Up to Pasture: local artist has vision to turn Landmark into vertical farm

vert gardenTurning the abandoned and blighted Landmark Hotel into a vertical urban garden may sound like a fanciful, farfetched idea, but at least local artist Russell Richards has an idea. The same can’t be said for the City or the hotel’s various owners, who have offered only empty promises.

“I suspect the Landmark is never going to be completed,” says Richards, who has informally presented his idea to City Council, and is scheduled to give a TEDx presentation on the idea. “The longer it sits exposed, the more it deteriorates and devalues. But that’s what’s happening, for whatever reason, so I personally believe the thing won’t go forward.”

Earlier this year, current owner John Dewberry “swore” to one city official that he would begin the project before the end of the summer, but as anyone can see, that isn’t happening.

“I have admittedly gotten a lot of mileage out of the fact that everyone, everyone hates that hotel,” he says.

Richards says there’s a trend now among architects and engineers to design farms ‘up’, as kind of vertical greenhouses, and it strikes him that the Landmark could be an ideal candidate for such a thing.

As Richards points out, the walls are largely open and permit a lot of light to penetrate the interior, it faces southward to the sun, which strikes it throughout the day, there are no nearby buildings casting a shadow on it.

“A vertical farm would actually be a bit different from how I rendered it,” says Richards. ” It’d be closed off, like the greenhouse levels I depicted on the upper floors, permitting crops to be grown throughout the year regardless of weather conditions.”

Richards says that hydroponic and aeroponic growing methods allow crops to be grown quite densely- all the way up to the ceiling of any given floor, essentially- and use a minimum of water, and no soil. So the crop output of such a space would be far greater than the footprint of any given floor.

“It’s an amazing model,” he says. “I’m indebted to the research of Dr. Dickson Despommier of Columbia University, who is credited with the idea- specifically his book “The Vertical Farm”, which is a wealth of information. In ten or twenty years, vertical farms are likely to be relatively commonplace.”

Though Richards admits a feasibility study would have to be done, and that the structural integrity of the building would need to be checked, he think it could work.

“If they can still build a hotel, they can build a vertical garden,” he says. “It remains to be seen whether or not the Landmark has been structurally compromised.”

Still, Richards admits he could be wrong.

“I try to be a realist,” he says, ” even with something like this, which might seem like a fanciful notion. But we’ll never know if we don’t have a look at it. I believe the idea has merit, and deserves further study.”

Ephemeral mural: Indian mural to remain, but obscured by new hotel

Photo by Hawes Spencer

Photo by Hawes Spencer

The iconic mural of two Indian chiefs that graces the side wall of the Afghan Grand Market on West Main Street will remain as a new Marriott Residence Inn goes up beside it, but it will be largely obscured from view, say City officials.

The mural was commissioned by former Random Row Books in 2011 and painted by a group of Tandem Friends School students, a response to the nearby Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea statue. More importantly, the late developer Gabe Silverman, who died last November and owned the Afghan Grand Market building under his Main Street Associates, LLC, allowed the mural to be painted on his property.

“There will be a few feet between the hotel wall and the Afghani Market wall. You will still be able to see it, but barely,” says Mary Joy Scala, the City’s Preservation and Design Planner.

Scala believes the Indian mural is the best mural in town, and that it also serves as a reminder of Silverman’s imprint on the community.

“I am sad that it  will no longer be clearly visible,” says Scala, ” but the best things are often ephemeral.”

Picture This: Indian mural stands alone as Charlottesville hotel goes up

Well, work on one downtown hotel is commencing, as crews lay the ground work for the new Marriott Residence Inn on the corner of West Main and Ridge/McIntire. This mural, captured recently by Hawes Spencer, was commissioned by former Random Row Books in 2011 and painted by a group of Tandem Friends School students, a response to the nearby Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea statue. There was some controversy at the time, as the mural was painted without City approval, but it was embraced by the community and remains. But will it be preserved? Stay tuned.


Photo by Hawes Spencer

BREAKING NEWS: Construction on “Landmark” could begin this summer

news-norris-mallIt’s been over six years since former “Landmark” hotel property owner Halsey Minor broke ground on the planned boutique hotel for the DTM, and nearly two years since Atlanta-based developer John Dewberry bought the property for $6.25 million at auction, promising at the time to finish construction on the project once a similar hotel project of Dewberry’s is completed in Charleston, South Carolina.

