Boxed in: 'War zone' on Mall hurting businesses

news-box-streetviewFor over two years, The Box and other business on 2nd SE have endured constant construction.

Chas Webster figured that by now there’d be a lovely outdoor patio space and a luxury hotel in front of his restaurant The Box on Second Street SE. Instead, he's looked out on what he describes as a “war zone” for over two years. And it’s taking a toll.

“Yesterday, I couldn’t even get into my own business,” he says, as the entrance to the building had been blocked off, allegedly without notice, by a construction crews under contract to the City.

“It’s ridiculous," says Webster. "The City promised this would take four months. Now it’s taken almost twice as long as it did to renovate the entire Mall.”

Indeed, while many Downtown businesses suffered during last year's multi-month re-bricking of the Mall, the Box and other businesses on Second Street SE have endured a special kind of torture.

Demolition of the old Boxer Learning/Central Fidelity bank building began over two years ago to allow construction of the 11-story tower. The subsequent renovation of Second Street SE means that businesses like The Box, Zabor Dance Studio, and Oyster House Antiques haven't had an open street outside their front doors for over two years. (And even when hotel construction ceased, the street was treated, with piles of debris, like a landfill.)

Last September, Hal Brindley, owner of Oyster House Antiques, accepted the notion that construction would “hurt for a little while." But his stoicism has turned to bitterness after the latest move: construction workers putting up yellow caution tape and signs announcing that the street was closed entirely.

“It’s like a stake through our hearts,” says Brindley. “Three-quarters of my business comes from people walking by the shop.”

Webster estimates he’s lost about $300,000 worth of lunch business due to the ongoing construction. He’s also lost his patience.

“People don’t want to come down here, and I don’t blame them,” says Webster. “I just lost $7,000 because a private party pulled out."

Webster opened the Box around the same time demolition began when his business was hidden down a tunnel of scaffolding. Since then, dealing with dust and debris inside his restaurant, lights out on the street at night, and flooding when it rains–- as the shell of the Landmark has become “an urban waterfall,” he says–- has made staying open an uphill battle.

"We’ve been robbed, vandalized; our windows have been kicked out. My delivery guys can’t access the restaurant." says Webster. "A customer got a screw stuck in his foot. I've had to fix barriers when they've fallen down. I don’t know how we’ve survived this long.”

“It’s certainly destroying our business,” says Edwin Roa, the owner of the Zabor Dance Studio above The Box. Like Webster, Roa recently came to work to discover he couldn’t get into the building. “They never notify us about things like this," says Roa. "It’s very frustrating.”

Webster says he has complained in vain numerous times to city officials.

“It's complete negligence on the City’s part,” says Webster. “We’re supposed to have 24-hour access to our building and be told in advance what’s happening.”

"We know that The Box has suffered and that they did so for many months before we started this project due to the hotel," says Neighborhood Development chief Jim Tolbert, who says the primary reason for the long delay is that "we have been held hostage by Dominion Virginia power's schedule."

"We have needed to wait on them on more than one occasion," says Tolbert. " Also, we found unknown utilities under the ground that we had to relocate and space is tight."

According to the City’s May construction report the project should have wrapped in May. A foreman on the site for Barton Malow, the design and construction company handling the Second Street project (and which re-bricked the Mall), says the work should finish in about two weeks.

In the meantime, the years of dealing with chaos outside his front door have taken a toll on Webster.

“It’s so frustrating, it’s just eating away at us,” he says. “I feel we’ve been pushed aside and slapped in the face."

Updated 6/14/2010 10:47am


with all praises to the troops and may god keep watching over you all fighting a war i just dont see fighting for the word say blessed is the peacemaker we need a protest in D.C.

Funny, I was thinking the same thing when I read this article - boo hoo, whiny, and take your whine elsewhere. Once again, rich white Americans who've never gone through anything, overdramatizing their experiences and likening them to situations they've never been in. A "war zone." Still makes me shake my head. Yes, complete with dead bodies, bomb explosions and random sprays of machine gun fire!

@ Boooo-

Your point is valid (America has become a land of whining 'victims'), but why the racism?


what a big ugly thing hate seeing it when i go to the downtown mall.

