For the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors, the best use of its building space is to share it with others.
The organization officially opened the Hillsdale Conference Center this month, an event and conference space complete with state-of-the-art technology at 550 Hillsdale Drive.
The building will not only allow CAAR members a location for classes, meetings and events but will be available for rental to other groups in the community looking for a place to meet.
“It’s been an exciting project that we started in 2016,” said Ginger Slavic, who served as the project’s lead for CAAR. “We decided we wanted to determine the highest and best use of the facility, and that was a decision that couldn’t be made quickly.”
Convening a committee, CAAR members decided they wanted a safe, inviting location to hold classes for membership education and allow members to meet with clients and affiliates.
The 3,500-square-foot facility features a classroom, a board room, greeting area, ballroom, catering kitchen and terrace. The facility is designed to be flexible for use by small or large gatherings, presentations and classes and offers user-friendly, state-of-the-art audio and visual technology, CAAR officials said.
“When we designed it, we designed it to be offered for a reasonable cost,” Slavic said. “We know how it is to hold those kinds of meetings at other venues and we’re very much aware of the costs. We have a ballroom that can hold 188 people or we can offer a board room for meetings or a classroom.”
The event center is a drop in the bucket in the area’s overall convention and event rental space. Although no official total for square footage of conference space is available, various online sources list between 115 and 140 locations marketed for meetings.
According to the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau, those locations vary from smaller area hotels, restaurants, wineries and breweries to the Boar’s Head Inn, John Paul Jones Arena, the Paramount Theater and Charlottesville High School’s Martin Luther King Jr. Performing Arts Center.
The venues vary in capacity from 20 people to up to 2,000.
“We don’t have exact statistics for total event space square footage, but there’s a general need for more meeting and event space in the area,” said William Dozier, marketing coordinator for the CACVB. “Those future needs are being addressed. The University of Virginia will be building a hotel with lots of conference center space, somewhere in the ballpark of 20,000 square feet, I believe.”
A 2018 study conducted for the visitors bureau found there were no facilities in the area aimed at attracting larger conventions and events and offering between 6,000 and 27,000 square feet of contiguous space.
The study looked at demographics, current hotel inventory, current event space, comparable venues, economic impacts and potential costs.
The study suggested that a taxpayer-subsidized convention center could be constructed along U.S. 29, possibly at UVa’s Research Park, near the DoubleTree Hotel or at the former Kmart parcel, among other sites.
So far, neither the city nor the county has pursued funding.
In May, UVa announced it was moving forward with a planned hotel and conference center at the corner of Emmet Street and Ivy Road. The space is envisioned for visiting faculty, parents and prospective students and for smaller academic conferences.
The roughly $100 million project will be built and operated by a third-party developer, which university officials are reportedly close to selecting. The space is expected to hold 225 hotel rooms and 25,000 square feet of conference space, according to materials presented to the school’s Board of Visitors.
On June 17, UVa issued a request for bids for architects interested in working on the project. The request states that UVa “anticipates that planning, programming and design will begin in September 2019 and proceed without interruption. The goal is to have the Hotel and Conference Center open by the spring of 2023.”
CAAR officials say they believe their venue fits in nicely in the category of smaller locations, especially considering its own membership of 1,300 members and affiliates.
“We offer them an opportunity to hold their own events,” Slavic said. “We also have a fair number of new hotels in the area and smaller hotels in the area that don’t have the kind of space for meetings and we can partner with them to provide that venue.”