Mall Expansion Approval Likely

Last night’s hearing regarding the expansion of the east end of the Downtown Mall didn’t go particularly well. Resident after resident stood up and voiced concern over a variety of aspects of the plan, with few speaking in favor of it, some of whom were obviously angry with how the city has handled the proposal. With $6M in federal grant money as funding, the rather-ambitious plans struck many attendees as preposterously grand for a bus transfer station. The steering committee will vote on the plans this afternoon, and it is likely that they will approve it. Jake Mooney has the story in today’s Progress.

22 thoughts on “Mall Expansion Approval Likely”

  1. Just to be clear: the thing about approval being likely is from Waldo, not from the Big Meanie newspaper reporter. The Progress wasn’t at the steering committee meeting Thursday.


    Daily Progress staff writer

    The architects redesigning the eastern end of Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall, in town Wednesday for a series of meetings with city officials, faced another round of hazing from residents skeptical of their ambitious vision.

    In particular, residents voiced concern over the potential closure of East Seventh Street, a redesign of the Downtown Amphitheater and the gentle suggestion from one architect that the city could allow another street to cross the mall.

    As they did at a meeting March 27, in the face of a similarly dubious reception, representatives of Philadelphia-based Wallace Roberts & Todd proposed spending millions in federal grant money to build a bus transfer station on Water Street, then extend the mall’s brick surface.

    More than $3 million in federal grant money has been dedicated to the project, and city officials said another $3 million in state money has just become available.

    The architects also raised the possibility of an underground parking garage, several new buildings and an addition to the front of City Hall — though no money has been allocated for such endeavors.

    City resident Mark Edwards summed up the feeling of many at the meeting when he said, after the architects’ presentation, “I’d like to know how much it would cost to just put up a bus shelter down there. I think it would be a lot cheaper and more efficient.”

    Ignacio Bunster-Ossa, the project’s lead architect, countered by noting that city officials commissioned his team for a large-scale development. Though a small bus shelter is possible, he said, plans have moved “past that point.”

    Some in the crowd, though, were unconvinced of the need for a large building at the transfer station site.

    “The most I see waiting for the buses are, at most, eight people, and usually one or two,” former City Council candidate Alexandria Searls said. “I haven’t seen 100 people waiting at the bus shelter on that street.”

    City resident David RePass, meanwhile, cast doubt on the architects’ proposal to create a new, relocated Downtown Amphitheater, level with the rest of the mall. The area also could include a park.

    “What is going to attract people to this flat area at the end of the mall?” RePass said. “To look at the traffic going by on Belmont Bridge? Because that’s all that’s there.”

    Another tense moment came when Bunster-Ossa raised the possibility of allowing East Fourth or East Fifth street to cross the mall. A quick show of hands revealed little support for the idea, though Councilor Maurice Cox indicated he would consider the proposal.

    “That’s dead,” RePass said after the demonstration. “In this city, you don’t cross the mall with cars.”

    The architects joined city officials involved in the project in stressing that all the plans presented Wednesday are preliminary and will change based on residents’ wishes and the City Council’s decisions.

    “In the city, we don’t have the money to do everything that’s been proposed here, and hard choices are going to have to be made in this process,” said Councilor David J. Toscano, who has led the city’s efforts on the project.

    “But,” he added, “we do have some money, and we are going to build something to enhance the city of Charlottesville.”

    Even so, residents were eager to remind planners where that money is coming from. “The federal government is not being kind to us,” said Bob Hodous, chairman of the city Republican Party and a lawyer with an office downtown. “That’s our money, and we need to be happy with how we’re going to spend our money.”

  2. Just to be clear: the thing about approval being likely is from Waldo, not from the Big Meanie newspaper reporter. The Progress wasn’t at the steering committee meeting Thursday.

    Yeah, I should have made that a bit more clear. Since I was there last night, I was writing based on my experiences and sending people to Jake’s article for further information, but that certainly wouldn’t be clear to readers.

