Downtown Mall Overhaul Done-ish

Old Mall Bricks
The gnarly old brickwork that’s been replaced.

The city held a ceremony to rededicate the overhauled Downtown Mall last night, Rachana Dixit writes in the Daily Progress. The old, mortared bricks were all replaced with bricks laid in sand, the aging electrical infrastructure was replaced, and some of the slab underlying the brickwork was replaced. The great bulk of the work was done a few weeks ago, but minor development has continued for the past few weeks. The project manager describes it as “99.9 percent done.” The final bill hasn’t come in, but the city has said all along that the project will come in below their target price. With the job also completed more or less within the four-month timeframe, neither of the main concerns raised by critics have come to pass.

53 thoughts on “Downtown Mall Overhaul Done-ish”

  1. Another fear of critics of the project, which I would have to say has come to pass is, that much of the character of the Mall would be irreparably destroyed. Lawrence Halprin is quite a big deal in the world of landscape architecture. A reputation like his doesn’t come from nowhere.

    The results of the “renovation” project do demonstrate that having someone who really knows what he’s doing design a place really makes a difference. What happened to the mall is like having someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing strip the finish off of your valuable antique furniture, or maybe more appropriately like having an novice architect “renovate” your Frank Lloyd Wright designed home.

    For those of you who haven’t seen it, the Hook’s picture of the day of the ceremony is a must see. Mayor Norris in the foreground with the naked motel in the background says it all.

  2. Barton Malow is rightly receiving a good deal of acclaim for proving the naysayers wrong and bringing this project in on-time and under-budget. Joan Fenton, among other Mall merchants, successfully pushed to have a firm like Barton Malow brought in to oversee the project, which was definitely a good move. But most of the credit for the project’s success goes to the work crews themselves, who often toiled under less-than-ideal conditions, under a highly-accelerated schedule, to get the job done and done right. Good work all. And the final product is actually slightly truer to Halprin’s original vision for the Mall than the Mall as it was initially built, which is why the ranks of people who have praised the outcome of the renovation project includes…Larry Halprin.

  3. If one were interested in reading Mr. Halprin’s glowing praise for the outcome, where pray tell might one be able? I’m especially interested in reading his thoughts on how the inappropriate brick selection and thoroughly shoddy workmanship of the 3rd Street portion were a spark of brilliance and essential to the completion of his vision.

    No matter what spin is put on it though, it is simply impossible to erase the fact that it was an unnecessary and ill-timed waste of money whether under budget or not. If we had staff working in City Hall with the management skill that earned Barton Malow its praise for coming in under budget, the Mall would have been maintained properly and we wouldn’t have been hiring them in the first place.

  4. Get the job done and done right??? Have you noticed all the damage to the new “speed bumps”. Now, imagine the damage being done to cars. I don’t call that getting it done right.

  5. Yes the speed bump was not designed correctly, and will be fixed. But it’s not the fault of the work crew that installed it. My point was that, regardless of anyone’s view of the merits of the project itself (and any infrastructure project of this scale is bound to invite a healthy measure of skepticism and scrutiny), the laborers on the project did a great job and deserve a lot of credit for its success.

  6. So was Mr. Halprin just patting the workers on the back too or did he have something substantive to say? Actually, I didn’t know he had even come to town to view the results. Neither the Hook article nor the DP article mentioned his appearance at the rededication ceremony. You’d think he would have been excited to be there to celebrate finally achieving his true vision after all these years. I’d really like to read some more about it. Any chance that a footnote to your first comment will be appearing here sometime soon Mr. Mayor?

  7. Without question the mall work was done quickly and efficiently and has many little details that people on and about the mall will enjoy. These details include public water, better fire safety, serious high speed internet, bollards that should help stop the weekly event of a confused old lady driving down the mall among others among others.

    MMM and Barton Malow were always looking out for the mall merchants and the denizens of the mall.

    I remember walking down the mall 20 years ago and thinking, “what a waste.” Nothing was open, storefronts littered the area with rental signs (although that seems to be occurring a bit in this economy) and the only cup of coffee you could get was the Coffee Exchange, which was closed at night anyway. And on a tuesday night, or any night, it was a ghost town.

