51 thoughts on “Downtown Mall Renovation Approved”

  1. thanks for wasting my tax money on this when there really are larger issues…

  2. FOUR MONTHS!?!?!?!?! Gotta be the most optimistic public works estimate ever. I can’t help but wonder how many tax dollars this is going to eventually cost, after the delays, overruns, and overtime. Double? Triple? Triple, and then do the second half of the Mall in 10 years?

  3. It’s actually a five months schedule, aiming to finish the project by the end of May. The schedule went to five months sometime between the June 16 Council meeting and the June 30 public meeting.

    Mayor Norris asked what would happen if the project went over, and Jim Tolbert did not give a clear answer that, but did have a lot of details about how the work would proceed from here. We have a full write-up and the podcast at Charlottesville Tomorrow, and scroll down to the end for a transcription of what he had to

  4. The work done on third street has to be the shoddiest construction job I have seen in a long time. The “designer” if he or she can rightfully be called that, apparently didn’t even look at the site long enough to know where to put the drainage channel to match the existing one. Reminds me of the city missing the intended site by 4 feet when the city hall annex went in a few years ago. The sloppy installation of the third street light posts if far more of an eyesore than worn bricks are and the completely unnecessary use of angled brick is not only likely to be a serious maintenance issue before long (I remember bricks on the corner coming up before the job was done), but indicates that whoever was in charge of the job wasn’t qualified to lay a simple patio let alone run a multi-million dollar public project. Did whoever called for angled brick miss the fact that the buildings along the street are parallel to one-another? The older Halprin designed main portion of the mall doesn’t make that mistake and the difference is blatantly obvious. With the city pushing for a rush job, which we all know won’t actually be done quickly, we are almost certain to get the substandard quality of the third street job reduced even further but with a more extravagant price tag attached. Why does our city council so desperately want to turn Charlottesville into a Reston Towne Centre clone? Isn’t one of those enough?

  5. I think they out to just lay down sand and leave it at that. Then we can all play beach volleyball and lay out on our towels sunning ourselves. 4 months? No way. What happens when we get a 10 inch ice and snowstorm and the mall is encased in ice for 2 weeks?…JC

  6. I know this will shock some of you, especially since it’s coming from me. But this $7.5 million we are paying for a large load of bricks could have been spent on teachers and police officers, as in salary and equipment. Charlottesville ought to repave the mall for vehicular traffic and put the parking spaces right down there on both sides of the street. I honestly can’t recall spending one dollar on the mall since it was bricked.

  7. Demopublican, what goes around, comes around. Live long enough and you will see two way traffic on the mall with parking on both sides just like it was many years ago. The funny thing about this is that the “jerk” who comes up with this idea and proposes it to city council will be hailed as the next genius….probably even have a street named after him or her. What a waste of taxpayer money the mall is.

  8. I am only old enough to recall the mall being one way two lane pavement with parking on both sides of the street. Two way traffic with parking on both sides would be just as good. How in the hell the city justifies spending so much taxpayer money on the mall I will never understand. Let the public vote on what to do, 2 way traffic with parking vs pretty bricks and outdoor cafes. I think the city would be surprised to see the actual outcome of the vote.

  9. Long live pedestrian malls!

    I know of only three others in the nation like ours:

    The Downtown Commons, Ithaca, NY

    Church Street, Burlington, VT


    The one in Boulder, CO

    Any others?

    Isn’t great to live in a city with a pedestrian zone? I think so!

    7 dollar gas by 2010.

  10. I will say that a better surfaced Mall will bring more woman down during the day. I work with woman who will not go anywhere near the mall in their expensive high heels. Money for the Mall is not wasted if it helps produce more tax revenues. It’s an infrastructure cost that often goes overlooked.

    I credit the council with taking out all the bells and whistles and keeping the cost down. I hope the council uses their oversight to make sure the project gets down in a timely fashion.

    Not every dollar = more teacher

  11. Kalamazoo, Michigan has the original pedestrian mall–built in 1959. It’s similar to Charlottesville’s although when we lived in Kalamazoo, their mall didn’t seem to be nearly as economically healthy as C’ville’s. Oh wait–I just read that they reopened it to vehicular traffic in 2000. Buffalo, NY created a pedestrian mall with a street car running down the center that had disastrous consequences for the downtown economy there.

