City Market Permanent Home

While it would be nice to think the market will always be there, the reality is that without careful stewardship, it may not.  And we feel that by being advocates for a well-considered, permanent home site, we can ensure our community will continue to enjoy the multiple benefits of this treasured asset for generations, not just from one season to the next.

At this writing (May 2013), we are perhaps closer than ever to establishing a permanent home for the City Market.  City Council will be receiving results soon from a consultant hired in October 2012 to begin fleshing out a plan to establish a downtown, permanent location for the City Market.   After 40 years, we think it’s time. 



 Key points to consider:

  • The current site is available for development.
  • The city moved the market to the current location (Water Street lot) in 1993 – “temporarily” – for a year until they found a permanent site.
  • Leaving the market just as it is (a sloping parking lot with a decrepit building on a site that could be sold to a developer) does not generate enough revenue to justify using the property for this purpose.
  • The current location, in its current state, lacks shelter, running water, level surfaces and most of all: permanency.IMG_7945
  • If the current location remains ‘on the market’ for development, there is no point investing in improvements that will be destroyed when the property is developed.
  • Keeping the market in its current location as part of a carefully-designed market district was the recommendation of the City Market Task Force in 2011, along with the recommendation that the community figure out a development plan that keeps the market as its central focus, rather than displacing it.
  • Interestingly, every time the City has considered permanent home options in the past 20 years, the current site has been identified as the preferred location.
  • Keeping the market downtown will involve a significant financial commitment.  A project of this scope and scale requires input from all stakeholders, and will likely require a public/private partnership to achieve.


The Charlottesville City Market dates back to 1973, and is operated by the City’s Parks and Recreation Department.  After outgrowing two locations, the market was moved to its current location (the Water Street parking lot, at the corner of 1st and Water Street) in 1993.  At the time, this move was deemed “temporary,” and City planners suggested efforts to locate a permanent home for the market within 12 months.

In 2007, the City held an international design competition, called the Market Value competition, soliciting visions for development of the site.  The design guidelines called for incorporating the farmer’s market, but what that meant as far as space or needs was not defined, so the designs did not allot much space for a market. A jury panel awarded prizes for the winning entries, and all submissions were part of a public showing in October 2007.

Winning design of the Market Value competition
Winning design of the Market Value competition

Why weren’t any of these designs built?  A number of factors were likely to blame, including the economic downturn of 2008, and the fact that none of the designs was viewed as ‘perfect.’ But the submissions, and the very concept of the competition itself, illustrate the possibilities for this parcel of land, as well as the value of preserving the presence of a downtown public market. 

In November 2010, Market Central, with guidance from the City Manager, asked City Council to form the City Market Task Force to find a permanent location that would satisfy a list of criteria set by a July 2010 City Council Work Session and later expanded upon by the task force and other interested constituents.  (Read the November 5, 2010 Daily Progress story here.)

The Task Force, empaneled in December 2010, was comprised of members of the public, Market Central representatives, market vendors, University of Virginia representatives, local business owners, market supporters and City officials, and was facilitated by Parks and Recreation Director Brian Daly.  The Task Force met from January through May 2011, diligently researching and discussing both the suggested sites, and the criteria for selection.  After months of meetings and visits to all the potential locations, the City Market Task Force officially made its recommendation to City Council in July 2011. 

During the course of the Task Force’s discussions, Market Central arranged for David O’Neil to come to Charlottesville to visit the current market and the suggested sites, and to meet with the Task Force to act as a resource.  O’Neil, former manager of Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market and an internationally known market consultant, discussed with the task force and the interested public the future of the market, its sustainability and the impending decision of its final and permanent location.

2nd Place Market Venture design
2nd Place Market Venture design

O’Neil later blogged about his experience in Charlottesville, stating: “We looked at a lot of potential sites, none of which are as good as the current location, where (if it were up to me) I would keep the market – in the middle of town. It works and properly planned as a market square (in a larger market district) could create even greater value for the downtown and surrounding properties.”

O’Neil’s visit proved to be a pivotal point in the evolution of the Task Force’s recommendation.  Chair Jeffrey Plank shared these remarks to Council in July 2011 before submitting their full recommendation:

“In sharing these thoughts with you, I want to give you some sense of how the Task Force processed a charge to change the location of the market to consider other kinds of market changes, the distinctive cultural and economic values associated with markets, and the potential for leveraging these values to stimulate related economic growth.  Rather than change the location, we recommend that the City change the Market in its present location.“

The group followed O’Neil’s recommendations and concluded that the most appropriate site for a sustainable and successful market was its current location: on the city-owned parking lot between South and First streets as an anchor to a new Market District.

Early in 2012, Market Central began inquiring about next steps to follow up on the recommendation of the City Market Task Force.  Council had expressed their interest in the market district concept, but felt more information was necessary before committing to the project.  To assess the project’s scope and feasibility, the City issued a request for proposal in May 2012 to hire a consultant to gather the additional data.

3rd Place Market Venture design
3rd Place Market Venture design

The City took the unusual step of inviting stakeholders to be part of the selection process for the contract, including a City Market vendor, and a Market Central board member. At Market Central’s urging, City Council appointed a Steering Committee to guide the consultant and the process, expected to conclude in June 2013.   The contract was awarded in October 2012 to Portland, Maine-based Market Ventures Inc. in partnership with two local firms – Milestone Partners and Land Planning and Design Associates. Market Ventures Inc., led by principal partner Ted Spitzer, is one of a small handful of firms in the nation that specialize in consulting and developing plans for farmers markets. Spitzer’s team has worked on public market districts and/or farmers’ market expansion planning in Grand Rapids, Mich., Rochester, Salt Lake City, Ft. Collins and Boise (among other places), all of which have relevant similarities to our situation.

Land Planning and Design Associates (LPDA), an experienced local landscape architecture and planning firm that specializes in downtown community projects, has relevant project experience including a revised conceptual plan for the Lynchburg City Market (to make it a dual use plaza for both Market days and everyday functionality), and the planned College Ave. Promenade in Blacksburg to create a new hardscaped urban plaza and multifunctional space.

Spitzer’s team was selected in part because he fully understands the economic imperatives and challenges inherent to building a market district on two blocks of downtown real estate that is some of the most valuable undeveloped land left in Charlottesville, worth anywhere from $5 to $20 million.  His team has worked on public markets in other high-land-value situations.

Spitzer’s team was charged with conducting a feasibility study for a downtown market district anchored by the City Market and developing a detailed plan for the market. The resulting report will include new research data related to feasibility, such as estimates of potential market sales and growth projections for a market in Charlottesville. The report will also include two fleshed-out options for a permanent downtown home for the City Market. The report will be presented to City Council and the public soon, probably in June.