    Now the mall is a vital and busy destination with lots of cool places rather than the usual suspects. Merchants that pay very high rent, and generate significant taxes are happy that they have been taken care of rather than just ignored.

    Yes it was a lot of money, but when this was being planned for and budgeted on the economy was flush. And in this Obamaville we live in, that is receiving tons of money designed to just be spent, I find it funny that someone is complaining about spending money when that is exactly what the Federal government is doing by the truckload.

    Sure one can find something on the mall not done perfectly. That is what punchlists are for, and at this point, it has not even been generated: so stop whining.

    If Halprin had anything negative to say about this then he must just be a bitter old guy. All of the poorly designed aspects of the mall have been addressed and the place looks better than it did 20 years ago.

    ANd WTF does Minors hotel have to do with the rebricking the mall? “Boss of Me” complains about stripping the finish off his furniture and that is the extent of anything specific, observable or quantifiable feedback. You act like the finances of an Atlanta bank, a software rich guy and a left coast developer where part of the mall plans. Sorry, but things do need to be restored: . Halrpin designed a mall folks, that is all. A mall with bad lighting, poorly designed infrastructure for trees (those things everyone like to hug), fugly uncomfortable chairs and that was built poorly resulting in leaks to building owners, underlayment that was essentially dust etc etc.

    You guys sound like bored malcontents looking for something to complain about. Of course, everything could have been ignored…

  8. Danpri, in your view there should only be praise and warm fuzzy feelings about the mall refurbishment, no criticism, no “whining” as you call it about the mall. Right?
    I will make my semi-annual trip downtown this Friday, June 5, 2009 to pay my Real Estate and Personal Property taxes and reserve my judgement, on the re-bricking of the mall until then.

  9. Get the job done and done right??? Have you noticed all the damage to the new “speed bumps”. Now, imagine the damage being done to cars. I don’t call that getting it done right.

    If the biggest problem with a $7M overhaul of an entire downtown district is that a speed bump is 2″ too high, it sounds to me like things have gone pretty well. :)

  10. Criticism is welcome, but bring something besides the whining. I was simply asking for something specific. Quantifiable. Someone claims the “character” of the mall has been destroyed. I am curious as to what exactly has been destroyed? Chunks of mortar spilling out of uneven bricks and poorly designed grates choking the life out of trees were the soul of the mall? Bad lighting? No water or public restrooms for people? Thats some character!

    Its that type of vague over-reaching complaint, without substantive description that I see as whining.

    The only thing I read that is specific is a speed bump was made two inches too high. So it gets fixed. NOt sure if that is ripping the character out of something. Maybe an oil pan.

    Lead, follow, or get out of the way. The world is full of complainers that only have a firm grasp on part of the problem and no realistic solution that makes everyone happy.

  11. Waldo, I am just an bored malcontent looking for something to complain about. :)

  12. Actually, I have to agree with The Waldo.

    Though I think most of these boondoggles are a terrible waste of money, this seems to have been done pretty well. The niggling nasties don’t seem to understand the concept of de minimis.

  13. I’m thrilled that the mall reconstruction was completed affordably and on time.

    However, I am kind of bummed about what happened to my bicycle. I left it locked on the mall at about 2am last week… returned at noon the next day only find that: not only was my bicycle gone, the PLACE where I left my bicycle was also gone. As in, that location was now somehow BACK under construction.

    Repeated calls to the city have resulted in an endless goose chase of referrals and uncontactable supervisors. I’m just gonna to to city hall on monday and ask around in person until I find somebody who might possibly know what’s up.

  14. “The Waldo”? Wow, I’ve been nouned.

    James, that bike this is ridiculous. Really, I mean if I hadn’t known you for a decade, I’d find it totally implausible. Good luck.

  15. James. Best bet is too contact someone at MMM in the bottom level of the Parking garage next to City Hall. Remember where the copy place was on the corner by the elevator?

    The couple times I rolled into their office with an issue was resolved quickly enough. Barton Malow is right next door.

  16. 20 years ago, every restaurant on the downtown mall served coffee. C&o, Court Square, Hardware Store, Felini’s, Eastern Standard and several other restaurants were open most nights. Why people only think about restaurants when they are evaluating a shopping district, I have no idea. As for retail, there were many stores open during the day, when people shop. There was no reason for the stores to be opened at night, including many at Barracks Road and Fashion Square, because there were few customers to go around, making it worth their while, except for Friday nights.