    I’m not pointing to these failures to say that we should open our pedestrian mall to traffic, but to say how lucky we are that our mall worked out and didn’t destroy downtown.

  12. Leave it City Council to always opt for the most pricey way of doing things.
    I remember Downtown before the Mall-pretty dead, nothing to write home about. The big retail outlets would have migrated to the shopping centers even if the Mall had not been built. Yes, it took awhile before it got going, but it finally became the vibrant, bustling place it is now. I only hope the City government doesn’t find a way to screw up something that has worked. I don’t think extending it to the Pavilion and closing off 7th st was a good idea though-I think it has hurt people at that end of the Mall, certainly makes it harder for those who have business in City Hall.And then we wouldn’t have needed that 4th st crossing.Unlike the other crossing its just intrusive.
    There is something reminiscent about small-town life about the Mall,of a slower-paced time of years past. Its wonderful that someone decided “here is a place where the automobile will not be allowed.” We need more spaces like that, not fewer.

  13. HollowBoy, thousands of automobiles cross the mall in several locations every day of the year. But, I do agree that the tree huggers need special little places all their own to congregate and leave the rest of the world alone though. I actually tried to spend a few dollars on the mall yesterday. Didn’t work. Was going to pick up a take-out lunch for a small group of people from Five Guys. Couldn’t find a parking space anywhere. Ended up at Riverside Lunch.

  14. Demopublican’s logic = since I can’t figure out a way to park near the Mall and I don’t spend money there, it must be a failure and it should be dismantled.

  15. I will say that a better surfaced Mall will bring more woman down during the day. I work with woman who will not go anywhere near the mall in their expensive high heels.

    Been down on the mall plenty of times and don’t see many high-heeled women down there. I do see a lot of Birkenstocks though!!!

  16. Parking near the mall takes a little patience. I can almost always find a free space, though, especially for a quick trip. I also like the $4 lot behind the Omni. Parking garage is my last resort, but it works.

    I don’t wear heels, at least not narrow ones.

  17. I’ve never not been able to find a space. I don’t mind paying a couple dollars so I usually go for the surface lot on Water Street or the parking garage. That surface lot is never full during the day; most evenings, in my experience, it’s never full either, unless it’s Friday or Saturday night.

    And I don’t wear heels at all. Nor Birkenstocks, for that matter. Since we’re sharing…

  18. Over ten years of living in Charlottesville and I’ve paid to park downtown maybe ten times. If all else fails, I park in one of the ramps and pop into the library and check out a book and get my parking ticket validated.

  19. Did everybody miss the words “take-out lunch” in my last reply? Sure, I can go into a parking garage or to the Omni end of the mall, no problem. But by the time I walk back to my car and drive back to the office, everybody’s food is cold.

  20. I appreciate your suggestion, Elizabeth. But those parking spaces stay occupied all the time. And very few people park there for 15 minutes. You can even see marked police cars in the spaces for hours at a time violating the 15 minute signs.

  21. Yes, Cecil. A block and half walk, up 3 or 4 flights of steps, walk to car, and sit through line waiting to exit garage onto Market Street. This wait includes cars waiting to pay, and then cars waiting to get a break into traffic on Market Street. It’s not as easy or quick as one might think when you have fries and burgers sitting on the front seat getting cold. Riverside finally has come decent competition in town to speak of, but you can’t get to the place and out very quickly because the city wants pretty bricks for everybody to walk on. I don’t know if you recall the old downtown or not. The sidewalks on both sides were pretty wide. There was abundant parking on both sides of the street. And it had two lanes of one way traffic right what’s now The Mall. There was parking on all the side streets, now reduced to loading zones and handicapped zones for the most part. I think Five Guys will simply have to survive on whatever foot traffic passes by their doors and decides to grab a cheeseburger. I can zip into Riverside, leave the car and A/C on, grab a big bag of food (and a few cold beers)…. and be back to the office in 90 seconds. There’s nothing in thw world better than a Riverside cold beer and hot cheeseburger.

