Rendering of the proposed hotel and conference center at the corner of Ivy Road and Emmet Street UVA Office of the Architect

For decades, the Cavalier Inn was the focal point of a mishmash of private businesses and UVA properties on the northwest corner of Emmet Street and Ivy Road.

The hotel was a gathering place for alumni, prospective students and other Charlottesville visitors, but the stretch was otherwise mostly an afterthought for those headed to the Lawn, University Hall or North Grounds.

Now, UVA is charting a new course for the so-called Emmet/Ivy corridor—a 14.5-acre plot that’s the same size as the Academical Village—extending north from Ivy Road to the railroad tracks and west from Emmet Street to Copeley Road.

The Cavalier Inn is gone, and in February, the Board of Visitors’ Buildings and Grounds Committee signed off on a proposal for a new hotel and conference center—part of an ambitious plan to turn the parcel of land into a new gateway to UVA.

When the Cavalier Inn opened in 1965, the Emmet/Ivy corridor was on the outskirts of UVA’s Central Grounds. But with University Hall, Darden and the law school, the University soon leapfrogged over both it and the adjoining Lewis Mountain neighborhood to start building what would become North Grounds.

No longer at the Grounds’ edge, the Emmet/Ivy corridor has become a critical connector.

“It’s at a major intersection within an eight- or 10-minute walk to many buildings and spaces that students and the University community occupy,” said Whitt Clement (Col ’70, Law ’74), chairman of the BOV’s Buildings and Grounds Committee. “It’s just so strategically placed.”

UVA officials for many years have considered the land a key piece to the puzzle that is the growing Grounds. The University started acquiring parcels there in the 1980s, said Alice Raucher, University architect. UVA purchased the final property, a BB&T Bank on the corner of Copeley and Ivy roads, in 2018.

Officials have considered various proposals for the space, including a museum and performing arts complex, academic buildings, and even as the location for Hereford Residential College.

It’s “the most planned piece of real estate in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” according to Kevin Fay (Col ’77), chairman of the UVA Foundation Board of Directors and former chairman of the Buildings and Grounds Committee.

The planned hotel and conference center address a need for large gathering places. Preliminary plans include a 225-room hotel and 25,000 square feet of conference space, to host meetings of up to 500 people.

The complex will sit southwest of the existing Emmet/Ivy parking garage, with direct access. Ground-floor features, which would face a central green, could include a UVA visitor welcome center, fitness center and cafe.

The entire project could take about a year to design and an additional 18 to 24 months to build, with the idea that it would be up and running within three years, Raucher said.

Last summer, even as conversations about a possible conference complex were progressing, then-President-elect James E. Ryan (Law ’92) began exploring a comprehensive vision for development of the entire corridor. He asked Beth Meyer (Arch ’78, ’82), professor of landscape architecture, to lead a task force to examine how the property might connect different parts of the Grounds and offer a place for the University and Charlottesville communities to intermingle.

Officials are meeting with developers, considering financing structures and examining whether UVA should build the complex on its own—estimated to cost $105 million.

In January, the task force delivered its report, charting out a vision for the property that focuses less on the construction of specific buildings and more on the kinds of activities that might happen there. The report divides those into: a “creativity and experimental arts nexus,” with room for galleries, studios, stages and labs; a “discovery nexus,” where University departments and schools could work together on research and scholarship, including a home for the new School of Data Science; and a “democracy nexus”—a new space for the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, as well as other UVA programs and events.

While the conference center complex matches what the task force envisions for the land, Meyer said, the broader proposal will allow University leaders to “talk about a set of things in relation to each other and in relation to a vision for the University, versus seeing this as a series of independent real estate decisions.”

While the full report is under discussion, the hotel and conference center is moving ahead. According to Fay, University officials are meeting with developers, considering financing structures and examining whether UVA should build the complex on its own—estimated to cost $105 million.

During the March BOV meeting, Ryan said construction of the School of Data Science, made possible by a $120 million gift this year, could be next; a center for the arts or a new home for the Batten School would rely on donations.

While the conference complex is planned to open as soon as 2022, Ryan said the rest of the property may still only partially be built out even a decade from now. Once it is, officials say they hope the corridor will serve as a new gateway to UVA that nurtures opportunities for both exploration and interaction.

According to Fay, “We’re on the cusp of something very special for the University and the community.”