  17. Hate to disagree, but without the motar the Halprin design is totally gone. I too would like to know if Halprin himself has seen the final result, which to my eye is boring and not at all the work of art that preceeded it.

  18. CVille Eye, based on my observations (and opinion), which may or may not be correct, I think the mall is now about about nothing more than Fridays After Five, restaurants, beverages, bars, etc… I doubt any place of business selling goods down on the mall can expect to survive very long. Furthermore, while it accomplishes it’s purpose I suppose, and money is money no matter who’s spending it, I feel the majority of mall visitors are county residents coming in for the entertainment, food and beverages. This is probably why we see people so concerned about finding a good cup of coffee on the mall.
    I witnessed a new adventure on the mall last night. Well, new to me at least. Panhandlers stopping cars at the crossover near the Omni and begging money for “pizza” and “sodas”. Traffic was backed all the way up to Water Street as the cars had to stop and chat with the panhandlers. Law enforcement was nowhere to be found while this as going on. They must not beg when cops are nearby!

  19. Has anyone noticed all the empty stores on Main Street and the corner of Ridge and Main. Maybe county people will populate the Mall but what’s going to happen to Main Street between the Mall and University ?

  20. It’s easy to spot the social networkers, wannabe kingpins: they’ll the Pollyannas until such time they deem it not to their advantage. It’s a pathetic trait I find contemptible.

    The bottom line is this project was a waste of public resources and only those tied to it can claim it was a success. There’s no real diff between before and after except a big line item in the budget.

    For that money, they could have laid the first tracks of a tramway, or built a tunnel to ease traffic somewhere. But nooooooooooooo. They replaced some bricks with other bricks that look pretty much the same. This is PATHETIC.

  21. Hate to disagree, but without the motar the Halprin design is totally gone.

    Actually, Halprin’s design called for no mortar. Charlottesville Tomorrow reported on this last August:

    Jim Tolbert, Charlottesville’s Director of Neighborhood Services, said that their recent research had determined that Halprin never intended for the bricks to be mortared in place. UVA Architecture Professor Bill Moorish worked for Halprin in the 1970s on the Mall’s architectural drawings and shared with City staff the background on the decision to deviate from Halprin’s plan.

    You are correct that without mortar the surface of the Downtown Mall looks quite different. The grid pattern is greatly deemphasized as a result. But it’s not true that it’s a change from Halprin’s design.

  22. …I feel the majority of mall visitors are county residents coming in for the entertainment, food and beverages.

    Shopping districts in Charlottesville have always been full of people from the surrounding counties in central VA. We should really start worrying about the economic effects if those people stop coming.

    … I doubt any place of business selling goods down on the mall can expect to survive very long.

    I hope that the on-going mall construction will not dampen the shopping in the retail stores downtown. With the warm weather and the new development occurring in the Monticello Avenue/Garrett Street area, the public will be encouraged to explore downtown. Unfortunately, so many people just talk about the restaurants and drinks that a lot of newcomers don’t know there’s Tuel Jewelers, The Cat House, the new dog shop (horse, too?), baby clothing, etc. available for day time shopping. I think past city officials really erred when they starting selling downtown as an entertainment area rather than a complete commercial area. They were trying to duplicate other urban areas instead of letting the downtown shape itself.

    …but what’s going to happen to Main Street between the Mall and University ?
    UVA is slowly amassing the land between the Corner Republic Plaza (including) and will be the primary developer in that area. That leaves the five blocks between 8th Street and Ridge. Right now, there seems to be only one development proposed but the developer is still in the process of City Hall’s redesigning that project, so he may eventually walk away as the guy did at the propsed 10 Center on the corner of 10th and Main after five years of trying to get City approval.

  23. Insistent public criticism is what kept this project on track. Remember the city’s original plan was to change the bricks to the 3rd Street type, and it even had a supplier lined up and a closed-door plan. The people who fought the city on this deserve a lot of thanks. Also, the responsible people within city ranks, of course.

