Miracle Mall? Re-bricking project almost done

onarch-slabWhile most of the Mall was open to pedestrians on Friday, May 8, this section in front of Escaf©–- needing replacement of its uneven slab–- is still under construction.

Back in August, one long-time Downtown business owner expressed some skepticism about the proposed timeline for the $7.5 million Mall renovation project. Though the business owner hoped the project would go as planned, he said "if they get it done in that time frame, it will be a miracle."

Apparently, we have a miracle on our hands. While there are still a few things left to do, and–- in one case–- undo, a majority of the project, which commenced on January 4, has been finished on time and 15 percent under budget, says neighborhood development chief Jim Tolbert.

Tolbert credits Barton Malow, the general contractor for the project, the MMM Design team, and the "great cooperation" between his staff and the downtown merchants and property owners for the success of the project.

"I think this is a model of how to do projects in the future," he says.

"We went through a long process of public involvement," Tolbert told City Council at its May 4 meeteing. "The thing I'm probably proudest of," Tollbert said, "we told folks we'd start on January 4 and finish on May 1. And they thought we were nuts."

Tolbert's not kidding. At a packed public hearing last June, nearly 150 people showed up to voice concern about the proposed $7.5 million Mall renovation, a culmination of months of public scrutiny over the design, cost, and necessity of the project. A majority who spoke at the hearing opposed replacing the bricks and wondered why the city couldn't just fix the old ones, and one speaker called the notion of a five-month timeline "insane."

If critics of City's pace may have to eat crow, some crowing about getting the project done on time may be a little premature. For instance, construction continues in front of the Omni hotel and the skating rink, where workers replaced a concrete slab that bowed like "a turtle's back," according to Tolbert.

onarch-bandingOoops! Misaligned truncated domed bandings, designed to warn pedestrians of vehicles, will have to be re-set.

"There was no way to get the granite and the bricks to lay properly," explained Tolbert, "so we just dug it up and re-poured."

In addition, two misaligned strips of  "truncated dome banding" at the Second and Fourth Street vehicle crossings, which are designed with protruding knobs to alert pedestrian feet, will need to be reset. Tolbert says they would be fixed "soon."

Tolbert also notes that planters, benches, bike racks and tree lights have yet to be re-installed, and that work refurbishing the fountains will occur in the next couple of weeks.

Chris Weatherford, the project manager for Barton Malow, says they're waiting for more input about preferred locations for the benches before laying them out, as they will be attached to the Mall surface. He also said that the company is preparing to re-brick and repair Second Street SE–- the side street that runs beside the unfinished Landmark Hotel–- a project that Tolbert says should be finished this summer.

And what's with the rusty grates around the trees?

"They'll be that way for about three months," says Tolbert, " and then they turn to a bronze/black color and stay that way.  If you treat or paint them, it ruins them forever."

And what about those single granite bricks scatted around?

"The single granite bricks are marking the fire lane and caf© corners and vendor locations," says Tolbert. "They were always part of the plan."

Weatherford says the Mall project should be "finish finished" by May 29 for the scheduled re-dedication ceremony at Central Place.


Unbelievable waste of money, and the loss of productivity among mall employees is almost impossible to measure. Perhaps a loss of two million in my establishment. The incessant vibration of the entire building for three months was unbearable.

As one person said, "The new bricks look a lot like the old bricks."

If the tribal elders want to do anything to improve the mall, ban all smoking on the mall. Since they can charge restaurants for spots on the mall they are allowed to institute rules. No outdoor smoking. No indoor smoking. Perhaps the mall would no longer be the springboard to cancer for the kids.

what about fixing the crappy job the city did on north third street? isn't that part of this job? it is really shoddy work and now the pattern doesn't match the rest of the mall.

You've gotta feel for the city. The bricks are falling apart? People complain. Plan to fix the bricks? People complain. Fix the bricks on time and under budget? People complain. I realize it's the American way to complain about your government, but jeez, people...

As for me, I think the mall looks fantastic. Sure, the whole thing costs money. Running a city costs money. The mall needed work. It's done. Get over it.

I agree with Andrew! Those guys down there have been working their butts off and going in every weekend to finish this up on time. Charlottesville just loves to whine.

"it’s up to the government to decide how it would like to spend its spare money"

Like hell it is! As if that "spare money" were the government's in the first place! It is taken for what are supposed to be good reasons and government certainly should be held accountable to the public for what it does with tax dollars.

