Work begins on Mall "revitalization" project

Workers have begun putting up blockades and tearing up bricks at central locations on the Downtown Mall–Central Place, in front of the Downtown Grill and Mudhouse, just past the Nook–and now there's even a fancy blog to track the progress, complete with photos, images of the construction phasing, a mixed media display of the Mall's history, and press links...though any links to the many Hook stories that were written about the project appear to be missing... Update 1/6/09 3:12 pm: there is now a link to a Hook story on the website.


Why are perfectly good bricks being piled up as "demolition waste" to be crushed? I think the rebricking is an incredible waste of my money no matter how it is approached. It's completely outrageous to see perfectly usable brick going to waste like that.

I would love to get my hands on a few truckloads of them. What ever happened to letting citizens reuse them? They are perfectly fine to remain on the mall. They are more than fine for the uses I would have for them.

I agree I would love some bricks, let's call Mr. Tolbert tomorrow and see if we can find a more intelligent solution to re-use them.

The city isn't throwing the bricks away. The bricks are being recycled. Not for the mall, but for other city uses.

I've been told by the city that they will be discussing some alternatives to what to do with the bricks today. Originally, they planned to sell 8,000 of them, but that may change. They're talking about selling some, giving away some, and recycling others, and they say they "don't think" any will be thrown away. They also report that the bricks are coming up easier than expected. More details to follow.

ThatGrrl, If you look at the website that is linked to, there is a picture of perfectly good brick being loaded onto a truck with a caption saying that it will be ground for trail surfaces. Hell of a way to "recycle."

I also wonder why if the bricks are coming up so easily that they are being replaced at all. Doesn't that just point to the fact that the project is based on false premises? They just need to be fixed by a small crew who could be putting them right back down where they came from.

Who is writing the Brick blog--a City employee? How much time/wages are being devoted to this? I resent this misuse to taxpayer money.

It's just like Albemarle County going further into the red by the second--but leaving holiday candles on in the windows of the County Office Building throughout the holidays.

Pennies, perhaps, wasted in both cases. But these days, every penny counts.

Oh for the love of god. Really "How to Save $ in Cville?" This is your concern? The couple of hours someone spent plugging some things into a website template so that there's a good, centralized source of information for city residents and business owners who are directly affected by this project. That's a problem for you?

Think for a moment about the number of people who can access the basic information and photos on that blog that won't have to call city employees to ask questions. That won't have to go into city hall and take up valuable minutes of several employee's work days finding out what's going on with the re-bricking. This blog may single-handedly save the city's financial systems, now that I think about it.

It's "complaints" like this that create a noise level such that good, reasonable criticism and questions get lost in the din.

Looks like another group is objecting. I agree this is a ridiculous waste of tax payer money and should have been maintained along negating the need for this project. Like so many other things in the city. While the city manager garners national awards and AAA bond ratings the city has been crumbling. And we are destroying the work of a world famous architect Lawrence Halprin.

from the WINA web-site

Group Concerned about Mall Renovation

Posted: Jan 7, 2009 04:56 PM

Updated: Jan 7, 2009 04:59 PM
Group Concerned about Mall Renovation

The renovation project on Charlottesville's downtown mall is being criticized by a preservation group. They are raising concerns about what the improvements may cost the city, not in dollars, but in history.

Preservation Piedmont has worked to get the mall listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The renovation project could spoil that effort.

"The original character and aesthetic has been so changed in our view, in the preservationist view. It has been degraded by the plans for replacing every brick, eliminating mortar joints, and fundamentally changing the original character and aesthetic," stated Dan Bluestone with Preservation Piedmont.

City officials say the mall plan has been decided, contracted and started, and responding to Piedmont's concerns would only start a debate that's not worth having.

Reported by Tracy Clemons

Re above "City officials say the mall plan has been decided, contracted and started, and responding to Piedmont’s concerns would only start a debate that’s not worth having."

Well then, they shouldn't have "decided, contracted, and started" on this dumb project, should they? Perhaps they should have "thought" some more about it instead. Appalling waste of money and resources.

They'll grind up a bunch of perfectly good bricks, resulting in outrage from the public. Then Council members will suddenly become terribly concerned. But, YET AGAIN, it will be "too late" to do anything about it. Then it's going to be "Oops, sorry... well we'll know better next time."

The Mall re-bricking is just like the dam. They chose a stupid and ill-informed course of action, but they've now become all mentally invested in it. No matter how idiotic it turns out to be, they feel the need to just keep going in an increasingly disastrous direction. Business as usual. 2009 is shaping up to be the year of the Fiscal Trainwreck in Charlottesville.

Why does this City act after the fact so often.