  22. Sorry for the typos. I was typing on an iPod Touch. I think I will need a magnifying glass if I try this very often!

  23. So the Mall is not a great place for dash-in/dash-out take=out errands — who didn’t know that already? Demopublican’s objection to the Mall seems to boil down to this: it’s not a McDonald’s drive-thru.

    You know what the Mall DOES work for? For having outdoor seating so that diners can linger outside on gorgeous nights, people-watching while they sip on another round of drinks or go for the dessert after all. Don’t want to do that sitting on the sidewalk of a busy thoroughfare. It’s also good for wandering up and down checking out shop windows and making impulse purchases. I don’t wander up and down sidewalks next to real streets because I’m usually out with my kids and it’s a whole ‘nother ball game with kids. On the current Mall, I don’t have to worry about them getting run over (except at those damn mall crossings). The pedestrian aspect of the mall WORKS for many, many citizens who don’t want to zoom up, park right next to their destination, and then zoom away. There are enough people who like to shop, eat, visit galleries and museums, get coffee, and walk up and down, and who don’t mind walking to and from their car. There are hardly any places in smaller towns and cities that allow this kind of activity. Charlottesville is unique and lucky to have it.

    Downtowns in other cities this size are dead. If there were no Downtown Mall, Five Guys wouldn’t be there in the first place, because if there were no Downtown Mall, that area would be a wasteland. As a pedestrian mall, it’s a destination; if it’s just a downtown street, it goes back to serving just its immediate area, and I don’t believe there’s enough extra spending cash coming from the immediate neighborhoods to support that concentration of shops and restaurants.

  24. Demopublican,

    If you spend so little time on the downtown mall, how do you know that police cars are parked for hours at a time in the 15-minute spots?

  25. Dempublican,

    If you don’t know about the Pit-Stop, it might be worth your while to seek it out. It’s right down Market Street. It is easy to park right outside and get a great sandwich to boot. No town’s best is ever going to be found in the most obvious spot, and no town with any sort of active economy is ever going to have a parking spot with your name on it waiting for your once a month visit to your favorite take-out spot.

    I love the Mall, from your description of your parking problems there (which I never seem to have) a lot of other people love it to. That doesn’t seem to me like a situation in need of a fix. A vibrant downtown is something that many cities would love to have. We have one already. Repaving Main Street for cars would only make for more parking by sending most of the huge number of people who spend their money downtown in search of a more friendly place to do it. The Mall is a great asset, and sadly it is in the hands of a clueless city council and an even more clueless city manager. That is a real shame.

    If the horrible job that was done on third street is extended to the whole Mall, not only will there be endless delays in the construction in addition to the inevitable cost overruns, but the final product will be a shabby mess from the day it is done. That is not an argument against repairing the Mall, it is an argument for having it done by competent professionals so the obvious benefits the Mall has given to downtown can continue for another 30 to 40 years.

  26. Sammy, I am very familiar with Pit Stop. Very true, excellent food and no parking worries at all. Even if they run out of parking, the business next door lets people park anywhere on their lot, even after their having given the Pit Stop a small portion of their lot for restaurant parking in the fisrt place. For the benefit of the various restaurants on the mall serving “to go” menus, the city should create 15 minute parking zones on the 2nd Street and 4th Street crossovers. And the city should enforce these 15 minute zones. But a solution like this is way too complicated for the city to comprehend I guess. It worked well for the post office on the downtown mall, but these 15 minute zones are gone now too. I don’t deal with the mall post office any longer, and rather than fight the long lines at 29 North main postal branch, I find it much easier and faster to simply drive to the Keswick post office.

  27. Like Cecil and Sammy said , the Mall is what it is, its not a place where you can find a fastfood drivethru.
    Look at this way, DemoRepublican, you supported a locally-owned business in Riverside, not some chain franchise like Five Guys.
    Re the post office, its too bad they closed the one on West Main. Of course there is Barracks Road, where parking is no problem.
    Like many I find myself using the postal service less and less. I can buy stamps at the grocery store, only go in the post office for that if I happen to be near one. Its so much easier to pay bills online or by telephone. And for a creditor, it eliminates the “check is in the mail” excuse.

