downtown going urban

Brent Finnegan -- January 15th, 2008

There have been rumors floating around downtown for at least a year now, but today, plans were unveiled (via Scott Rogers’ blog) for Urban Exchange, a new five six story residential and commercial building being constructed on Market Street and Mason Street (the site of Easterns Auto Mall and the Southern Electric Company).

According to the project website, the building will have 196 one, two and three bedroom apartments and condos, with a fitness center inside the building, as well as “on site parking.”

While City Council has yet to approve the plans, Charlie Chenault tells me they are aware of the project.

According to Rogers, “no re-zoning is needed, and no special use permits are needed. It is a by right use of the property” He also wrote, “Demolition on the existing structures will begin this month, and the entire project will be complete by Summer 2009.”

I’m also hearing that Muhlenberg Lutheran Church (depicted in this rendering) is “on board” with the plans, as the developers will have to close down an alleyway behind the church. As you can see in the renderings, it’s huge.

Once/if the plans are approved by Council, Urban Exchange is expected to be a boon to existing businesses, as well as the new restaurants planned for downtown.

38 Responses to “downtown going urban”

  1. Gxeremio says:

    That looks awesome!

  2. Frank J Witt says:

    That is fantastic news! Bring back the downtown.

    BTW…anyone need anything?

  3. John says:

    This will go a long way towards creating a new image that downtown needs. That corner needs help. As I understand it, the gas station that was just granted a special use permit to operate as a cab stand and the building on the corner with the church/shelter will remain – but the old Chevy dealership, Southern electric and the old Easterns Auto Mall will be torn down. Good riddance to all of them.

    While our downtown is making HUGE strides forward thanks to the efforts and dollars of some people that care to see it thrive, there are still plenty of buildings that need the same treatment as these — tear ’em down (as is the case with these as they held little or no historic value) or renovate them.

  4. Deb SF says:

    Great start to 2008!

  5. Phil C. says:

    Agreed, this is very nice looking. It reminds me a bit of Reston Town Center, but on a smaller, less gaudy scale.

    That is perfect for a small city like Harrisonburg.

  6. I would move in tomorrow, if it were already built and my son & dog weren’t so fond of their yard.

  7. Emmy says:

    Well something really needed to be done there that’s for sure. But, I’m going to probably be the only person who doesn’t love this. It looks a bit too close to the road and I’m not a fan of the design. I’m guessing I’ll like it better when it is built.

  8. linz says:

    Are those slanted dark pieces on the roof solar panels? That would be cool. I think condos downtown are a great idea, but I hope they also take modern sustainability needs into consideration. And I hope it doesn’t just become more student housing, since the caption advertises it as within walking distance of JMU.

  9. Josh says:

    Looks like it’s about the same distance from JMU as the Port Road student complexes (a mile or so?), but maybe this is a more “walkable” route?

  10. Scott says:

    The structure will actually be six stories. On Market Street, it is four residential floors, and “double-volume” retail space (two stories tall). Throughout much of the remainder of the building, the six floors are comprised of four residential floors and two levels of covered parking.

  11. Scott says:

    Emmy — Be sure to check out this rendering of the other side of the building — much more openness and a courtyard between the two wings of the building.

    Linz — the “slanted dark pieces on the roof” are actually an incomplete rendering. The roof is slanted, and the walls in that area will actually run all the way up to that roof surface, though the architect’s rendering does not accurately reflect that.

  12. Don says:

    Seems like a lot of congrete. Will there be any green space? I realize that there is none in this spot now, but this would seem to be a good opportunity to add some. I may be missing it.

  13. Don says:


  14. Thanh says:

    I too think that the addition of vegetation, in the form of trees or shrubs and things in raised planters, or potted plants would make this place more pleasant to visit. I would highly recommend trees. Urban trees add a lot of value to businesses by adding comfort to potential customers strolling by in the form of shade, and there’s always something nice about walking among trees that makes you want to stay longer. A place with no trees often looks sterile and unwelcome to me.

    Scott, is this something you could suggest to the designers?

  15. Emmy says:

    I looked at that side the first time too and liked it even less. I agree with others who have said that some sort of vegetation is needed and I’m sure that will be thought up when the time comes. I think it is a really great thing for downtown and I’m happy about it. It just feels a little out of the flow to me for some reason.

  16. Christa says:

    I’m with Emmy. I’m not real big on it. I think the design is just in bad taste.

  17. Thanh says:

    A comment I should have added with my first set of comments about consideration for vegetation (but I got distracted) – I really do like the idea of this development, I like how it promotes mixed use. Neat stuff.

  18. Scott says:

    I will definitely pass on the thoughts on green space and vegetation. There is a courtyard between the two L-shaped wings, and I believe that will incorporate these items. Thanks for the feedback!

  19. Kelly says:

    Wow-wee! My question: How is parking for the residents going to look?

  20. Scott says:

    Kelly — the resident parking is in the first two floors of the building. Thus, a resident would use the elevator to go from the floor where they live, down to their vehicle.

  21. Trees? Let’s not start that whole thing again.

    Are the designs final or is there room for change (improvements) ?

  22. John says:

    The renderings of the architect often don’t show how the landscaping will be done, or their software will just throw in some random dudes with backpacks and some trees to ‘fill the space’.

