Sellers' market
Development plans across area will provide more shopping options

By David Hendrick  / Daily Progress staff writer January 16, 2006

Area shoppers will face many more options when deciding where to spend their money in the coming years.

More than a million square feet of retail space is currently in the planning stages, and a new mix of upscale boutiques, department and grocery stores is almost certainly on the area's horizon.

The shopping center closest to completion is the Hollymead Town Center on U.S. 29, part of which is already open and bustling.

Ground has not been broken on the two other major centers in the planning stages, although final approval of both Albemarle Place and North Pointe could come this year.

The long-time-coming Albemarle Place, plans for which have been bandied about for more than five years, remains in its final planning stages, with developers aiming for a groundbreaking by this summer, according to Frank Cox, whose firm, The Cox Company, has handled the project's engineering and planning.

If there are any detriments associated with the development's deliberate pace, Cox couldn't see them affecting efforts to attract tenants.

"With each day that passes, the market in Charlottesville gets stronger, not weaker," Cox said.

The Charlottesville-area market currently has a very low retail vacancy rate, according to Ivo Romenesko, president of the Appraisal Group, a real estate consulting firm.

"There are some displaced sales," Romenesko said, referring to sales by locals shopping in other areas. "That's a sign that people would shop closer if they could."

Cox said the project's owners, the Landonomics Group and Ezon Inc., are "patient, moneyed folks," willing to take their time with the project.

The more than 14 months that lapsed since the North Pointe project went before county planners again hasn't hurt the project's chances for success, either, according to Charles Rotgin of Great Eastern Management Company, the developer of the mixed-use development near the intersection of U.S. 29 and Proffit Road.

"The regional market ? has been under-stored for an awful long time," Rotgin said. "There are millions of square feet [worth of] tenants who would love to be in this market."

North Pointe, which has been the subject of two recent workshops with county planners and may go to a public hearing in March, will feature about 500,000 square feet of commercial space.

Rotgin said the retail component of the project would be more akin to Hollymead than Albemarle Place, as the latter is going to be "really high end."

[North Pointe] will be a regional shopping area that will not be dissimilar to Hollymead," Rotgin said.

Rotgin wouldn't yet say which stores he anticipated filling the North Pointe development, but said such centers "have to be anchored by a food retailer."

Although the project still has regulatory hurdles to jump before it can begin, Rotgin said, groundbreaking by the end of 2006 remained a possibility.

Given the residential growth along U.S. 29 in the northern part of the Albemarle and into Greene County, the Proffit Road-U.S. 29 area will be an increasingly active commercial center in Albemarle, Rotgin predicted.

"Between Hollymead and North Fork [Business Park] will be as important a revenue base for the county as the area from Barracks Road to Hollymead is to the city and Rio Road to the South Fork is to the county," Rotgin said.

Ground was recently broken on the second phase of the Hollymead Town Center, and is slated to feature more than 400,000 square feet of retail space anchored by a Kohl's department store.

The later stages of Hollymead will include another 150,000 square feet of smaller, boutique-style retail outlets, according to Wendell Wood, the developer of much of the center.

Wood also recently received initial approval for Northtown Center, a development on U.S. 29 across from the Rio Hill Shopping Center slated to include 200,000 square feet of retail.

Wood said he expected a "higher-end" grocery store, one that would represent a "new entry" into the market, to anchor the project.

Whoever the eventual tenants, Wood has no doubt that the stores will be filled.

"I'm not one of those 'build it and they will come' people," the developer said. "You have to have a reasonable degree of certainty that you'll have it rented."

Which stores will fill the 314,000 square feet of leasable space at Albemarle Place's "Streets of Albemarle" project and the mid-sized box stores surrounding it is unknown, although Whole Foods Market has announced plans on its Web site to open a 55,000-square-foot store in the development.

Jeff Ziegler, who's handling the leasing of the Streets of Albemarle Project for Continental Real Estate, said it was premature to disclose possible tenants, saying only that, "Charlottesville is a special place that deserves a special project."

Continental's other "lifestyle centers" feature a mix of well-known retailers, many of which do not have a presence in the area.

The Streets of Tanasbourne, a Continental-leased development in Portland, Ore., features the outdoor superstore REI and smaller, upscale shops such as Coldwater Creek, Sharper Image, White House/Black Market and J.Jill.

Other stores popping up in Continental-leased spaces include Williams-Sonoma, Gymboree, Restoration Hardware, Anthropologie and Pottery Barn.

In a sign that the coming development still might not fully sate the area's ability to absorb more stores, Wood noted that he had begun working on a "scenario bigger than both" Hollymead and Northtown Center.

Contact David Hendrick at (434) 978-7277 or dhendrick@dailyprogress.com.