  28. Ohh yeah how about all the needed paving going on too? Don’t ya love it? Preson, Ridge and Avon Extnd really needed to be paved. Why do they waste our money?

  29. DemoPublican – you are not the only one who remembers Main St. before the mall. I also remember spending the day on the mall at the opening celebration. I was pretty young at the time.

    That said: I don’t think the mall caused any significant decline in downtown business. The stores which have given up and left downtown – Thalheimer’s, Leggett’s, Woolworth’s, The Young Men’s Shop (heh…moved back, didn’t they?) – the old Downtown Hardware Store – are all businesses which have not fared any better in other cities without malls: Richmond, Lynchburg, Staunton. All of these places have hollowed out downtowns because their clientele moved away – further and further out – or their business models no longer worked.

    Better parking and access did nothing for Downtown Hardware when they moved to their new big-box building (now home of the Daily Progress); Leggett’s lasted only slightly longer in Barrack’s Rd than they did downtown. Thalheimer’s did fine until their business model went belly-up all over VA. Woolworth’s lasted downtown until the national chain died – and that store actually made money. TYMS had all the asphalt sea convenience 29N has to offer, and yet, they’ve moved back onto the mall.

    As far as restaurants are concerned – the offerings on the downtown mall – post mall – are dramatically better and more diverse than existed on Main St. before. I mean: I still get nostalgic and have a sandwich and malted at the counter in Timberlake’s every now and again, but I get over it pretty quickly. If you must have drive through…well, the old Main St. would not have served you any better.

    I think what you’re really pining for is a rewind of the clock to a backwards sleepy little southern town with no population and the possibility of parking your car any damn place you like, when you like. That’s gone, and it’s not coming back, and while I too find it infuriating that the city feels compelled to eliminate as much free parking as possible every time they fix a broken curb, the bricked in mall isn’t what eliminated that.

  30. Yes Scott, I know. The city will do whatever they please. The actual city taxpayers have little say in anything any longer. I am willing to bet if put on a ballot, the majority of city taxpayers would vote to stop wasting money on bricks and put pavement, parking and vehicle access back downtown. And I am also willing to bet that the vast majority of the people using the brick mall aren’t even city residents, although city residents and taxpayers pay for it 100%. Anyhow, to prove the city will do as they please, they now have city taxpayers real estate asssessments valued at far more than they could possibly sell their home, lots or businesses for. Back in the old days your home might be valued at $240,000 on the tax records, but you could get $300,000 for it. Now the city will have it valued at $300,000 and you might be lucky to get $240,000 for it. I guess I’m just not tickled to death by these now wrongfully collected taxes paying for $7.5 million worth of bricks. The money should be spent on police cars, fire trucks, a few dozen Smart Cars for department heads (save gas), and the salaries of employees. In other words, they should spend our tax dollars on actual services for the city residents. But, moving on, I am not sure where all of you read drive-thru here so much. I simply said it would be nice to have FAST access to restaurants on the brick. FAST as in picking up food and getting it back to the office employees while it’s still hot. If it was really something I would lose sleep over, I would park my truck right on the crossover brick long enough to run in Five Guys and back. :)

  31. JS: Winchester VA has a downtown pedestrian mall, and has for a long time.

    If anyone wants to get an idea as to what the downtown mall would look like if it were reopened to traffic and parking, just take a trip to downtown Waynesboro or Harrisonburg.


  32. A quick look at last year’s city budget shows $2M in lodging tax, over $6M in meals tax, and $10M in sales tax: some portion of which comes from our visitors. I think $7.5M is too much for this project, but money is generated from our tourists, both directly in taxes they pay and indirectly in jobs they create for locals who then pay tax.

  33. Elizabeth, does the mall have lodging other than the Omni? What percentage of the $2 million comes from the Omni? As for the meals tax and sales tax, I suspect the mall generates a very small portion of the other $16 million? Do you know?

  34. Elizabeth, does the mall have lodging other than the Omni?

    Sure, and lots of it. (If I may butt in. :) There are inns and B&Bs all around the Downtown Mall. And there’s about to be a mighty big hotel at the corner of 2nd and E. Main, of course.