Meanwhile, this “black spot” on the DTM landscape, as Dewberry himself called it, has continued to plague the downtown skyline. Indeed, City planner recently deemed the structure “blighted” and forced Dewberry to better secure the site or else risk further action. What’s more, sources in Charleston say there has yet to be any serious progress on the hotel project down there.

Many in the community wonder if the hotel will ever get build, and are frustrated that no progress has been made.

“I don’t believe he paid the amount he paid just to let this property sit,” says Neighborhood development chief Jim Tolbert. ” I don’t know any business folks that would last long if they bought properties and had no intention of developing them.”

Still, Tolbert says he understands the frustration everyone feels.

“But we have no legal authority to compel him [Dewberry] to finish,” he says. ” We got him to secure the property and that is the limit of authority that we have.”

However, The DTM has some welcome news: reliable sources we spoke to claim that Dewberry has “sworn” that he will begin construction on the Charlottesville hotel by the end of the summer, and that he has already hired a construction manager.

Indeed, while Tolbert declined to confirm that, he did tell The DTM that Dewberry has had a change of plans, and has told him that he will start the Charlottesville project at the same time that he starts the Charleston project, and that he has already secured financing.

“That work might begin in a very short time,” says Tolbert. “All we can do is wait and see.”

Indeed, that’s all we’ve ever been able to do.

Saving face: The Bridge proposes an art-over for the “Landmark”

Well, its been 5 years and 351 days since the groundbreaking ceremony for the proposed “Landmark Hotel,” according to the DTM’s construction clock, and finally someone has come up with a sensible, if temporary solution to dealing with the concrete eye-sore. The Bridge Progressive Art Initiative has proposed doing a series of collaborative art projects on the exterior of the building.

From 2009 to 2013, Matthew Slaats, the executive director of BridgePAI, says he was involved in a series of projects in New York that looked at the ways that art could temporarily address vacant sites that would be developed.

“Especially after the 2008 financial crisis, there were a multitude of development projects that could not get funding and that provided opportunities for artists and designers to create projects which addressed those sites short term,” says Slaats. ” After the Planning commission voted to blight the Landmark, I saw an opportunity for this type of conversation to take place in Charlottesville. ”

In addition, Slaats says he wanted to “respond to all the negativity that was going on between the City of Charlottesville and Dewberry Capital in positive and generative ways. ”

The pitch is this:  The Bridge will help to develop a series of art installations on the building that would both serve to remedy the security/safety issues the City wants addressed, provide a way for Dewberry Capital to do some public relations work around the development, and finally allow The Bridge to create an opportunity for local artists to participate in a very creative/public project.

“As of right now, “says Slaats,””we are still working with the City and Dewberry to see what is plausible.

Back in 2011, Downtown residents David and Carolyn Benjamin, representing 23 other Downtown residents, proposed “wrapping” the building, something that is common in Europe, and can be viewed HERE, but the proposal went nowhere.

We’ve provided a link to their full proposal below, which will be submitted to the current owner, Dewberry Capital, and the City of Charlottesville for approval, as well as photos of some of the proposed art projects.

Link to Bridge PAI proposal

Some proposed installations:



Another Vinegar Hill plan for Downtown?

52b65ed68ca1a.imageGood for Daily Progress reporter Aaron Richardson for raising this issue with regard to the planned “central Strategic Investment Area in Charlottesville” around Friendship Court and the Ix property, which could replace public housing. Yes, there are “Shadows of Vinegar Hill” in this plan, but previous stories on this plan overlooked this part of it.

“I think that when you displace low-income people in the name of progress, that’s not the case, it’s just the opposite,” local NAACP President Eugene Williams Williams told the DP. “Less-fortunate people have nothing to show for progress.” READ MORE

Image from Cunningham/Quill Architects


Vintage DTM: evolution of the DTM was gradual

This photograph from the mid 1970s shows the early construction of the Downtown Mall. The controversial idea to replace the drivable Main Street with a brick-paved pedestrian mall was not well-received by everyone, especially many of the business owners who benefited from the drive-up traffic and being convenient to their customers. This image shows the area around First and Main.  Many of the stores seen here would move or go out of business. It took many years for the downtown area to become the commercially viable DTM we know today. “Vintage DTM” is produced by Steve Trumbull. To see more of vintage images of C’ville, visit www.cvilleimages.com