  3. The transfer station is a waste of money and should not be built. There is a need for a place for the buses to pull over and get out of the way of traffic and for riders to wait. This building is far more than that and it takes up valuable open space. It looks to me like the city council and staff are being motivated more by the fear of losing the grant than by any rational planning.

    Some of the proposals presented at the meeting are truly awful. Flattening the amphitheater is a very bad idea.

    Rerouting traffic that drives through the space and providing an alternative to the current 15 minute spaces in front of city hall could allow the removal of the paved streets and the creation of a park at the eastern end of the Mall. Instead they are going to block off the view and leave us hemmed in.

    Kevin Cox

  4. Funny that the city is willing to spend millions of dollars on a transit system that (unless I’m mistaken) has fewer unique customers weekly than the Friday kegger in the Amphitheater. Pretty sorry situation for a “world class city” to find itself in. We don’t need a Union Station – we just need a damn place for busses to pull out of traffic, and two or three decent shelters for people to wait in.

    Flattening the Amphitheater is a horrible idea. It will make it an undesirable venue for concerts and will spell the end of Fridays After 5 as a music destination. People will still go for the beer, at least in the short term, but if people who want to see the band can’t because the floor is flat, and if families can’t sit on the lawn and see the band, some of the best qualities of the event will be lost. Ever been to a concert in an arena or stadium, and ever had floor seats about 25-40 rows back? You can’t see shit. This will be the same. Pity, since the current design lets you stand a couple hundred feet away from the stage and see everything with no problem.

    The most puzzling thing is the architects, civil engineers, and planners they’ve brought in are known for truly phenomenal work (Blatimore’s Inner Harbor, San Antonio’s River Walk), but one gets the feeling they are receiving very poor direction from the city. Could this be a case of GIGO?

    I’m thinking they should make the city do what is done in New Orleans – on every public project, there’s a plaque that lists the city leaders who approved the project – mayor, councillors, planners, city managers, etc. Might make them think twice about this boondoggle if they all know their names will be attached to it for all to see.

  5. You know, for all the lip service that given to “alternative transit” and cutting back on use of autos in the downtown area, here’s an opportunity for the city to put its money where its mouth is.

    As the architects and transit folks explained during the public session, the idea is to attract people to the transit system who don’t HAVE to take a bus. People who don’t have a car, will wait under the most basic of shelters for a bus. Hell, they’ll wait on the sidewalk in the rain, if they have to. They have no choice. If the city wants to move beyond that, they need to offer something more. A building that can contain maybe a coffee shop, a newstand, a flower shop and the like will mean that people will be more willing to hang around waiting 10 minutes for the next bus to come along.

    For all of the public money that has been and is slated to be spent on facilities for private autos (roads, traffic-calming, parking garages), is it too much to ask that a decent facility be provided to promote public transit?

    We can all carp from the sidelines, but this is a centrally-located spot. The city owns the property. Funding is available. Let’s get on with it.

    As for some of the other proposals, presented at the meeting, I agree; some are awful. Some are good. But, nobody has to buy into the whole plan. There are plenty of options and plenty of time. Let’s not get in the way of the transit center, because we don’t want to see the amphitheatre flattened.

    Harry Landers

  6. There are far more effective ways of attracting discretionary riders to CTS than building a place full of shops and offices that blocks the view and may actually make Fridays After Five less inviting.

    People don’t decide to get out of their cars and ride the bus because they can wait in a coffee shop. They leave their cars behind when it becomes easier and cheaper to do so. Improving service and the schedules could do more that a 6.7 million white elephant will ever accomplish. I constantly hear complaints about the level of service on CTS. Missed and ignored transfers are much too frequent. Some (not all) of the drivers are downright rude.

    The only thing that I saw at the meeting that was connected to transit was the awning, the pull-over lane, and the placement of CTS’ marketing office in the building. Calling this place a transit center is a farce.

    Kevin Cox

  7. Let’s not get in the way of the transit center, because we don’t want to see the amphitheatre flattened.

    Why risk damaging one public facility that is very popular and has been proven to work in order to build another that may or may not become popular, may or may not work, and may or may not even be necessary?