  35. Waldo, I was asking if there is lodging -on- the mall, not -around- the mall. I haven’t walked the mall for a long long time and simply don’t recall any lodging the last time I was down there. Come to think of it, I can only name 4 businesses on the mall right now. Five Guys, The Young Men’s Shop, Timberlake’s, and a pizza shoppe on the corner of the lower crossover. I don’t even know if the drug store with the rear exit out onto Water Streer is still down on the mall or not.

  36. Casual googling hasn’t turned up specific numbers from one part of town vs. another nor for tourism $$$ vs local $$$, though I’m sure somebody tracks that. My point is that taxes are raised through tourism and reinvesting some of that in things that pull tourists in is reasonable.

    The bricks do need help, I just had three shift underfoot as I walked to lunch, but $7.5M is silly: it’s yet another chapter in the saga of we-can’t-possibly-afford-to-maintain-infrastructure-but-we-sure-as-shootin’-can-build-something-new mentality that drives me insane.

  37. I don’t see what the need for rebricking is – I agree with Elizabeth that this is a bit expensive.

    However, I completely disagree that if left up to the voting citizens of the city (direct referendum) you’d get much change in the outcome. You certainly wouldn’t get a return to a road. The reason most people want more parking downtown is to be able to get to the mall. My point about remembering the businesses that once were in “downtown” Charlottesville is that they did not fail due to the mall – Sears didn’t do any better, nor P & J market next door – but that the mall is a net business gain.

    The City’s rather rapacious use of the Assessor’s office and the horrible downtown ingress/egress traffic problems are real, but they are orthogonal to the mall. In fact, in many respects, the new cross-cuts and two-way traffic on Market have made things even more congested downtown.

    We need to eliminate a number of the neighborhood coordinator positions and use that money to fund an independent traffic engineering office (one beyond our City Manager’s reach) – then we’ll get working traffic patterns, not ones decided on the basis of political back-scratching.

    Demopublican – sorry you lost your free ride on the taxes – but assessments will come down if they are legally contested as house prices decline.

  38. I wouldn’t call it a free ride, Scott. Historically, nationwide, real estate and personal property were assessed at a little less than it was actually worth in the past. Some of you guys must have been in diapers 25 to 30 years ago. And that is not meant as an insult, I assume you simply don’t understand the way things used to be. What are these downtown traffic problems you speak of? I don’t see any major traffic problems in and around downtown and the mall. I don’t even see minor traffic problems. Other than a few morons tailgating and always in a hurry. And people who don’t pay any attention whatsoever to the Don’t Walk signals. I think the two way traffic pattern on Market Street and Water Street are great. And instead of eliminating a number of the neighborhood coordinator positions and using the money to fund an independent traffic engineering office, why not spend it on hiring more police officers, fire equipment, and teachers? Cancel the new brick and send this $7.5 million in their direction too perhaps?

  39. Waste of money to renovate the brick path on the mall. Please show me the long list of complaints that makes it stand out next to longer lists of complaints about other things.

  40. I beat the system today going to Five Guys. I went down the 4th Street mall crossover, parked right in middle of the traveled portion of the road, and let my child run in to pick up an order. Not another car came along that would cause me to have to move on. That will never happen again!

  41. Demopublican what happened to your love affair with
    Riverside Lunch? No parking problems and very best
    hamburger’s in town!!!! Why for god’s sake would you allow
    your anxiety level to rise over finding a parking place
    down town when Riverside has plenty of FREE parking. The
    Mall is for tourist, and captive natives M-F.
    Lars its not MONORAIL, but LRT………

  42. Well Jogs, it was a pretty simple decision today. I had an additional passenger that could jump out and retrieve the order. I never even had to leave the comfort of A/C or suffer the frustration of looking for a parking place (was 103 degrees on The Hook web site at the time). Even if another vehicle had come along forcing me to move out of the middle of the road, I could have circled back to Five Guys quickly by using the lower mall crossover.

  43. If I had my way, (and I don’t often) I’d do away with the cross overs. Maybe just me, but I’ve had a few close calls there lately.

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