Main Street Arena, Escafé slated for demolition

Board of Architectural Review approves demolition of downtown buildings


The Main Street Arena ice rink will likely have one more skating season this fall.

Courtesy University of Virginia

The Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review voted Tuesday to allow the demolition of the Main Street Arena and Escafé to make way for a new office building. The proposal for Main Street Arena was passed unanimously, while the proposal for Escafé’s building passed by a vote of five for the demolition to two against it.

Taliaferro Junction LLC — which announced its purchase of the Main Street Arena for $5.7 million in March — wants to turn the space into an “architecturally iconic” office space, with construction beginning as early as spring 2018.

Architect Fred Wolf, of the architectural firm Wolf Ackerman, represented Taliaferro Junction at the board’s meeting.

There is “no intent of demolition imminently or really anything happening before next year,” Wolf said.

Main Street Arena is known for its ice rink, which is expected to reopen after the summer for a final skating season, according to a March release from Payne, Ross and Associates, which represents Taliaferro Junction.

Several citizens voiced their wishes that, should the buildings be demolished, the historical significance of Vinegar Hill where Main Street Arena is located, should be considered.

Vinegar Hill was a predominantly African-American neighborhood from which families were relocated and buildings were demolished by the city in the 1960s.

“We care very much about the history of Vinegar Hill,” said Maria Chapel, speaking for Preservation Piedmont. “[We] demand that it is treated with respect.”

The Main Street Arena does not meet standards of historic significance because it was built in 1995. Therefore, it “meets the vast majority of guidelines for demolition,” according to BAR chair Melanie Miller.

Escafé, which opened in 1995, hosts live music and serves locally-sourced food in its location on Water Street. The building in which Escafé is located was built in the 1920s, with a distinctive architectural design representative of that time.

“[The] building is linked historically and structurally to other buildings in the downtown area,” said Mary Joy Scala, preservation and design planner for the city. “[It] could be reproduced, but it would lose its significance.”

The plan would involve demolition of the entire building, which Scala said would “adversely affect the character of the district,” as it “contributes to the whole of the historical fabric.”

Escafé’s owner Todd Howard, however, told the board that he did not see any reason for the building not to be demolished. He also said that “Escafé can and will move.”

“It is not the right time to preserve this one,” Howard said. “But make sure you preserve places like this [in the future].”

Howard previously told The Cavalier Daily that Escafé will remain open until it lets patrons know otherwise.

Meghan Tonner contributed reporting to this article. 

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