Since I arrived as president, I have spoken often about the promise of building bridges: bridges between people, communities, disciplines, and ideas, even when—perhaps especially when—the distance seems great. The University of Virginia is now on the cusp of building our most significant bridge in decades.

Jim Ryan

At the intersection of Emmet Street and Ivy Road is a four-block-long, 14.5-acre parcel, owned by UVA. To put this in context, this corridor of land is larger than the Lawn. The Emmet-Ivy corridor will bridge Central and North Grounds and the Athletics Precinct, and, in doing so, will become our new geographical center, redefine the University’s footprint, and enhance the academic experience for generations to come. It will be a place that not only offers inviting new space in which to study and gather but will also bring together members of our community with residents of Charlottesville and scholars and speakers from around the world. Its landscape and buildings will reflect this spirit with welcoming public spaces that will foster the kinds of informal and chance interactions that spark learning and connections. 

In 2018, a task force reviewed previous studies of the site, solicited feedback from across the UVA community, and incorporated hundreds of ideas into their recommendations for how to make the best use of this land. The final report noted that one of the fundamental purposes of a great university is to bring together diverse groups of people to learn, live, debate and discover. Toward those ends, the task force recommended that the Emmet-Ivy corridor be developed around three main themes aligned with UVA’s aspirations and strengths: Creativity, Discovery, and Democracy. Our hope is to foster collaboration and connections across these themes—or, in other words, to build bridges across them. 

We will break ground this fall for the first academic building, the School of Data Science. Designs for the School of Data Science, key to the Discovery theme, were approved by the Board of Visitors last December. Facing Emmet Street and proximate to an amphitheater and pond, the School will be the center of a hub for solving society’s most pressing problems through research and scholarship. 

In May, we announced a $100 million investment in the study, teaching and promotion of democracy, made possible by a $50 million gift from Martha and Bruce Karsh, to establish the Karsh Institute of Democracy and to represent our investment in Democracy at Emmet-Ivy. This nonpartisan Institute will build on our existing expertise and our rich history as a public institution founded to prepare citizen-leaders. Situated at the upper end of Emmet-Ivy, the Institute will reflect UVA’s enduring commitment to strengthening democracy. 

The east end of the parcel, along Emmet Street, will be devoted to the theme of Creativity and will invite the larger community into the University through performances, displays, and opportunities for participation in the arts. We anticipate that this area will be anchored by a new performing arts center, for which we are currently seeking support. This will be a place that celebrates the arts as fundamental to the human condition, a university education, and a democratic society. 

To ensure that Emmet-Ivy becomes a welcoming destination for visitors, we will soon break ground on a state-of-the-art hotel and conference center along the Ivy Road entrance corridor. The 214-room hotel will offer 26,000 square feet of conference center space and will feature the largest meeting space in Charlottesville. In addition to a restaurant, café, and a visitors center, the ground floor will become a spacious “living room,” intended to be a place for people to gather, meet or study. 

Initial construction will include a beautiful amphitheater overlooking a pond that will be an ideal setting for performances, meetings and informal gatherings. The buildings on the corridor will be organized around an open green space and a stream, and its outside edges will feature shaded sidewalks, bicycle lanes, and fully accessible transit stops. In Charlottesville, we are incredibly excited by the opportunities that await, but we are not the only ones to recognize the enormous potential in front of us. For its innovative features, connection to the natural environment, and reflection of the unique culture of UVA, the landscape design has won the Society for College and University Planning Excellence in Landscape Architecture for Open Space Planning award. 

While the Rotunda, the Lawn, and the original Academical Village will always be the spiritual heart of the University, the Emmet-Ivy Corridor will be the bridge that not only connects our Grounds and creates a cohesive whole but one that also connects our storied past with our bold vision for the future. I will keep you posted on our progress.

Signature of Jim Ryan
James E. Ryan (Law ’92)
President of the University of Virginia