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June 17, 2010

BAR encourages Atwood to simplify Waterhouse project on Water Street

Reader comments (0) By Jean Feroldi
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, June 17, 2010

20100615_waterhouse
Preliminary rendering of the Waterhouse project
Source: City of Charlottesville
Four years ago, Charlottesville officials wrestled with a bevy of nine-story building proposals and their impact on the character of downtown. Only the Landmark Hotel began construction, and now its empty skeleton looms incomplete over the Downtown Mall.  Another of those projects, Bill Atwood’s Waterhouse on Water Street, shows that economic conditions can also shrink developer visions of a more vertical Charlottesville.

“A small neighborhood, rather than a tower, seems to suit the market…and it brings the building down quite a bit, which from our standpoint, after 5 years, seems to be something that actually does make sense,” said Atwood about his newest proposal.

Architect Bill Atwood began the initial design for his Waterhouse project five years ago with a vision of two mixed-use towers situated between Water Street and South Street.

Just one of many nine-story proposals imagined for the Downtown Mall area, Atwood was able to secure early approval by the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) for his design which incorporated the adaptation of an existing building.

Other high rise projects by Charlottesville real estate developers Coran Capshaw and Keith Woodard have not left the drawing board. Capshaw’s nine-story building is planned for his C & O coal tower property located at 10th Street and Water. Woodard’s project, which would redevelop a block of buildings between Main and Market streets and introduce a tower of offices and residences, has been delayed due to denial of demolition permits by the BAR.

While his project was approved and ready, financial difficulties and a desire to integrate green design practices had Atwood rethinking Waterhouse. He has submitted two additional scaled-down proposals featuring sustainable design elements.

After many suggestions for improvement from the BAR and community members, Atwood presented a third iteration of his Waterhouse project in a preliminary discussion meeting on Tuesday.

In his latest design, Atwood has moved away from a vertical tower in favor of a more horizontal approach, saying that it will be more appealing for businesses which he hopes to recruit as tenants for the space.

“Our experience is that if you are talking to a company that has close to 50,000 square feet [and] you try to stack that group, two things happen; you quickly become not competitive with other jurisdictions in terms of rent structure, but more importantly it becomes a management issue for the user,” Atwood said. 
20100615_BAR_atwood
Bill Atwood, Atwood Architects Inc.

Atwood says the new design embraces continuity by filling the entirety of the site and gives tenants ample space on one floor. This design approach would eliminate the need for businesses to occupy multiple floors, which in turn would reduce the need for a tall structure.

Atwood also reevaluated the mixed-use goal for the project and took a more functional attitude towards the design.  He said the new building would introduce a customized urban neighborhood or village above the office and retail zone.

Comments from the BAR were in support of the lower, more horizontal approach, yet the board was uncertain about the variety and use of some of the architectural details, such as windows and columns.

“A simplification and unification of all the various elements I think could be useful,” said board member Eryn Brennan.

The board was encouraged by Atwood’s holistic approach to the Waterhouse project yet there was consensus that the range of elements and styles was overwhelming.

“You’ve kept a few pieces that you have struggled over with the former design, and changed what you needed to for the current program, rather than starting again with a fresh eye,” said board member Brian Hogg. “I think that’s undermined your design in a lot of ways.”

Board members felt that Atwood needed to develop the project further, specifically giving more thought to the massing of the structure.

“It looks like three or four different buildings rather than a single unified composition,” said Hogg.

While the BAR requested changes, one South Street property owner, Brent Nelson, commented in full support of the project.

“Whereas this has been a long and arduous journey, I think the benefit here is that we have the best design yet so far for this site,” said Nelson who has been very involved in the design process. “I think the direction in which this is going, the more horizontal direction allows for a more successful incorporation of the existing green building that is to remain.”

Atwood is expected to return to the BAR with a revised plan at a future meeting.

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