UVA group to move into old Coca-Cola building

Daily Progress

Some things go better with Coke.

The University of Virginia Licensing and Ventures Group has agreed to lease 9,640 square feet of office space in the historic Preston Avenue building, joining a beer hall/restaurant and a bicycle shop in moving into the 76-year-old, 38,000-square-foot building.

Officials said the location puts the group in a location that is both close to UVa and to companies that started up through technology developed by university researchers.

 “As the University of Virginia has continued to experience increases in innovation and intellectual property, it is creating new startups and we are simply outgrowing our space,” said Michael Straightiff, director of the licensing and ventures group. “When we looked at the ability to be close to the university and be in proximity to the startup community that’s rising in that area, we jumped at the chance.”

Straightiff said the licensing and ventures group will move its headquarters into the old Coca-Cola facility.

“It’s going to be primarily office space. In a full-service intellectual property management organization like ours, we want to be close to that community, and the Harris Street and Dale Avenue area has become a popular location for startup companies emerging from UVa,” he said. “There’s about seven or eight companies over there now.”

In September, Joshua Hunt and John Woodriff, owners of the Beer Run restaurant and store in Belmont, announced plans to open the Kardinal Beer Hall & Garden in the building with 250 inside seats and 150 seats on an outdoor patio with a bocce court.

Blue Ridge Cyclery also is on tap for space in the building. The award-winning bike shop will occupy about 5,100 square feet, about double the size of its current location.

Alan Taylor, of Riverbend Development Inc., which owns the building, said renovations to the old beverage plant should be completed in the next two months with tenants having access to their spaces in May.

The Kardinal Beer Hall & Garden will occupy the front of the building, with office spaces in the back. Visitors will pass through the historic elevator shaft as they enter the restaurant.

The building is being marketed by Cushman & Wakefield | Thalhimer, which describes the property as offering “creative office loft space with exposed brick.”

Built in 1939, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Buildings in 2013 because of its historic nature and its Art Deco style.

Coca-Cola operated the plant and warehouse until 2010, when it shut its doors and moved to Sandston, resulting in the loss of 40 local jobs.

In 2011, Indoor Biotechnologies purchased the property, intending to transform it into a hub for biotech firms, but the firm encountered issues in getting financing for the project.

Indoor Biotechnologies began as a UVa startup headed by Dr. Martin D. Chapman, of the UVa Asthma and Allergic Diseases Center. The company still has headquarters near the building.

Riverbend Development bought the building in 2013.

“Riverbend is extremely pleased to be leading the restoration and redevelopment of this historic Charlottesville landmark,” Taylor said. “We are also proud to have a talented team in place of local architects, master builders, artisans and financial partners who share in the ownership of revitalizing this iconic building.”

Taylor said the Coke building could spark other projects in that part of town.

“We feel that this restoration will serve as a catalyst for the continued revitalization of Preston Avenue while embracing the distinctive character of an important gateway corridor to the downtown district,” he said.

The plant was designed by Washington architect Doran S. Platt on a 1.8-acre site a few blocks west of downtown. A one-story brick addition was constructed in 1955 and a one-story, L-shaped warehouse built of cinderblocks was added in 1981.

What really sets the building apart is the exterior. According to the National Register filings, the exterior features brick laid in four-course Flemish Stretcher Bond with contrasting white cast stone above the entrance and other highlights

The entrance is what most passersby recognize. According to the filings, vertical bands of brick step inward toward the door creating a recess entry above an 11-foot-wide stone panel. On the panel, “Coca-Cola Bottling Company 1939” is written in iconic Spencerian script.

Because of its historic nature, any changes or redesign of the building must be approved by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

In the case of the Coke building, that which is bare brick must remain bare. That which was painted may be repainted and the concrete floors must remain concrete floors. The exterior must remain pretty much unchanged.

That can create some challenges, as well as opportunities, Taylor said.

“In most instances, it works wonderfully. We spoke to some technology firms that needed laboratory space, and that is a little difficult to deliver, but typical office and retail users love it,” he said. “It’s definitely more expensive and more time consuming. But I don’t think John and Josh would have opened another restaurant or Blue Ridge Cyclery would have moved to a new building. When you go inside and see what we’ve done, you’ll see. It’s an incredibly cool space.”

For UVa’s Licensing and Ventures Group, the building’s history, the industrial innovation it represented in 1939 and Riverbend’s efforts at remodeling are inspiring.

“When you’re serving the innovative community at the university, you really want to be in an innovative space. We are constrained somewhat by the historic nature of the building, but it’s a pretty wide-open space where we’ll be located,” Straightiff said.

“We’re occupying a former truck-loading area, and the thought of the brick walls, concrete floors and natural wood is pretty exciting,” he said. “At the time, it was an innovative building and there is a lot of innovation going into how the building will be used. That’s a pretty exciting environment to be in.” 

Bryan McKenzie is the business editor for The Daily Progress. Contact him at (434) 978-7271 or bmckenzie@dailyprogress.com.