Hey Boooo,

If you are in fact from one of those "war zone" areas of the world, why don't you take your butt back there. Hopefully one of those random bombs will find it's mark and we won't have to listen to your racist whining anymore.


It was the private sector that caused this giant mess victimizing these small businesses. Where I get mad at the city is that they don't mind squashing one type of business in favour of another if the one they like fits in with their vision of 'coolness.' and they don't mind ignoring zoning guidelines or holding businesses to different standards to achieve it.

Witness the Y, witness Belmont.

"Yes, complete with dead bodies, bomb explosions and random sprays of machine gun fire!"

I know what you mean. I was playing modern warfare the other day and started having flashbacks of the game when I was trying to sleep. I was like, woooo dude I gotta get a life.

I'm sure it will be resolved eventually. Not everything in life always runs smoothly. If it did, what would be the point in reading newspaper websites? :)

I'm glad to see an article about this disaster(finally!). My office is right around the corner from this mess - it's been absolutely awful. In addition to making a mess, I've been very surprised that the businesses haven't left in disgust or bankruptcy.

hat was not included in the article was the noise involved - it's often dusty, incredibly noisy, often suddenly impassable and more workers stand and gawk at the women walking by than are actually doing anything constructive. And It's being going on literally for YEARS! 2 weeks more? - right - never going to happen.

Why are the bricks different than on the rest of the mall?

"Nope Phishy, not from a war zone area of the world. I’m just educated enough to be aware that they exist."

Really? So what level education would that be?

"If you are in fact from one of those ââ?¬Å?war zone” areas of the world, why don’t you take your butt back there. Hopefully one of those random bombs will find it’s mark and we won’t have to listen to your racist whining anymore."

Nope Phishy, not from a war zone area of the world. I'm just educated enough to be aware that they exist.

Duck! Someone's tossing another grenade on that war zone known as the Downtown Mall! (insert machine gun spray, screaming and people running amok splattered in blood.) Just another day on the Downtown Mall! What a war zone this place is I tell ya!

And "Boo Be More Sensitive"...I agree!

Hey Boooo without picking on you this time, why don't you just accept that the description of "war zone" was a bit hyperbolic and not have a calf over it.

When was the last time you spent money and took the chance to open a business and had it shoiked upon by thoughtless yobs?

When a business owner can't get deliveries, has dirt/sand/noise intrusion, and general, well let's say mid-level chaos in front of their establishment then it's a threat to livelihood. And lots of wars stem from little else at root.

Boooo hooo

Oh FFS...Go take that sorry rant on the Pacifica News Network will ya? Or better yet go join an NGO and get your whiny butt outa here.

Haven't you heard? There are at least 3 wars going on.

The War on Poverty
The War on Drugs
The War on Terror

They are all low intensity conflicts but they are real wars, complete with victims and billion dollar budgets!

ââ?¬Å?It’s complete negligence on the City’s part,” says Webster. ââ?¬Å?We’re supposed to have 24-hour access to our building and be told in advance what’s happening.”
Unless a City construction crew is doing this work, I place the blame for the street blockage and lack of notification on the construction company, not the City. The notification of nearby businesses should be part of the contract, shouldn't it?

Cvillelaw is right, at least about the hotel. My only issue with the City is how the project was not bonded to ensure completion, as multiple people have mentioned. Anyone have any insight into why this seems to be the case?

Per usual, the Hook is pitting citizens against the government...

@IWTB . . . small town, tiny minds

Hey, George, I like the sentiment and agree with you, but I think "Terry Teabagger" was being sarcastic. Sarcasm is hard to convey on the web; the medium doesn't lend itself to subtlety.

A towering abandoned monument to the arrogance of unelected delusional fat-bellied, power-mongering bureaucrats.

The reason that the hotel is sitting there with no action has nothing to do with City government, unless you blame the City for not privatizing the place and finishing it with taxpayer dollars. Which I am sure you don't...

Lee Danielson and Halsey Minor, and a now-defunct bank, are to blame for that fiasco.

Much of the delay in finishing the brickwork has to do with the fact that the private developers had promised to put up $100,000 toward the project costs. Obviously, they have not done so. The City decided to go ahead and finish it up, and we'll have to chase down the private developers for the money later. But at least it's a step in the right direction of getting the darn thing finished.

