David McNair

Archive for the ‘Development’ Category

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

In Activism, Architecture, Development on August 29, 2014 at 5:12 pm

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

In Architecture, Arts, Development, People on April 15, 2014 at 12:39 pm
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

In Arts, Development, Photos on April 12, 2014 at 12:32 pm

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

In Architecture, Development on April 2, 2014 at 1:13 pm

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”

In Architecture, Arts, Development on February 24, 2014 at 1:00 pm

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?

In Development on December 23, 2013 at 12:38 pm

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

In Architecture, Development, History, Photos on December 17, 2013 at 3:08 pm

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


Blighted: Dewberry gets served

In Development on November 21, 2013 at 5:08 pm

BlightedLooks like the City is putting its foot down with Atlanta-based developer John Dewberry, who fired off a testy letter when officials here suggested he better secure the Landmark Hotel structure and hurry the project along. As this notice on the Landmark Hotel shows, the unfinished hotel structure is now a “blighted property.”

“I sent them a letter that said the property was blighted and they did not respond with a plan to fix things,” says Neighborhood Development Chief Jim Tolbert. “It will now go to the Planning Commission for a hearing to see if they agree with me.”

If Dewberry doesn’t address the issues raised by inspectors, the City can “take action to repair, remove, or secure the structure to make it safe, billing the costs to the owner.”

As the DTM’s “Landmark Hotel construction clock” here shows, we are nearly at 6 years and counting since ground was broken on this hotel project by its previous developers. At a December 10 meeting, the City Planning Commission will give the City recommendations about what to do about the situation.

The Collaborator: Silverman remembered

In Development, People on November 18, 2013 at 3:13 pm
Silverman got a lot of press over the years, including this Hotseat feature in the Hook.

Silverman got a lot of press over the years, including this Hotseat feature in the Hook.

No one perhaps meant more to the success of the DTM than developer Gabe Silverman, who died on November 10 of a cardiac arrest at the age of 73. Architect and design planner Katie Swenson, who moved to Charlottesville in large part because of Silverman and spent 11 years here, offers a remembrance, one of many that have been pouring out since the developer’s death.

In 2003, Silverman was featured in a Hotseat feature in the Hook, which is definitely worth another read, if only for the answers to the short questions, like Best advice you ever got: “Don’t listen to any advice.”

Here’s Swenson’s tribute:

It is not an exaggeration to say that Gabe Silverman was a big part of the reason I moved to Charlottesville in 1996. I was living in New York City at the time, in a loft on the corner of Bowery and Delancey (that building is now gone to make way for the ‘new’ Bowery) and had been accepted by Columbia and UVA for Architecture school. I lived in a micro-neighborhood of New York, between Broadway and Bowery, and Houston and Canal, for about five years, and felt like I lived in the best small town in the most dynamic big city. That neighborhood has since been called “Nolita” or “East Soho”, but it didn’t really have a name then, a little bit Little Italy, a little bit Chinatown, with mostly Dominican residents and business owners and a lot of restaurant supply stores. Jim Jarmusch lived across the street on the Bowery, and dozens of artists, musicians, hipsters lived anonymously in the unconventional building there. I had renovated two lofts on the Bowery, both with (rough) dance studios and both great party spaces, opened a great local tapas restaurant at 33 Crosby, which just closed last year after 15 years. There was a dynamic energy there, with creative businesses, restaurants opening and a vibe of creative neighborly dynamism.
So when I came down to visit Charlottesville in the spring of 1996 to see the school and town, I worried about leaving that creative ecodistrict behind, unsure what I would find in the sleepy southern college town. Peter Waldman was chair of the School of Architecture then and gave me the hard sell. “You just have to meet Gabe Silverman” he said, “and then you will see what’s really going on in Charlottesville. He went to Berkeley, like you, and built a dance studio on the Downtown Mall. He’s remaking Charlottesville, one project at a time.” When I did meet Gabe a few months later, it was unceremonious. I think I thought I would ‘intern’ for him, or some such thing. Instead, we met in the parking lot of what is now Mono Loco, leaned against his pickup truck, he smoked cigarettes, and we chatted, about everything and nothing. There was no outcome, per se, to our conversation, but from that point forward, I had entered into the collective creative process of life, of his vision, of that town, and that place, with those people.

