long time in coming. Shareholders have been agitating for divestment for years, and multiple offers have been floated since the recession. In 2008, the City of Charlottesville spent $400,000 studying a possible acquisition, but Berry announced that year that the company didn’t receive a bid that met its threshold, which at the time was $17.5 million. 

Brown’s offer hasn’t pleased everyone. Developer Richard Spurzem, who said he holds fewer than 3,000 shares, thinks the company is worth more than Brown’s bid, and criticized the company’s leadership for not shopping around for a better offer. “I’m a little dismayed that they didn’t put this out for a public sales process,” he said.

Spurzem said the same reluctance to open up the stock sale to a wider audience in the mid 2000s didn’t serve the company well. By the time the deal with the city fell through, “the real estate market go-go days had ended, and they couldn’t sell it for big bucks any more,” he said.

“If he has his concerns, I think that’s fine,” Berry said of Spurzem’s complaints. “But the Board is certainly very pleased with the offer.”

Brown declined to comment ahead of the August 4 meeting. But should he become the new sole shareholder, there will be plenty of people asking for his ear. The lot at Water and Second streets is integral to the City Market redevelopment plan recently selected by City Council. That proposal, drawn up by developer Keith Woodard, would annex the CPC lot to expand the footprint of the market, placing it in a public plaza half surrounded by an eight-story mixed-use building. Last month’s vote to approve it was the first definitive move in the decades-old debate over how to grow the market, and one that councilors agreed would only be possible if CPC, which had been unwilling to sell off the lot, gained new leadership who could be interested in giving it up.

That’s precisely what the company’s leaders expect to see happen within a month.

“We certainly anticipate the deal going through,” said Berry.

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