City Properties, Infrastructure Need Repair

Many of the city’s infrastructure and buildings are starting to age out, John Yellig wrote in yesterday’s Daily Progress, necessitating millions of dollars in impending repairs and upgrades. Roads, sidewalks, the central fire station and city hall all require costly improvements. (City Hall is hideous. I wish we could tear the thing down and start over again. Who thought it’d be a good idea to construct city hall without windows?)

The article doesn’t mention two of the more costly projects due: the central library and the Downtown Mall. The beautiful old building that houses the library on Market Street is badly in need of some serious renovation that the city can’t put off much longer. And the Downtown Mall is crumbling under the weight of vehicular traffic it was never meant to bear, though a fellow in the city engineer’s office told me some years ago that the whole structure has aged badly, and much of it needs to be torn up and rebuilt.

Seems to me spending money on new maintenance-requiring capital improvements (expanding the Downtown Mall down side streets, revamping West Main) isn’t a great use of money right now, unless they’ll lead to increased city revenues sufficient to offset those costs.

Kevin Lynch makes an interesting suggestion in the article: differentiating between commercial and residential properties for the purpose of taxes, such that they can be taxed at different rates.

18 thoughts on “City Properties, Infrastructure Need Repair”

  1. They should dig up and shoot anyone responsible for the design and approval of City Hell, I mean Hall. Even the homeless won’t go in there.

  2. City hall is not important and really not that bad. Improvements have been made and there are some new buildings. . Why don’t they take the money from sister cites programs and some very bad public art projects for starters.
    They have gotten big boast from rising property taxes and have spent it unwisely. And yet all this and they still have a AAA bond rating. Lack of revenues has never been the problem and more taxes are not needed.

  3. Well that’ll get ’em about fifty bucks towards maintenance.

    The transportation center was really silly. A council ‘legacy’ for David Toscano that’s costing local taxpayers between five and six million (oops — cost overrun). How much is the ‘loan’ to Coran for the Pavillion costing us? How much unnecessary cost in the Court Square project?

    I’ve been squawking about investing in maintenance for years, but it ain’t exactly a thing they can point at and say “Gosh, I made sure the roof got replaced: that’s my legacy!” But even with the legacy projects wiped out, a huge amount of city spending increases have had to do with the federal government gutting programs so wealthy folks got a tax cut — and the city stepping up to fill in the gaps.

    There’s been an ongoing shift in where the taxes come from to pay for things. And we just went through an election cycle where national issues trumped pot-holes in voters’ minds. With luck those two things will line up again in the next few years, but we have a huge deficit to whittle down. “W” has been a vastly expensive president in way too many ways.

  4. As I understand it, state law prevents localities from differentiating between commercial and residential use for purposes of taxation. The Dillon Rule again.

    Sadly, our representative, David Toscano, opposes allowing democracy to localities in Virginia. He’s another one of these guys who loves the idea of everyone back home having to crawl to him for a piece of legislation allowing them to make a local law. I like David on many other issues but this one is unfortunately big enough to trump most of them.

    So if we want to restructure our property tax laws (which I am generally in favor of), we’ll have to go beg David Toscano to take it up.

    I keep saying ‘we’ out of habit even though I live in the County now.

  5. City Council didn’t seem to be too concerned about building maintenance when they gave The Paramount $500,000.00 and a permanent break on their real estate taxes. It may have taken a little longer but The Paramount would have done just fine without the money that the city, state and county gave to the project.

  6. From Waldo:

    Seems to me spending money on new maintenance-requiring capital improvements (expanding the Downtown Mall down side streets, revamping West Main) isn’t a great use of money right now, unless they’ll lead to increased city revenues sufficient to offset those costs.

    Being high-traffic, high-visibility commercial districts, they probably will result in more revenues.

    From what I’ve seen, many residents do not care about capital improvements on a city-wide scale except when an article like this gets printed. Anyone who stayed past 9 pm at last Council’s meeting would have seen the CI report first-hand. I think that there were 20 of us, Councilors included, who watched it. I encourage people to look up the transcript on and read the discussion.

    There is obviously room for improvement in how we prioritize things, but citizens need to attend the budget and planning hearings where capital improvements are discussed. People have to register their needs and priority preferences before the vote. It does very little good to whinge about it after the fact.

    It’s not Council’s or Staff’s job to take a street-by-street survey on each line-item capital project and point out, as if to grade-schoolers, “Now, if you want us to put in this new connector road and sidewalks, it will mean that we can’t afford to repair Smith Pool and put in a new roof for Buford.” They have to presume that we’re adults and we understand the implications of our demands.

