Timely submission? City launches design contest for Mall clock

kioskThe old Mall clock was a familiar, if innaccurate, timepiece on a kiosk, which the City discarded.

"Hey, meet you at the clock," could be a phrase on the lips of Downtown Mall visitors next year, as the city recently announced plans to sponsor a design contest for a $25,000 urban timepiece that would honor Charlottesville's relationship with its three sister cities.

"The idea for a clock came from research and visits to great urban spaces around the country and world," says Neighborhood Development chief Jim Tolbert. "Many have a clock as a key feature, and usually there is some theme to the clock."

It’s not the first time the city has sponsored a design contest for something that may or may not get built. Last time, it was a $150,000 design contest to generate ideas for the development of the Water Street parking lots, a contest that attracted firms from as far away as Spain, but has so far convinced no developers to take the plunge.

This time the contest is open to students and professional architects, artists, planners, and designers, anyone who has an idea and a design for a clock that could be built for $25,000 or less and somehow pay tribute to the sister cities. The winner gets a $1,500 cash prize; second place gets $1,000, and third gets $500, even if the clock is never actually constructed. Ultimately, City Council must approve the construction of the clock.

"If council approves, we would hope to use left-over Mall funds,” says Tolbert, referring to the money set aside for the Mall re-bricking project, which Tolbert has said came in under budget. “ The perfect timeline would be the first of the year."

The deadline for submissions is October 23. An official jury made up of community members will judge the entries, but like the Water Street contest, the entries will also be put on public display for a “people’s choice” vote.

City staff appear to be taking a page out of Harvey Rubenstein's book Pedestrian malls, streetscapes, and urban spaces, in which he says that clocks not only serve a useful function on pedestrian malls, they can act as a landmark and focal point. Indeed, the clock on top of the old Mall kiosk, a landmark on the Mall for years before it was removed and sold, may have never told the correct time, but it always drew one's eye.

"I think that the City is wise not to promise that any of the submissions, winning or otherwise, will necessarily be built," says Board of Architectural Review member Syd Knight, who thinks the project could be interesting if some good ideas are generated. "I've seen some competitions where all of the entries, including the winner, are not of a caliber to be erected for posterity. "

"It could be good if a good design is forthcoming, “ says UVA architectural historian Richard Guy Wilson. “...or it could be silly.”

"These can be the small details that enrich the urban environment," says architect Gate Pratt, a fan of civic art, " and create local character."

"If we're fortunate, we could have a chance to add an exciting element to the Mall," says Knight. " If not, well, it doesn't hurt to try."

Of course, some are bound to question the wisdom of throwing more money at the Mall, especially $25,000 on an “idea” for a clock after spending $7 million for new bricks and recently approving an $800,000 streetscaping Second Street

"I think it's a really poor way to spend 25k,” says frequent Mall visitor Kevin Cox, “but I am sure they'll do it anyway.”


Can't we have a needle or maybe a needle with a large clock in its globe? All of the great cities have some kind of spire.

A $25,000 clock won't work for long. It should cost 20 times more. And it should have people coming out of it, striking an anvil hourly. Symbols of each city should be a 3,6, 9 and midnight with cuckoo birds popping out each cityen its hour comes by. Of course, the glove holding the clock hould rest on the back of a dragon's hump back.

Sorry, the globe holds the clock. And at night the eyes would shine like a beacon revolving vertically.

Can you guys stop spending money.... I'm going to have to find ways to cut out paying taxes in Cville if you dont.
Charlottesville "World Class My Ass"

Use you heads Hey Tolbert you make $120,827 a year you can pay for the clock. Yea the Free Info Act is a great thing you too Mr Gary O'Connell $174,658 a year of MY money remember you work for US (me)

How about plugging in the clock already on top of the kiosk, shown in the photo? They can put a sign under it saying: "This Clock has has been plugged in by the very same hand of a City Councillor which signed off on overseas junkets to visit our growing family of (so far) THREE SISTER CITIES, each in picturesque vacation places visited at taxpayer expense." That sign should cost about $5. Not counting the junket.

The remaining $24,995 can be spent on a congratulatory dinner for whoever came up with the clock idea.

How about fixing the fountains first. This seems to be a total waste of money.

Well, it's about time that those of us who live and work in Cville let the cat out the bag. I know it's been a secret for years and it's been all the Sups could do to keep it hush hush, but growing behind city hall is tree that sprouts money, day after day after day. Members of city council take turns every night plucking 100 dollar bills and making secret deposits so the well don't run dry.Whoever can pick the most stays on the board the longest, and vice versa. Ring any republican bells. So everyone watch out cause now other towns will find out and want to steal the magic tree.

I think the city should establish a committee to explore this With the caveat that the committee could spend no more than $ 25,00 to explore the pros and cons of the idea

We need a clock that every hour on the hour sprouts a coukoo that that says "time for the government to stop wasting taxpayer money".

95% of the people have cell phones. 100% of the phones have clocks built in.

How about spending the money on bus tickets to send the homeless rabble to Atlanta....

Sell pot out of the kiosk and cville will have a budget surplus in six months.

since the clock is outdoors only an hour hand will be necessary

it should be a seven day clock so we can acquire up to seven sister cites

please reserve tuesday for belgium

A clock really isn't necessary. Like somebody else pointed out, most people have cell phones, and cell phones have built in digital clocks. Those that don't have cell phones, like me, probably have watches. If you're going to spend $25,000, then do it for something that's absolutely a must. The city needs to *differentiate between a need, versus a want* in the same way that everyday folks do when managing their own family's budget. "Is this a need? Can we live without it?"

Just my 2 cents. Not that anybody's listening.

How does Jim Tolbert keep his job?

Same amount the city and county are spending to get an estimate for the cost of the necessary pipeline for the 50 year water project that will run from the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to the Ragged Mt. Reservoir. This estimate needs to include a route, cost of electricity, pumping stations, de-sedementation, land and possible condenmnation lawsuits not to mention the actual cost of engineering the pipeline itself. It is critical to get this estimate nailed down and yet they have only allocate 25K and now they are throwing the same amount at a clock ?

I propose a committee to determine the effectiveness of the City's many committees. Of course, we'll also need a committee to keep an eye on that committee. The budget will be whatever the city collects from parking fines after paying the [whatever they are calling meter maids now], divided by the square footage of the Downtown Mall cafes times the square root of the number of days Gary O'Connell goes home and utters "I can't believe I get paid for doing this!"

Brainstorming on how to spend money is what our council does best.

I think a donated clock from one of our historic sister cities would be fine.

When the story was first reported by a local tv station, the clock was going to cost no more than $15,000. Now it's up to $25,000? Guess we had better hurry up with the dang thing. At that time Mr. Tolbert tried to make us feel better about such a ridiculous idea by pointing out that other cities have paid as much as $100,000 plus for a city clock. Why do we need to "honor" our sister cities? They should be honored enough to be called the sister of a "World class city." Why can't we have a sister city located in the United States within driving distance so the city council and school board members can call their visits a "staycation."

Maybe we could send the homeless on a tour of all of our sister cities.