New venture: Riverbend dips into public housing

Residents of the 1976-built Crescent Halls have complained for years about its deteriorating condition.  Jack Looney Residents of the 1976-built Crescent Halls have complained for years about its deteriorating condition.  Jack Looney

Music and real estate mogul Coran Capshaw’s Riverbend Development, known for 5th Street Station, the Flats, and City Walk, among many other projects, is now aligning itself in a different direction: a partnership with Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority to build new public housing for residents of the crumbling Crescent Halls.

Riverbend and the nonprofit Virginia Community Development Corporation will build units on city-owned Levy Avenue—now a parking lot for city employees—and green space on South First Street.

“They’re not looking to make a profit,” says former mayor and current CRHA redevelopment project coordinator Dave Norris. “They’ve agreed to waive the developer’s fees.”

The housing authority owns and manages all public housing in Charlottesville, and had a request for proposal for a redevelopment partner, says Norris. “Riverbend submitted a proposal and rose to the top because they’re local, they know the community, and they know how to negotiate the process.”

Says Norris, “They want to be part of the solution. I don’t think it’s a coincidence Coran’s office is across the street from Crescent Halls.”

Residents have complained for years about the deteriorating condition of the Monticello Avenue highrise, including its malfunctioning elevators and air conditioning, and, earlier this year, a plumbing backup that left the first floor smelling like sewage.

The actual redevelopment of Crescent Halls is not part of phase 1, which relocates the building’s 105 households, says Norris. He says they will be given the option of replacement units, housing vouchers, or assistance moving into market-rate housing.

The project is going to be resident-directed, he says, and Riverbend’s willingness to work with the residents is “pretty extraordinary.”

Not all are comforted by Riverbend stepping in. Community activist Jojo Robertson says, “There is much skepticism and mistrust in the community, which we must acknowledge. I am concerned that people may be homeless during this process.”

Norris acknowledges that those living in Crescent Halls have been hearing for years about redevelopment plans. “I think what residents want to see is action rather than talk.”

He notes that it’s a “long, long wait” to get in public housing, and the redevelopment plans are “not just about improving the quality, but also the quantity” of public housing.

City Councilor Wes Bellamy calls Riverbend’s foray into the affordable housing arena “major. It is absolutely major.” He says city officials have been working on the issue for years.

While Riverbend is getting a lot of accolades for its move into public housing, there’s some skepticism because the company has its own projects that will be coming before City Council, including a massive apartment and mixed-use development in the heart of Belmont.

“I think it’s specifically to curry favor, and I’m all in favor of currying favor,” says Belmont resident Joan Schatzman, who has been a critic of Riverbend’s Belmont plans, but commended its involvement in public housing. 

The notoriously press-shy Capshaw did not return a request for comment from C-VILLE, nor did Riverbend president Alan Taylor.

Capshaw also manages the Dave Matthews Band and owns Red Light Management. Last week’s announcement of DMB’s upcoming tour said a portion of proceeds from the two shows at John Paul Jones Arena will support redevelopment of public housing in Charlottesville.