    What usually happens is that one neighborhood, from, e.g., Rec precinct will timely agitate for the creation of a new traffic pattern and receive it, not even realizing that such a project necessitates the deferral of planned school improvements for JPA precinct–and if they did realize it, they would be largely unsympathetic. Don’t we all think that our individual or localized needs are more important, more pressing, and should be met first?

    From Pergolik:

    Why don’t they take the money from sister cites programs and some very bad public art projects for starters.

    Those kinds of programs tend to get their own state, foundation, and/or federal grants — most of the time they start as matching funds, where the city only contributes X amount or percent of the total cost. Even on the rare occasion that they start off being funded 100% by the city, they don’t stay that way for long. There is a limited amount that can be culled from these kinds of projects and reassigned elsewhere.

  7. Being high-traffic, high-visibility commercial districts, they probably will result in more revenues.

    I’m sure they will. I just wonder if it will be enough to make it worth the cost. Not that improvements should always be approached in a purely economic sense, but it’s certainly an important factor.

  8. I always thought City Hall was a dreadfully poor design for a city like Charlottesville. No Jeffersonian influence at all, and worst when you enter the building from the Mall you step directly into an area where you can give the city money (taxes, fines, etc). Really bad symbolism there, if you ask me (and I haven’t been inside in several years, so that may have changed). It’s just not an inviting building – the only redeeming quality seems to be the corner with the presidents. The interior is dark and foreboding. I can’t imagine having to work in there – morale has to take a hit because of the environment.

  9. I had never even thought about the design of City Hall but I have to agree that the design is awful. The interior cinderblock walls and lack of natural light make it more like a prison than any type of building I’d want to actually spend time in. The cinderblock interior reminds me of Westhaven, the public housing complex on Hardy Drive. I do like the lattice style blocks on the front and the statues of the three presidents.

  10. City Hall looks remarkably like a prison, now that I think of it. Except that prisons have more windows. It is indeed a horrible design.

  11. Was the City Hall design subjected to the Architectural Review
    Board? If so I will beinterested in their response to criticism of the design.

    If they were not involved, is this then a case of “do as I say not as I do”? Perhaps the wisdom of City Council as concerns City Hall design is not subject to review.

  12. City Hall was built long before there was even talk of having a Board of Architectural Review. Anyway, the BAR approved the ugliest thing on the mall, the Pavillion as well as the Live Arts building and the Transit Center which, while they may be interesting are still totally out of character with the rest of the downtown area. If Wendell Wood or Charles Hurt had tried to build those buildings they never would have gotten BAR approval. The BAR also forced Oliver Kuttner to remove some very nice and compatible stone arches. Their decisions are not always rational so who knows what City Hall design would be produced by Charlottesville style good ‘ol boy and girl politics. It might even be uglier than what we’ve got!

  13. Big_Al – I think the “bank lobby” look of the main room at mall level is pretty much typical – I’ve seen plenty of 500 year old european city halls that are just the same.

    I don’t have much to add to what’s already been said; the sweetheart deals for the Pavillion and Paramount are part of an old tradition around here – beginning with the clearing of Vinegar Hill – of kickback style business deals. The Omni got built this way as I recall.

    The Transit Station was ridiculous though – really, really ridiculous.

  14. What gets me is the fact that the City basically gave away the old Lane High School building to Albemarle County. That would have made a great City Hall or Annex. Plenty of surrounding parking also. But that required a real rarity….foresight. Now there is a “crisis”. But hey, we have a really pretty transit center for buses that have all of four people on them most times.

  15. Speaking as one who lives and works on the Downtown Mall, I’m damn tired of choosing my shoes based upon how badly the heels will be damaged when they inevitably sink between the bricks. Right, right. Sheer vanity. I get it. But at least I know of the problem and have the ability to dress accordingly. Out-of-towners, presumably a huge group which the mall hopes to attract, are not so lucky. Wonder how many visiting women leave with chewed up heels and twisted ankles, due to the lovely state of those bricks.

  16. It was the same at the U when I was there in the middle 1980s–all that unmaintained cobblestone and brick. For that chewed-heel reason, I think I had the largest shoe collection outside the Philippines in 1985.

    Fortunately, you can find good quality heels that aren’t stilettos nowdays, but perhaps we should start a “sleeper bag” program at the Downtown Visitors Center — drop off your Ferragamos at a cloakroom and take a loaner pair of Eccos for the afternoon.

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