There are some valid points put forth by the business owners. However, $300,000 lost due to the business being closed during lunch is bunk. That money was lost because the owner of the restaurant decided to not stay open for lunch.

SAure, but if you feel the need to stop lunch to cut losses from lack of customers then the loss remains the loss. Perhaps you feel he should stay open, pay the labor costs and slowly bleed in cash and frustration?

Lets faced it, if the construction workers put in a good honest 5 hour day for their pay the job would be done.

If it ould only occur to the government dimwits that the "Downtown Mall" is by far the least important thing in the city.

Bulldoze the whole thing and let the private sector build something worthwhile.

born and live here all my life never been somuch mad at have city hall bureaucrats do things now dont care about people feelin nomore.

come off that obama nonsense the bible say do not put your trust in man we all to blame even me so what blaming going to do but harded your heart.

Why after all of the discussion about the brick style that was used on the Mall has this project gone back to using the shorter brick that doesn't match the rest of the brick used? Didn't someone in City Hall have a connection to the supplier of the shorter bricks? I'd really like to see a reporter follow the money trail on that.

I'm not hip to all the particulars here, but I do wonder why didn't the city require a completion bond for this project?

I've been noting "Terry Teabagger's" comments on different news items over the past few weeks and I've come to the conclusion that he (she?) is actually a liberal democrat writing such off-the-wall commentary in order to make the real tea party people seem even more strange than they really are...

Spoiled rich white Americans, likening things to a "war zone" only because they've never actually lived in one. (roll eyes.) You think an afternoon on the Cville downtown mall is a "war zone," maybe trade places with a Crotian in Yugoslavia circa 1990-91. Or any number of people in the world who have actually lived in true life-or-death war zones (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, various central American nations, various African nations, etc.), where their families have to scatter to the four directions with nothing but the clothes on their backs, hoping to someday meet up with each other again. If they live.

Yeah Chris Webster, the scene outside your little restaurant is "a war zone." Really? So where's the heavy artillary? The random bombs going off? People running and screaming? The blood? The dead people lying in the street? Maybe a better choice of words is in order? Maybe next time think before you speak? Just sayin'.

Most of do not care. Take that whine somewhere else.

cvillelaw: I agree with you that Danielson and Minor are to blame, but it does seem that they are at the heart of lots of different business conflicts. It seems that certain larger developers get a lot of attention and are allowed to bully to get things changed for their projects.

Then when it all falls apart, the taxpayer and other businesses are left to fix it.

I think we ought to start developing rules about developers being bonded to finish their projects. i don't mean some fiddley bond to finish a sidewalk, but like....70% of the project they are embarking upon. That way if their financing collapses, taxpayers aren't left to clean up the majority of the mess.

I think they should also now have to demonstrate a viable market for their business plan.

Here's one idea for lovers of statistics in our fair city and this company that has been "working" on this project ad infinitum:

A. How many employees have you seen actually working?
B. How many employees have you seen standing around watching
one employee actually work?
C. How many employees do you see working when the forecast calls
for precipitation is called for but not actually occurs.
D. How many employees have you seen leaning on the traffic
barriers to help keep them from falling over or the wind from
blowing them away on windless days?
E. How many of you believe that this a local company scam to
have employees work as slow as possible, and then blame the
for cost over-runs on too much traffic, too many people to
stop working and gawk at, too many airplanes with banners on
them flying overhead and having to stop working in order to
see what is spelled on them, etc. ad nausem.
F. How many believe that our wishy-washy city government should
grow certain male appendages, then put their feet down and
give this company of clowns an ultimatum to complete this
project, bricks included, in 30 days?

deleted by moderator

we going to start comparing SAT scores next? maybe penis size?

Access has been cut off without notice again today to The Box and the other business in that building.

1) I tried to go to the Box for lunch today and was unable to get to them - both sides were closed off for more construction. The funniest (sadest) part was that after I couldn't get there on one side and went to around the block to the other one of the construction guys suggest maybe I should go back to the side I started on and try there.

2) The city should have required a completion bond on the hotel. Their failure to do so is the only reason this mess is going to be a long term one.

From my perspective the city is directly responsible for not only the box's present woes but also for the hotel fiasco.