Reality Check, you need to take a deep breath, you've gone off the deep end with your hyperbole. There's nothing perfectly good about those bricks, they were laid in a shoddy manner and it's a smart long-term investment to replace them and fix the other crumbling infrastructure on the Mall that desperately needs fixing.

Everyone on here is going to have to eat a whole lot of crow when this project comes in under budget, on time or early, and everyone says what an improvement the new bricks and infrastructure are and it proceeds to last for 30 or 40 years. Sometimes you have to think long-term and get out of short-term thinking.

There's no doubt that many of the bricks needed replacement. Many have become loose and are hazardous and not just to those in high heels. Bricks have badly chipped edges some are broken and a lot of the mortar is missing. The surface is uneven and full of trip hazards. I've stumbled unexpectedly several times. There is no question that the brick pavement needs work. But then again many of the bricks appear to be in good enough condition to be re-used on The Mall. Oliver Kuttner's suggestion of a small crew working their way up The Mall was a good way to get the job done, minimize disruption and save some money. The city disagreed with that idea and so now the work is underway. Today when I walked on the Mall I noticed how even the surface of the newer portion in front of City Hall is. It will be nice to see the entire Mall looking smooth and flat without mortar joints. It's too bad it couldn't happen for a lot less money. I saw them working this morning in the rain and it looks to my eyes as if they are making rapid progress. I hope that it comes in ahead of deadline and under budget.

What's that song " they paved paradise and put up a parking lot". If we want a totally smooth even surface we should just pave it. I'll bet the sand will have more problems than the mortar joints. Just look at the gaps between the bricks at UVA.

Unreality Check, all it takes to see what we are likely to get is a trip to 3rd Street or to the Court Square area.

3rd Street was really shoddily done. Halprin' s original Mall didn't have lots of tiny cut up bricks resulting from failure to simply lay things out correctly. You won't find that anywhere in the original brick work, yet 3rd Street is a mess of tiny angled brick bits. Those bricks are rectangular for heaven's sake. The street is a rectangle. What idiot decided to install the bricks at an angle? No wonder the project took so long!!

Whoever laid out 3rd Street also wasn't able to figure out how to line up the drainage channel there with the place made for it to join the one on Main Street. It looks like someone early in the design process flipped the drawing and it never got caught. I can't imagine how it was allowed to be completed like that, but it was a city managed project after all. People who've been around for a long time may recall that the CIty Hall Annex was built 4 ft. from where it was supposed to be. Whoops!

The lamp posts on 3rd Street weren't aligned correctly either with each other or the brick work. The bases on them are shockingly flimsy and were never installed correctly. I predict it will only be a year or two at most before they fall off and are either replaced or just left with exposed really ugly bolts. If that happens, the bricks around them will start to be knocked out of place. The utility boxes that were installed there are hideous, weren't sized in a module that relates to brick size, and caused a lot of bricks to be cut so they could be sloppily fitted around them. It won't be long before those little bits go missing or crumble.

Court Square has loads of problems. It started falling apart before it was even done. There is broken granite and brick all over. Some of that was even done by the installation crew and never fixed. There is sinking brick at crosswalks and crumbling asphalt around it.

There is no reason to expect anything but the same from what is being done to the mall right now. In fact, I would expect that the rushed schedule and scope of the job will mean that we will see much more in the case of the mall.

Unreality Check, of course it would be nice to have a brand new shiny Downtown Mall. But not now, especially when there are so many in need. I understand that that's comparing apples and oranges, but the fact remains that many people are upset about this, and for many different reasons. Many feel that this is the time for repair, not complete replacement of something that was built, at great cost, so recently.

As far as falling is concerned, better not travel outside the US any time soon. The rest of the world is filled with ancient streets and sidewalks, many of them with the potential for tripping, and yet the people manage to get through every day somehow.

You support a new Mall during the current economy. Fine, good for you. But not everyone has to agree with you, right?

checking back in to the real, I'll at least give the city props for not going with the people who gave us the 3rd Street renovation. Admittedly, there were a ton of unexpected problems involved in that project which made it more challenging than the mall renovation (no concrete slab underneath, surprise infrastructure issues), but comparing that project to this one sort of isn't relevant. Different people involved and more knowledge/planning up front. I don't know, well, anything about the Court Square project, but I'm pretty sure it involved a different group of people as well. For those reasons, I'm at least more hopeful that this project will come in early, under budget and with much better results than the two prior projects.