    I have seen the grand vision this group has, and for the most part I like it. They have some really big ideas. However, they seem to have completely ignored the input they received from the people who use the amphitheater. There are sight line and acoustical issues they seem to be ignoring. In addition, their “bandstand” concept does not provide a large enough stage to attract national acts.

    When I spoke with them, they actually thought they could build “speakers” into the “bandstand” that would be sufficient. When told about the type of sound reinforcement required for a large outdoor venue, they didn’t seem to pay much attention.

    It makes me wonder what other input they aren’t paying attention to – especially since at the meeting I attended there was virtually unanimous agreement that nobody wanted to see another vehicular mall crossing. Yet they seem to continue to tout it (and apparently the response isn’t changing). Maybe they’re hoping that if they ask the question enough times eventually they’ll get the answer they want.

  8. I was shocked to see Maurice Cox express even tentative support for a Mall crossing on the Eastern end.

  9. People don’t decide to get out of their cars and ride the bus because they can wait in a coffee shop. They leave their cars behind when it becomes easier and cheaper to do so.

    I disagree. I mean, obviously that’s an important factor, but it takes more than that. Cars are a lifestyle choice, and we have to make buses an attractive lifestyle choice. Right now a common public perception is that the bus system is for poor people and cheapskates. (I imagine I’d fall in the former category by default, since I don’t own a car.) Don’t underestimate the value of trendiness. Other cities have made their public transit hip, and I think that we can do the same. Resigning ourselves to declaring a shed to be a bus stop isn’t sufficient. (OTOH, spending $6MM on a transit complex is just stupid.) But let’s not underestimate the value of image.

  10. I will agree that this city is home to some “World Class” grant writers who can’t stand to take their hand out of the cookie jar. Just because you can get the money for something mean you should do it. I watch nearly empty buses all day unless it rains- then they are half full.

  11. Charlottesville is so incredibly socially divided that it will take a lot more than just an image change to attract riders. Yes, the main problem with the bus system is the inconvenience factor for most car owners (in terms of lack of parking, undependability of service, and the fact that the trip usually takes longer than by car). But even if all of those things were eliminated, we’re still left with the basic problem that a lot of people who live and work in Charlottesville just plain don’t want to ride on a bus with the poor — and, worse (because this ain’t the 1960s, folks), a lot of white Charlottesvillians, most of whom would never dare speak this idea aloud in a million years, are uncomfortable sharing a bus with black people.

    Now, I realize that’s an extremely incendiary statement; I would like to hope that I’ve overgeneralized dramatically, but I’ve lived here long enough to know better. The vast majority of Charlottesville’s white middle- and upper-class population (i.e., most non-bus-riders) spends a lot of time pretending that the lower class community here (mostly racial minorities, and mostly black) does not exist. I’m not sure that any improvements to the bus system will be enough to overcome this barrier — although I can appreciate that the city wants to try, I think there are better things it could spend $6 mil on.

  12. The majority of CTS passengers (poor and black) are also the majority of the users of the Trolley. That hasn’t stopped some of the white, middle and upper class from riding the free trolley but most of those trolley users are still not using the regular buses. Are they cheap, biased against the bigger buses or what? Maybe if the regular buses were free, painted green, with small hard seats and a cupola on top they’d ride. They do ride one of the really old stinkpot buses, usually 815, when the trolley is not in use on the route.

  13. It’s a short trip between two impossible-to-park-at areas; it’s easy to remember that a trolley comes roughly every half hour (saving the hassle of deciphering a CTS timetable); it’s free; and in nice weather, it’s quaint and charming to ride on a trolley with a cute little dinging bell (as opposed to the city buses, which have smokestacks instead of cute bells).

