Two new food and beverage establishments along downtown Crozet Avenue will soon be under construction on properties owned by Michael Alexander, who also owns the venerable and much-loved Crozet Pizza. The two side-by-side buildings that now house Piedmont Pediatrics and the (currently empty) Region Ten office space across from the post office will be renovated and repurposed with an eye toward kicking off the redevelopment of Downtown Crozet and enhancing the Crozet Avenue streetscape.
“The two businesses will complement each other,” said Alexander, “so we envision something like a restaurant and a tap house. [The location] just screams that, it really does.” After almost twenty years of running Crozet Pizza, including overseeing a large expansion and weathering the pandemic, he’s excited to tackle something new alongside his established eatery. “I like projects,” he said. “The energy and synergy just get me going.”
Alexander bought the Region Ten building, which used to be Crozet’s post office, in the mid-1990s and leased it out to various doctors over the years, then acquired the Pediatrics building around the time of Crozet Avenue’s streetscape enhancement in the 2010s. A short road that cuts between the two buildings and connects to the alley behind was the source of an epiphany by the project’s design team. “I was standing out there with Chris [LeBlanc, builder and designer] and Clark [Gathright, engineer], and they said, ‘Hey, what if we took out the road and created a courtyard instead?’
“I came in to do an initial bid for the renovation of the Region Ten building,” said LeBlanc, whose company, NOLA Build and Design, also built the Ivy Road House on Rt. 240. “After sitting out there a couple of times I said, why are we saving this cut-through? It looks like a great place to sit, drink a beer, and look out at the mountains. When we look at what Frank [Stoner] and those guys are trying to do with the plaza, this project kind of lends itself to that larger walkable community concept.”
Alexander thought it was a brilliant idea, and the team designed a wide, terraced courtyard that will connect the two buildings and offers advantages to both. “It’s such a valuable piece of real estate,” he said, “and we can set it up to be pedestrian-friendly and to have outdoor seating in a common area for both businesses.” The courtyard will allow for interlaced plantings and will provide a dedicated loading area as well as a space to bury propane tanks used by both buildings.
Looking ahead, Alexander envisions live music on the common area that would give rise to a “mini Fridays after Five” vibe. “We imagine a localized food and craft beer scene like Kardinal Hall or a mini Blue Mountain Brewery-type area.” Alexander also mentioned Sedona Taphouse (Southwest cuisine) and Tupelo Honey Café (Southern-style comfort food), which both serve craft beer and cocktails, as examples of the kinds of tenants that would fit well there.
Though the Pediatrics building, at about 1,800 square feet, is (currently) smaller than the Region Ten building at 2,800 square feet, the former will gain a second story set back from the street that could be used as an event space or for storage or offices for both structures. “The zoning actually requires a minimum of two stories,” said LeBlanc. “The county wants density because it’s a downtown area. We can make an event space there that’s not a winery, something different.” County regulations require nine parking spaces to be provided (based on the square footage of the renovated buildings), and the owners hope to arrange other shared parking nearby.
Alexander’s team sought and received county approval for the first building design pre-pandemic and prior to coming up with the courtyard idea, so they’ll begin construction on the Region Ten building while finishing up approvals for the other structures. A Virginia farmhouse-style design for the Region Ten structure envisions a grayish/cream stucco exterior with a standing seam roof and a large wraparound porch. Wide windows will span the front (facing Crozet Ave.) and will be similar to the existing large square tilt-open windows on each side.
The second building’s exterior will likely be painted brick with some variation in textures and more windows than it has now. The current tenant, Piedmont Pediatrics, is preparing to move to a space on Jarmans Gap Road that is now being renovated, and will likely move later this fall. LeBlanc said that another constraint they face is pandemic-related shortages. “We have to frame a lot of everything around construction materials right now—steel and labor are both through the roof.”
In recent months, Alexander was sidelined by a serious tick-borne illness that reset some of his thinking on the project. “I took a leave of absence when I got sick, and it made me really self-evaluate my life and where I’m at and how I want to live,” he said. “It was a real wake-up call.” Though he briefly considered “selling everything,” Alexander knew as he recovered that he wanted to be a significant part of the new enterprise. “I really believe this is a home run, and I want to involve myself one way or another,” he said.
He thought about bringing in some partners for financial backing, but in the end he and his wife Colleen decided to downsize by moving to a smaller home that they already owned and to keep the project in the family. “I do surround myself with smart, knowledgeable people who have great ideas, like Chris [LeBlanc]. He’s really kind of a pioneer, visionary dude. He understands the dynamics of the restaurant industry, and his extensive knowledge of construction and budgeting is so helpful.”
“I find my strength in the confluence of the real estate, the construction, and the business side of projects,” said LeBlanc. “I do a little bit of development management. You could say I’m kind of the gas that you pour on the fire, in a good way—I try to be an honest broker so both sides can come together, which is helpful when going through these long processes with the county. I love to be part of space-making like this, related to the community and having people want to be there.” What’s the most valuable skill in development? “Patience is really the biggest thing,” he said with a smile.
Construction is set to begin on the Region Ten building in the next few months. “If we can start this fall, I’m hoping we can have it wrapped up by Memorial Day or July 4 of next year,” said Alexander. “The courtyard and second building are probably going to be early spring of 2023 before we’re finished.” Now that his vision is close to being realized, he and his team are excited to be part of the downtown Crozet redevelopment effort.
“We feel like the main flow of this place is going to be coming from here—the energy of the whole movement is going to be running this way as we grow.”