    Small potatoes compared to other fights that need fighting though, whatever side you take: the uphill pipeline and I-64 lake to benefit the upper Mormons, the private recycler vs. the public one, the possible loss of the Daily Progress, etc. Oh yeah, and the McIntire Park compression and traffic and recreation improvement plan.

  24. Let’s forget the cosmetics for a moment and talk about an underlying problem in our community which is directly related to the City’s ability to shell out $7 million for bricks.

    The ONLY reason the City could afford to re-brick the Mall is because of the Revenue-sharing (ripoff) funds they’ve been receiving for 27 years. Who cares when they planned to spend the money. The fact is the City has money to burn while the County is the one with financial issues because of an agreement that should have been dissolved 26 years ago.

    The County is stuck with it because the County jacklegs who crafted the agreement did not include an escape or buy-out clause.

    The County is cutting back and reducing services while the City hums along with $19 million this year in County welfare payments. It’s time to wean the City. Stand on your own and quit sucking the life out of the County.

  25. Thanks Waldo for the tip about the mortar. So is what we see now the original Halprin design ?

  26. I think the new mall, though only slightly different, looks great. I actually like the new bricks better. I also like the increased number of round planters they’ve added and the improved furniture some of the restaurants have added. As soon as the fountains are working again, I think we’ll have our mall back. I only wish they had added some kind of fountain on the hill next to the transit building. That spot really needs some moving water to bring it to life.

    In other mall news, I think it’s great that Urban Outfitters opened. The mall is a very successful entertainment and dining district, but it’s failing miserably as a shopping district. And it needs both to be a vibrant, successful city core. The only way people will shop for clothes is to bring in more chains. I’m hoping a Banana Republic and Gap are next. A healthy mix of local shops and national chains is what will finally make the mall a healthy shopping district that locals will patronize.

  27. Unfortunately I think the shopping is about the parking. Maybe people need a gerbil tube straight from the Water St. garage to the mall.

    About the free speech area of the mall, it does have the short bricks instead of the mall size bricks. Maybe that’s why it’s lacking liveliness!

  28. colfer, are you trying to come up with another way the city can spend more money downtown? Why do you think people would want to go stand in front of City Hall, making it liveliler? I think that end is lively enough when I look at all of the scribbling on the Wall. Please to give them ideas for their next brainstorming session on how to spend more money.
    @Betty Bartlett, I feel the revenue sharing agreement should never have been made, and I also feel that there should not be a moratorium on annexation. If the County needs more money for frivolous things, it should raise its real estate property tax rate to $.95/$100 and it will be “awash” with money. Also, the County should float $M in bonds each year so that it can have today what it will pay for tomorrow. Clall your Supervisor today!
    Perhaps you’ll feel better about the revenue sharing funds if you think of them this way: they’re payment to the City for providing all of the services and programs for the “poor” that the County doesn’t have to, the only public housing, the most subsidized housing, the only homeless housing and services, the most recreational programs for County residents, the most firefighting equipment, the most services for the alcoholics and narcartics addicts, and the most services for the parolee. That leaves your land mainly in the hands of the successful middle class, making it more valuable to homeowner and commerce. That $19M is a small price for you to pay, isn’t it?

  29. And heaven forbid the County actually had a pool of their own rather than spending money bussing kids to the city pools.

    If the County will give up the annexation agreement I am pretty sure that the city would be happy to revisit the entire issue!

    As too Halprin. He did send a letter to the City saying how pleased he was with the results of the changeover.

    Regarding Fellini/Court Square/Eastern Coffee late at night…not so good coffee. I gave it up at that point they were all brewed and sitting in glass carafes. I remember the Fellini lawyer who left in disgrace wearing his nasty tux and making sure no one “went” upstairs…! LOL. There was one other coffee shop down 6th street (?) but it was smoking so no go.

    And I do love the wireless speed now on the grid downtown. 300K….

  30. @danpri, I believe you’re talking about the coffee shop that was on $th St. NE, across from Chuck Wagon/Terry’s II. I believe, its name had two words in it, one of which started with an “h” or “m” or “p” maybe. It was owned by a couple that I believe left two. They also sold sandwiches during lunch and maybe light dinners. It had some kind of coffee machine in the window.
    Maybe coffee wasn’t so good late at night because very few people drank it. I think most people went to the University Diner or the White Spot or something like Hardee’s for fresh coffee after 10 PM.