The city wasted a hell of a lot of money on the Mall project. There are no two ways about it. There was no good reason why "Historic Downtown Charlottesville" needed to have millions of tax dollars spent on a facelift which nearly wiped out and certainly would have completely wiped out one of the most historic things about it, which is Lawrence Halprin's design for the Mall. Public outcry against that was the only thing that got us the mediocre results we did get. It is far too soon to forget that and let the people who caused that problem in the first place by neglect get away with it scott free.

The idea that someone ought to move rather than participate in a public discussion about the shortcoming of local government is very close to the most ridiculous thing I have ever read in a Hook comment, and that is saying something!

Better people have a place to complain than going out to shoot each other --keep complaining it's good for the lungs

Sorry, that should read When "did" our standards for miracle whip drop so low.........:)

Unfortunately the finished product is boring and a disgrace to the wonderful Halprin design that the City was so fortunate to have. What a surprise in a City with a renowned architecture school and many wonderful architects and historians that they would let this happen to the centerpiece of their City. Very sad

I would agree with Andrew, Optimistic, and Madeleine too. If I knew they were city residents and helped pay for the bricks. I'm willing to bet 2 of the 3 don't even live in the city. Maybe all 3 don't.

1610-B Monticello Avenue. I've been a resident of Charlottesville since 1991. I own my own home. I pay taxes. I vote at Clark School. I'm proud of my city, and most of the way it operates.

Any of the whiners on this board want to stand up and identify themselves?

OK, so I lied. I don't agree with you. The fresh new brick destroyed what little charm was down on the mall in the first place. The rustic aged look was more appealing in my opinion.

When our standards for miracles drop so low? :)

I don't quite understand the Hook's sudden change of heart about the mall project....only a few months ago, it was a major critic of the project:


...even going so far as to splash high school-ish nicknames (Overrun O'Connell) in multiple issues, because of it. Strange coverage, to say the least....

I'm with Andrew. It seems like in Cville the city's pastime is to complain. You're damned if you do here, and damned if you don't. You can't win, no matter what. People just love to complain here I've noticed. Lot of people who apparently have too much time on their hands.

As far as the recurring issue of whether the rebricking was an unbelievable waste of money or not - (and this soapbox ramble isn't directed at anybody here specfically, I'm just responding to a point that was mentioned in passing in the article) many opponents of the project have lamented that the money didn't go towards helping the homeless or others in need. I'm not a cruel person, however..........people need to take responsibility for themselves. I moved to Cville 4 1/2 years ago and it never occurred to me, or anywhere else I've lived for that matter, that a government "should" take care of me with their spare money. If a government, local, state or federal, has spare money, then it's up to the government to decide how it would like to use it. It does not somehow automatically become "mine." A case of, "Oh, you have spare money? I'm entitled to it!" And meanwhile, it's up to me to take care of myself. ie, find a job, and make my own money and provide for my own needs. And if I can't, I have nobody to blame but myself. So when I saw people whining about how the money wasn't used for the downtrodden, it just flabbergasted me.

I realize some will say the money could have been used for other, more useful projects that aren't welfare-oriented, but to that I say, again, it's up to the government to decide how it would like to spend its spare money. If they want to improve bricking, that's their choice. If they want to funnel it into other causes/projects, that's their choice.

In the end I always say - if someone doesn't like how their city handles things...............move. Go someplace else where you'll be happier. If you think the grass is greener someplace else, then by all means do everybody a favor and go there. Because that's another mindset that flabbergasts me. People who expect the world around them to conform to their own personal wants and desires. The mindset of, "Everything revolves around me." And throwing temper tantrums when they don't get their way, and everybody doesn't conform to how they think things should be. If I don't like where I'm living, if some area doesn't work for me, I move. Period. I don't complain, I don't throw childish temper tantrums. I leave. Like a roaming nomad. Buh bye.

Anyway, off my soapbox.

When our standards for miracles drop so low?


When the Messiah was elected president? I was told he'd walk on water, raise the dead and solve all of our problems. Its all about lowering your expectations these days.

Halprin's simple brick floor and tree canopy are the design elements that made the Mall a great urban room. I am saddened by the addition of tree grates to that floor. Previously, the brick pavement met the tree trunks and gave the impression of a continuous floor from building face to building face. Now that surface is cut up and complicated by the grates, and the raised junction boxes near the light poles. These changes would not have been allowed in a thoughtful renovation. I hope that when the willow oaks are replaced--and that needs to be planned as their decline will make the Mall uncomfortable and monotonous--a landscape architect will be hired to re-detail or replace the inventive cantilevered paving surface that Halprin designed in the 1970s.