Vakos

A rendering shows what Douglas Street in the city could look like after it’s given to developers.

Mary Ann Buscher and her husband are excited about developers’ plans for two blocks of downtown Fredericksburg, but worry those plans will make it even harder to find a place to park in front of their Amelia Street home.

Buscher told Darrell Caldwell, Vakos’ vice president of development, during a public information session about the project Wednesday, that they already have to park around the corner on Thursday evenings when Sedona Taphouse gives teachers free flatbread. She said she’s concerned about what will happen when those customers can no longer park on the section of Douglas Street between the blocks.

William Square, a Vakos Cos. affiliate, is planning to develop the blocks containing The Free Lance–Star’s former office and the recently demolished William Street Executive Building. It has asked the city to vacate that stretch of the street so it can turn two-thirds of it into a pedestrian-friendly area called The Promenade.

It held the nearly 1½-hour session in the former FLS office at the behest of City Council to give the public a chance to see renderings of the project and ask questions before council members take the second and final vote on vacating ownership of the street Aug. 13.

Chris Waller, Vakos’ senior president for leasing, kicked off the session by saying that the mixed-use development will bring more amenities downtown and offer “a wonderful gateway presentation to the William Street approach into downtown Fredericksburg.” He said it also meets the city’s comprehensive plan and will be built with no discretionary entitlements, city subsidies or tax-related benefits.

Afterward, Waller urged the more than 120 people who attended to walk around the room so they could look at renderings of the project’s proposed two apartment buildings, hotel and parking garage and ask questions. That’s where Buscher met Caldwell, who told her that there will be 100 parking spaces underneath Amelia House, the 50-unit apartment building to be built on the block where the former FLS office is now, and around 311 spaces in the 4½-story parking deck that will be built in the middle of the next block. He said there will also continue to be on-street parking around both blocks.

Besides Amelia House, the project would include what’s being called The Hotel Fredericksburg, an approximately 98-room hotel with space for small- to medium-sized conferences, and a future mixed-use building in the block where the former FLS building stands. William Square will also build Winchester Place, a 34-unit apartment building fronting Amelia, in the adjacent block along with the parking garage.

With the exception of The Promenade, all the development would be by-right.

Liberty Place Partners, which is affiliated with developers Tom and Cathy Wack, plan to build the three-story, 43,000-square-foot Liberty Place commercial building on the William Street side of the block where the William Street Executive Building stood. It would have restaurants on the first floor and offices on the two upper levels. Tenants would include Mellow Mushroom, Burger Bach, Atlantic Union Bank, Cary Street Partners, Pasta Fresca and Blue Cow Ice Cream.

Waller said that he, Bill Vakos and the Wacks are fans of Jeff Speck’s “Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time.” The book describes how cities can thrive by putting the emphasis on people rather than cars.

The developers envision The Promenade connecting the two blocks as a tree-lined area with benches and tables where people can gather, relax and possibly take in an event, such as a street fair. It will also have bike racks, panels describing the blocks’ history and a couple of rain gardens to help filter stormwater runoff.

“I think it’s a great addition,” Bob Carter, who lives a few blocks away, said while looking at the plans for The Promenade on Wednesday. “It’s another gathering place for the city.”

Waller said that Amelia House and Winchester Square will mainly have one- and two-bedroom apartments, although there may be a few with three bedrooms. He said they will most likely appeal to young professionals and retirees. Several people approached him during the presentation to ask if they could reserve an apartment now.

“Some were retired or empty-nesters who said, ‘We don’t care about owning. It’s more about where we live. We just want to pay rent and enjoy it,’ ” he said.

Vakos Cos. reached out to architect Lee Shadbolt of Commonwealth Architects to design the project’s buildings with an eye toward creating a look that would blend in with downtown. He said during the public session that he was inspired to put rows of columns on the side of the hotel facing Washington Avenue after seeing the colonnades that are a distinctive feature on some University of Mary Washington buildings.

Victoria Matthews, the city’s tourism sales manager, said there is a need for more hotel rooms in Fredericksburg’s historic district, and meeting planners are looking for unique and interesting venues such as the proposed hotel.

William Square is working with Michelle Emley, vice president of operations at Hospitality Partners in Bethesda, Md., to find a hotel company to operate it. Hospitality Partners’ portfolio includes Marriott, Best Western and Carousel Group.

The hotel will be connected to the apartment building by a glassed-in walkway, and have several rooms on its first floor.

Winchester Place, The Hotel Fredericksburg and the Wacks’ Liberty Place will all have access to the parking deck.

Fredericksburg Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw said she was pleased by the interest shown in the project, and Bill Vakos Jr., Vakos Cos. chief executive officer and chairman of its board, said the session gave staff a chance to listen to and better understand the residents and businesses that live or are located near the project.

“We were honored and very appreciative of all the comments and questions,” he said. “It was a joy. We thank all who took the time to come.”

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Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407

cjett@freelancestar.com