  14. Excellent point about the trolley regularity. I used to live in Richmond and my life was spread all over that city. I relied solely on the bus to get everywhere. I put quite a bit of work into mastering the bus system in order to go to work, pay bills in person, escort people back from the airport, buy groceries, etc. I carried a copy of every bus route in my bag in order to make my day run smoothly, and I still felt vulnerable. What if I missed the last bus of the night and was stuck up 250 West? Such things have happened to me before. I guess my point is that people are much more likely to take advantage of public transportation who don’t have to when it runs like clockwork. Having a main terminal (wherever it may be) that is an easily recognizable transfer station and starting point/destination is a device that needs to exist for a successful system. Also, I have read many comments about there being class issues with regards to riding a bus. My question about that is how come people up through middle class have no problem using public transportation in major cities? Why should we be so different? The fact is that not everyone who rides a bus druels or wants to rape you.

  15. Anonymous wrote:

    Also, I have read many comments about there being class issues with regards to riding a bus. My question about that is how come people up through middle class have no problem using public transportation in major cities? Why should we be so different? The fact is that not everyone who rides a bus druels or wants to rape you.

    Your point is a good one. But I think most people who choose to live in Charlottesville tend to do so because it’s not a big city. In a large city, public transportation is important for basic quality of life for people of all classes; in Charlottesville, it’s not.

  16. Route 7 runs every 15 minutes between Downtown and the University. It is often empty and right behind the passenger carrying Trolley as they make their way down West Main. It doesn’t go on the Grounds Loop.

  17. About 8 years ago, I lived on Cleveland Ave, right across the street from a bus stop. Having grown up in D.C., I have zero aversion to public transportation, so I saw that location as a bonus.

    Once when my car broke down, I was particularly grateful to have CTS so convenient. I worked on the Mall, so I couldn’t have asked for a better transportation situation. The bus was rarely within 5 minutes of its scheduled arrival time, but it was pretty cool not to have to rely on the kindness of friends with working cars to get to work. I was and continue to be grateful to have CTS here.

    These days the only times I ride the bus are to go to football games, and the Mall-to-Stadium service really, really ROCKS. It’s cheap, reliable, and beats the hell out of fighting traffic and parking around the stadium.

    I agree that most people generally will use public transportation if they absolutely have to. Around here, one rarely has to. Despite protestations to the contrary, traffic around here really isn’t that bad, unless you’re trying to get to Lowe’s on a sunny weekend day, and while taking the bus does remove the need to park downtown, it doesn’t really save enough time or money to make it efficient for the average commuter.

    As for the need for a main terminal, I don’t think that’s in any way necessary. The Metrobus system in DC relies on a time-tested method of transfers, with no real system hubs, and it is quite successful. A central transfer station seems less efficient, whereas many smaller, more convenient transfer points would seem to make a lot more sense.

  18. I have to agree with you; I rode the Richmond buses most of them when I lived there and worked downtown. It made no sense to drive and find a parking space (then) downtown. I could catch a bus every 15 minutes on Broad Street; however, I knew that was a special route. Nonetheless, I was shocked to find out that I had to wait an HOUR between buses at some stops.

    It’s a lot better. The buses run later than 6pm (does anyone remember that?) but quite honestly, if I had to depend on the bus to get to work, I’d be leaving the house at 6:30 to get there by 8 and having to either stay late to catch a bus or leave early. I’d love to do it. In Richmond, we were a one car family.

  19. plus, in big cities, the disincentives to driving are WAY bigger than they are here. I mean, sure, it’s a pain to park down by the mall and there’s all that traffic (people who have lived in DC can now throw back their heads and scream that we don’t know sh*t about traffic!), but clearly, those disincentives are not quite strong enough to stop people from driving. In a major city, like Chicago (where I have lived), it does not even compare–you do NOT want to get in your car and go for a couple of drives every day. you want to park your car and leave it in that space for as long as you possibly can.

  20. Currently there are a number of transfer points around the city including Barracks Road Shopping Center, 11th and West Main, 2nd and Market, and 2nd and Water. The proposed building/plaza/parking garage/mall extension will only replace the transfer station at 2nd and Water. It will not be a central transfer station.

    Kevin Cox

  21. I hear the Progress train a coming, so get out of the way or “it’s gonna run all over you!”

  22. more room for hipsters to hangout and wax poetic about art. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, like after I’ve finished the third fifth of whisky on a sunday night and have to wake up at five in the morning.

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