  31. Still wondering if this is the original Halprin design. Are there drawings somewhere of his work that one can view ?

  32. About the mall in front of City Hall, the placement and design of the Free Speech monument is a problem. NYC had a famous case where a well-known sculptor divided a downtown plaza in two diagonally with a steel wall. It was so egregious an insult to the public space that the city had to tear it down! In our case, I think the Free Speech wall just makes the public lounge area in front of City Hall a little edgy. I don’t know what you could do to make that area friendlier (I thought the wall should have been in segments like this: / / / /). The pavilion is cheesy, the bus terminal is beautiful, City Hall is 1960s kitsch. What can you do with all that?? Plant a garden maybe.

    We used to have a grand tree there, permanently festooned with scraggly Christmas lights. Rumor was some city workers were upset about not being able to take the tree down, so left the lights up year round.

  33. That tree was a magnificent Himalayna Fir given to the City, and, as it seems to be the common case, the gift was destroyed. Quite frankly, I preferred the looks of that end of the then to now. That glassed-in, 60’s high school concession stand design is so sophomoric, a lot of first-year architectural students would love to get their hands on it. You’re right, taken in conjunction with the Pavilllion and City Hall, and the parking garage, and the Herman Key Center, and the children’s museum, exactly what is going on there. I personally don’t care what they do to that end of the Mall as long as they don’t spend any tax payers money doing it. It’s not the government’s mission to constatnly spend our money on redesign, redesign, redesign.

  34. I meant a drawing of Halprin’s original layout for the Mall. thanks if anyone knows where one would be

  35. Wasn’t the project completion date May 1 – not June 1. I find it hard to agree with all the on-time claims being made. If 25 percent more time needed to do the project is considered on-time, does 25 percent additional cost get billed as “on-budget”?

    And, weren’t the fountain repairs part of the project or are we only talking about the brick work now? Most recent estimate is that fountains will be working next week, but I don’t see much progress toward that goal in visits to the mall in the past few days. Any best on when the four mall fountains are working?

  36. danpri, what are you, an engineer? Not everything in life is quantifiable. In fact, I would argue that much of what makes life good and elevates it above existence or survival will always elude quantification.

    By your reasoning, Monticello is a house. That’s all it is. You might even argue that Jefferson designed his house with bad lighting. That would probably be reasonable to agree with considering that both its function and lighting technology have, as things do, changed over time. That problem could most easily be addressed by gutting the place, running some cable, and then slapping up some sheetrock and some stock trim and cheap fixtures from Lowe’s. If that were to happen, there would be something significant destroyed forever. Virtually anyone could exist in the “overhauled” version of the house though. Many might even thrive there and not once notice that something wasn’t quite right about it all. From what you’ve written, it seems you would be among them.

    If you were the owner of a place like Monticello and did that sort of thing to it, I would insist that it is my right to be sad about it. If you were the steward of a wonderful public place that was designed by a notable, highly respected designer and did something similar, (like I would argue has happened to the Downtown Mall) I would insist upon my right to be very upset. If you were on top of that to take my money to pay for it, I would insist on my right to be infuriated and to stir as many people as possible to remove you from the position that allowed you to do that to us. But, since you aren’t to blame and there’s an identifiable group that is, I will focus my criticism on them and the project until such time as they are gone from this place or can cause it no more harm.

    I’m still hoping the Mayor is going to come through with something to back up his claim that Halprin has praised what was done to the Mall. Whether the original designer or not, I can’t imagine what sort of meaningful comment anyone could make if he hasn’t actually seen the outcome. I’d really like to know if he has seen it and read what he had to say. Maybe I’ll be able to re-consider my position by seeing things through Mr. Halprin’s practiced eyes. I doubt though that I’ll ever be able to understand why he wasn’t asked to participate in the redesign. It would be great if the Mayor could explain that too.

    Maybe Mr. Norris was just fooled by this ridiculous bit of propaganda. It’s an image of a smiling Halprin with the Mall in the background. At least they had the honesty to label the picture as “digitally altered.”

    Oh, and since you asked danpri, the various parallels that ought to be readily apparent in the Hook image of the dedication ceremony are likewise not quantifiable. I won’t waste our collective time on too much explanation, but lets just say one would search in vain in that image for evidence that the reins of control of the very center of our city are in competent hands.

