Plans for the Barnes Lumber redevelopment project, also known as the downtown Crozet Plaza, have always included spaces for the Crozet arts community, and ideas for those spaces are coming into sharper relief as the larger project moves closer to reality. In 2021, developer Frank Stoner said that in addition to the performing arts, which include orchestra, choral and theater groups, “We are exploring opportunities for studio and exhibit spaces for local artisans that could be connected to and part of the larger complex.”
Patricia Groot of Groot Consulting and Grant Services is currently working with the nonprofit Downtown Crozet Initiative (DCI) to create a strategic plan that highlights the arts, and local architects Mitchell Matthews have designed some renderings to give planners a vision. “I’m working on a volunteer basis with a small group to sort of flesh out a plan,” said Groot. “DCI has agreed to be a fiscal agent for us until we can move the project along.”
Groot’s mandate is to develop a business plan and to discuss with local artists what the content of the space will look like. “We’re considering forming a nonprofit to manage the portion of the building designated for the Arts Center,” she said. “I’m hoping to be able to develop some relationship between the Arts Center and the businesses that locate there, and I’m working with someone who has accomplished that in the past to learn how that works.”
A big part of the plan is to develop a center where local organizations can perform, while recognizing that the likelihood of their being able to pay retail fees for the space is not reasonable, said Groot. “We’re hoping to secure funding to develop the business plan, and we’d like to include a projected audience outside of Crozet. The county was kind enough to do a deeper dive for us in the data they used for the Master Plan update, and the indicators are that there are people in the community who spend above average on arts and culture. So right now, it’s a matter of being able to attract donors who will help us get this off the ground.”
The Arts Center will tentatively face Oak Street, which connects The Square to Library Avenue behind Piedmont Place, and will tuck into Stoner’s building along with restaurants, retail, and residential spaces. “We have the option of renting or buying, depending on what the business plan will be,” said Groot, “and whether we rent it initially or do a rent-to-own. We’re very interested in encouraging other artists, and people who support the arts, to come forward and help with the planning.”
After meeting with members of the local arts community over the past few months, Groot said the current plan envisions three studios on the ground floor that could be rented. Those could be reserved for pop-up shows and may be dedicated as introductory spaces for newer artists. “Then there’s the gallery where there will be the box office on the ground floor, which will [also] be a place to display art and do art shows. And then the theater is on the second floor.” Groot says the idea is to build a flexible, “black box” type theater, with seating for 200 to 225 attendees.
“We’ll need money for a sound system and lights, all those things that go into a theater, but the space can also be used for special events,” said Groot. “There’s a lot of potential for it.”
As for the timing of construction, Groot is optimistic. After working through a snag involving extra charges from Dominion Energy (to move electrical lines) that could have derailed the whole project, the developer is moving forward. “Things are happening,” said Groot. “It might be as early as this fall, but definitely spring and summer.”