Court Square was done by city crews. 3rd Street too if I'm not mistaken. It was another contractor who put the City Hall Annex 4 feet from where it was supposed to go. One thing they all have in common is Jim Tolbert working under Gary O'Connnell ultimately managing the projects. This time we have added to the mix a company that got the job not because it was more qualified, or even local, but because it gave the lowest bid. And you say you are "hopeful?" Remember too, that it is Tolbert and O'Connnell who also deserve the blame for not having maintained the brick all along so that it wouldn't need replacement.

The city is in the process of destroying a design by one of the most prominent landscape architects of the 20th Century. It is like having amateurs tear down and rebuild one of Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings without even consulting the designer. The Halprin design is at this point about the only thing about the "Historic Downtown Mall" that is actually "historic." So long too that and so long to millions of wasted dollars. Sadly, if the projects I mentioned earlier are any indication, we won't be saying so long to problems with the construction, will will just be getting a whole new set of problems in exchange for the money and character lost.

Just now I was walking down the mall. As I came up to one of the areas that is being worked on I saw an older woman trip on the uneven bricks and go flying onto her face. Fortunately she didn't have any obvious, acute injuries. I'm glad that the bricks are getting fixed. It may not be perfect but I am certain that it's going to be a much better surface than what we have now. It'll also make a great surface for the chalk drawings done with chalk from the chalkboard. Picasso would be proud.
Kevin Cox

We should have been maintaining the mall from the moment it was built and there would be no loose bricks. I agree with Reality Check "the rest of the world is filled with ancient streets and sidewalks" and that's what gives those places character.

What are you saying? If the Mall had been maintained so that "there would be no loose bricks" it wouldn't have the character of ancient streets that you seem to think is so important. People fall in Rome and get hurt, is that a reason to oppose repairing the Mall? Arguing against repairing the Mall because other places have rough streets and sidewalks is nonsense. Some places have only mud paths, so what? The city has paid plenty for the medical costs of people who fall on rough sidewalks, cobblestone crosswalks and uneven bricks. The Mall can have plenty of "character" and still be safer at the same time.
Kevin Cox

Mr Cox- I'm referring to the exorbitant cost, right now, during a serious recession, simply because a few people trip and fall. I'm referring to the fact that the Mall needs, and has needed, repair and upkeep, not complete replacement.

I don't think that Charlottesville has the responsibility to idiot proof the entire city. No disrespect to the woman that tripped and fell today, but most people (of the non-litigious sort, that is) take responsibility for where they are placing their feet, watch out for hazards, etc. If they fall, and we ALL do from time to time, then they take responsibility for it and move on. That's how many of the citizens of countries outside the US manage to lead long lives-- despite their cobblestones and rough or non-existent sidewalks-- they exercise due caution.

Implying that people who trip and fall on the uneven bricks, sidewalks and cobblestone sidewalks are idiots IS disrespectful. Accidents happen, even to those of us who are careful. Unfortunately some of those accidents are terribly painful and often, with older people, are the beginning of the end of their lives. I know this scenario too well.

The city has reimbursed people for their medical costs and so has rightly acknowledged some responsibility for their accidents. I have a list of the reimbursements and most of them were not for very much money. I don't think anyone has ever gotten rich from a medical reimbursement from Charlottesville. I may be wrong but most people haven't gotten more than the cost of their treatment, if that.

I agree that the cost of repairing the Mall is high and that there may have been a better way to accomplish the needed repairs but the repairs are needed and we will all be better off when it's done.

Kevin Cox

The reality is, as one walks through the city, serious imperfections on the sidewalks are easy to spy. There are depressions, dips, and broken sidewalks everywhere. It is especially difficult to see these hazards at night. I feel very sorry for the lady who fell. I hope all goes well for her.

There are many cracks, dips and imperfections in city sidewalks but they can be repaired. Overgrown vegetation and unnecessary obstructions can also be hazardous. If you do know of a problem please call the city and tell them. They will often fix the problems once they are pointed out. They do have technical standards though, and not all the problems will be considered severe enough to merit repair. The Public Works number is 970-3830.
Kevin Cox

Kevin, thanks for providing the info. We have called and provided the city with various observations in this regard. Officials have been very helpful and willing. The probem they tell me, there is only $350,000 available per year to fix the sidewalk problems.

I would prefer to see some of the 7.5 million put toward sidewalk repair and much needed sidewalks where there are none and be spending small amounts over time maintaining the Mall as it was originally designed

Kevin, the term "idiot-proof" in no way implies that people who fall are necessarily idiots. It's a commonly used term, nothing more, that refers to taking something down to the lowest common denominator in order to eliminate liability. People do fall, especially the elderly. Frequently in their own homes. Been there, done that.

Once again, we're talking about $7.5 million here, which is an extraordinarily large sum of money. Once again, repair instead of replace.