Having now been a student of collective action, neighborhood leadership, civic engagement and community design both in the places I have lived and loved and dozens of neighborhoods across the country, I think that Gabe Silverman was a rare kind of leader. There was no trace of the hierarchical kind of leadership with Gabe, but rather he engendered a subtle sacredness around his work, which drew people into creative collaboration with him. He never drew a master plan for Charlottesville that I know of, nor gave a lecture, or panel presentation on his vision for Charlottesville. Rather, he put his energy in sync with other people’s energy, helping them do what they perhaps wanted to do, but he could actually make happen. He built dance studios for dancers and choreographers, theaters for actors and directors, yoga studios for yogis. He made micro-business spaces for local entrepreneurs and micro offices for start ups. Each discrete project started to knit together a new version of the town. And as he did that, people thrived, the community thrived, and as the momentum built, people got a taste for what it meant to thrive as a town, as a community, and the town took off. Because Gabe’s world was not hierarchical, not exclusive, there was no limit to the creativity and collaboration possible.

Peter Senge, a Buddhist scientist and professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, says while hierarchical structures may be visible, they are ultimately limited. It is the invisible networks of collaboration that leads to accomplishments. It is the quality of our interactions and creating a sense of sacredness in the shared purpose of our work and relationships that allow the meaningful creation of what he calls ‘our networks of loving collaboration.’ With Gabe, it was the way he stopped to speak with you on the street, seemingly never in a hurry. The way his hips moved on the dance floor. The way he loved his wife. The way his spaces have the best light. The color selection on his house or buildings. The way people thrived in his spaces. The way he smiled. The way he smoked. His devotion to his daughters.

I got to spend 11 incredible years in Charlottesville, and will think of it as home forever, the place, the people, and my network of loving relationships. I got to have my hand in building elements of the town, house renovations, design of city parks, the construction of dozens of new affordable houses, a community design center, a tapas restaurant, a yoga studio, a community center, and so, so much more. In none of these endeavors did I partner with Gabe in a traditional sense, but it all was a creative collaboration, with him, and with the ever expanding group of individuals who share a common vision and awareness of the potential of people and place to create something magical. I love you all and with you today, in celebration of a life extremely well lived.

Katie Swenson


History lessons: Mall buildings preserved, but who to thank?

In Architecture, Development on November 8, 2013 at 1:43 pm
In 2006, A2RCI Architect Greg Brezinski's presented this rendering of the proposed First & Main project, as seen from the Mall

In 2006, A2RCI Architect Greg Brezinski’s presented this rendering of the proposed First & Main project, as seen from the Mall

For years, the facades of 101-111 East Main Street looked decrepit, but property owner and developer Keith Woodard has finally rehabilitated them and added 11 new apartments, as recently reported by the Newsplex. But then this comment by Woodard stuck out:

“About 10 or 15 years ago another developer purchased the building and proposed to demolish it and put up something else,” Woodard said. “We purchased the building in 2003 and saw an opportunity to preserve what was here.”

Hmm…not exactly, not the way we remember it. Now we get to see the benefit of the news archives of the Hook, particularly a cover story I did in 2006 called #9 dreams: Invasion of the Super towers, that reported on Woodard’s plans to demolish the old buildings and put up a 9-story tower and an underground parking lot, a plan the city planners and city council nixed, in large part, because they felt it was too dramatic a transformation.


“At a work session Friday, May 23 for the First & Main project, developer Keith Woodard and architect Greg Brezinski had a chance to present their nine-story project to members of the Board of Architectural Review, the Planning Commission, and the public.

Taking advantage of the City’s revised zoning ordinance, passed in 2003 to encourage denser development, Woodard and Brezinski proposed a behemoth mixed-use building that will suck up nearly all the air space the ordinance allows. (Note to City: be careful what you wish for!)

The two want to demolish everything but the facades of the buildings that Woodard currently owns between 100 and 111 East Main on the Downtown Mall and erect a nine-story retail, office, and residential structure extending to Market Street over the existing parking lot.”

Continue reading…

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