  37. They did a great job with this project. The management that had to work around a constantly shifting maze of needs in terms of what hours certain businesses needed to be open, maintaining some type of constant pedestrian access along every section of Mall and constantly figuring out where to to store materials and equipment from one week to the next.

    The laborers, also, were outstanding. I never saw any of these guys behave rudely to anyone either on or off duty. They were all extremely patient when they were in middle of jack hammering or scooping something up with a front end loader and a pedestrian would come along. Again and again and again they would stop what they were doing to let people pass by without acting annoyed or impatient.

    This was very nice work and we should get these same guys back for any future work that the city can possibly give to them.

  38. “Not everything in life is quantifiable.”

    Maybe, but much of it is–at the least the stuff we pay for.

    That being said, I think the quibbles about the project are that. The Big-Endians seem to be out and about on this.

  39. “Not everything in life is quantifiable.”
    Maybe, but much of it is–at the least the stuff we pay for.

    Egg, your point, unless it’s to impress the masses with arcane legal and CS jargon, is somewhat hard to fathom. Is a well done waste of money well done or a waste of money? What metric might we employ in making that determination?

  40. Interesting view–an absolute all or nothing. I just don’t see it as all or nothing.

    Now I’ll say this: I do agree that the money could probably (surely) be put to better use (at least in my own view). But the decision having been made to do this, the work seemed to have been done fairly well, all-in-all. Has some value been returned to the area? I think so–though you’re right…there are better uses.

    OK, perhaps it’s a well-done waste of money…I’ve seen worse.

    I’m puzzled as to what I have said that is arcane: I’m certainly no master of such.

  41. “The niggling nasties don’t seem to understand the concept of de minimis.”

    “The Big-Endians seem to be out and about on this.”

    I just find it odd that you would choose to casually toss either of those phrases into what you wrote above. If there was a point to your choice of wording, my feeble brain has not been able to figure it out.

  42. My god you all are a picky bunch. Having issues with a huge job that is one month past a date is the least of your worries. Complain about important stuff like poverty, homelessness, crime. Worrying to this agree about about the status of a restoration project is sad.

  43. Tim, you can find plenty of poverty, homelessness and crime on the mall. :)

  44. Oh dear–what I thought was a rather mild rebuke for going the much ado route was instead an RPG. Sorry boss-of-me, I was trying to humorously say that I thought the fight was a bit over the top, based on the actual outcome of the project.

    I’ve always lamented the fact that I have no sense of humor.

  45. You’re right there, Demopublican!
    @Tim Holmes
    “Complain about important stuff like poverty, homelessness, crime.” Why? How is complaining going to solve those problems? They have always been with us and always will.

  46. I’m complaining about my mayor writing something which seems a little far fetched in a public forum and either not being willing or not being able to document his claim.

    Norris is supposed to be the good one on council according to popular wisdom? I’m still really jonesing (does that get capitalized?) to have a gander at Mr. Halprin’s letter of praise. Why isn’t on the City’s Mall blog?

  47. “Boss of Me” — your earlier posts were dripping with so much sarcasm and disdain that it seemed futile to even bother responding. You also implied that anything short of Halprin showing up and giving the renovation project his blessing in person was not going to convince you of anything. And it’s true that Halprin has not been here to see it in person. But he has followed the renovation project via and we received a note from his longtime design partner, Dee Mullen, last month which said, “Larry and I just took a walk through the website and were greatly impressed. The work looks fabulous and the obvious community outreach was inspiring. We loved the explanations and the attention given to including and thanking everyone. Kudos and thanks for keeping us updated!!!
    Larry and Dee”

    I took that as a pretty good sign that Halprin approves.

  48. Mr. Mayor, I sincerely appreciate your taking the time to answer. You were correct though in assuming that I would regard that as fairly weak praise from Mr. Halprin, especially since it actually came through someone else and neither of them has seen it in person. Now if we could only get a note from Paul McIntire…

  49. There seems to be varying opinions on the Mall, but it’s done and there are immediate, important issues before the City such as the school drop-out rate, McIntire Park, and the Water Supply. I am heartened by the level of civic engagement in our town. We can all be proud.

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