    I have a lot of faith in the guys that are doing this project. They did a fantastic job at City Exchange — and I’m sure they’ll use their heads (and decent landscapers) in designing the grounds of the building. I’m sure it won’t be sterile.

  23. Thanh says:

    I’ve seen too what John is saying about renderings not showing the complete picture. Oftentimes they show “a vision” to give others an idea for what’s going on.

    In the print version of the DNR there is a rendering shown that has trees along the frontage of the building.

    I too have faith in these guys. And I look forward to seeing this project happen.

  24. Del says:

    Any landscaping at all will be an improvement over what’s there now and what might have remained there–nothing but asphalt with cars parked on it. This is a major expansion of downtown, I think it’s fantastic news.

  25. Emmy says:

    I’m sure it will be a wonderful addition to downtown. Looking forward to it.

  26. Bill Braxton says:

    It looks like the gentrification of downtown Harrisonburg has begun. So, considering that the median income for a household in Harrisonburg is about $30,000, when can we expect someone to build more housing for real people?

  27. David Miller says:

    gen·tri·fi·ca·tion (jen’tr?-fi-ka’sh?n)
    The restoration and upgrading of deteriorated urban property by middle-class or affluent people, often resulting in displacement of lower-income people.

    Those poor displaced empty car lots, where oh where will they find housing in such a world.

  28. Barnabas says:

    If the whole building ends up as student housing then that would just suck. One step fowards and three steps back. Don’t get me wrong, I like the students that I’ve met and know personally it’s just all those other students…

  29. David Miller says:

    I loathe the thought of turning downtown into Devon lane because I live and work here. On the other hand, more students = more sales at Midtowne and more pottery painted at You Made It. I’m sure the restaurant owners’ downtown wouldn’t mind the increase in business. The only people I can see caring if it did go that route (not like old town isn’t “infested” already or my neighborhood or all of town for that matter) would be ……………. Never mind, I really can’t come up with any good argument against it as long as it has its own parking and the property manager is a responsible steward (god willing some greenery).

  30. David Troyer says:


    I’m not sure you would see more business if they open competing retailers in the retail space of the building :-)

  31. Barnabas says:

    To me, downtown still feels like it belongs to the residents as opposed to feeling like it belongs to the students. The campus of course is theirs, and should be. But if downtown ends up being another Devon Lane it will could drive many of the fulltime, resident, non-students away. I geuss my opinion doesn’t count as much now that I’m an Xburger.

  32. John says:

    Couldn’t agree more with David. There has been NO gentrification downtown. Every (large) project, whether completed or in progress (that I can think of) has been in abandoned and dilapidated buildings, or underutilized buildings. The only ones being displaced are possibly homeless people.

    Additionally, HUD defines the median household income for both Harrisonbug and Rockingham County at 57600. In addition, I think these numbers are skewed down by the univeristy community.

    There is still plenty of affordable housing out there. That being said, someone who makes 30k per year needs to be realistic about what that will buy, ‘cuz it ain’t much.

    Call it what you want. Downtown used to be a dump. It is improving. Change is good. The addition of students to downtown won’t ruin it once it is revitalized — they will make it more vibrant. Downtown doesn’t need to be ruled by townies or students — it can be peacefully used by both.

  33. David Miller says:


    I understand your point but it is one that we must accept as part of this capitalistic system. Competition is just that. Anyone who doesn’t like it shouldn’t be in business (of course no one actually celebrates competition when it happens to them and their business but we can only hope that we survive when our competition comes).


    It’s not that your opinion doesn’t matter but I do not see an us vs them universe. I was born here and will probably expire here. I also went to JMU. My parents met at JMU. JMU students and faculty provide part of my customer base at my stores. If someone chooses to live in Harrisonburg, then they are a resident. That’s just how I see it.

  34. Scott Rogers says:

    John — you stated:

    “There has been NO gentrification downtown. Every (large) project, whether completed or in progress (that I can think of) has been in abandoned and dilapidated buildings, or underutilized buildings.”

    Just checking to make sure you are aware of the City Exchange project ( — this was converted to upscale loft apartments and a restaurant, and was completed successfully. (You may know about this project, but not have considered it “large”?)

    Of note, those same developers (who know how to make this type of project actually happen) are the same developers behind Urban Exchange.

  35. John says:

    Who were the lower income people displaced in the old Whetsel Seed building that City Exchange is in?

    Gentrification uproots urban poor. The improvements made thus far to downtown have not uprooted anyone. They might be excluded from living there due to it’s cost, but that is another story.

  36. David Miller says:

    The only chance of gentrification downtown are the Keezle building and the building that houses Indian American. Were they to go through this kind of change then low income persons would be displaced. I haven’t cemented an opinion either way concerning those projects or their potential.

  37. Scott Rogers says:

    John — I misunderstood the intent of your comment. You are correct, the Whetsel Seed / City Exchange project did not displace anyone.

  38. finnegan says:

    I just now saw this article from Monday’s Richmond Times Dispatch:

    After years of seeking to revitalize Harrisonburg’s faded downtown, city leaders hope a proposed $25 million development means success is on the horizon.

    What’s that supposed to mean? The RTD actually has an office downtown, so I find it odd that the article represents Harrisonburg to readers in Richmond this way.

    If you were just reading the article, and had never been downtown, you might think it looks something like this.

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