ON ARCHITECTURE- Brick-a-brac: City to sell old Mall bricks to the public
Update 2/5/09: The City has made a decision on what to charge for the bricks at the surplus property sale tomorrow: $5 each and you can buy up to 10 bricks.
“Only a small portion of the bricks will be sold in this manner,” says Luchard. “The majority of the bricks will be sold either by Invitation for Bids or by online auction.” Luchard also says that one local citizen has expressed interest in buying 10,000 bricks.
City planners have finally made a definitive decision about what to do with the Downtown Mall's old bricks. While most of the damaged ones will be ground up and used for trail cover, says planning chief Jim Tolbert, thousands of intact bricks will be sold to the public online and at the City's monthly surplus property sale, which is held on the first Friday of every month.
According to Jennifer Luchard, the City's procurement manager, demo crews have been stacking intact bricks on pallets and will haul them down to the City Yard on 4th Street. Luchard says they hope to have some ‘unclean' bricks– those with mortar still attached to them– available for sale there on Friday, February 6, from 12pm to 3pm, with pallets of clean bricks available beginning next month.
Luchard says there has been considerable interest in the bricks, from individuals who simply want a single brick, to contractors wanting several pallets to use for their projects. Luchard says they are still debating how much to charge for the bricks.
At one point, the City had considered offering the old Mall bricks to merchants as a giveaway to customers for shopping at their store, but that idea never made it past discussion. (And given the upheaval the project has caused, you could forgive merchants for never wanting to see another brick again.)
At City Council's Monday meeting on February 2, a PR campaign was unveiled that will place signs with affirmations about the Mall project all over town, with such phrases as "We're hitting the bricks so you can too," "These bricks are made for walking" and "We'll have you back on the bricks in no time."
But some merchants wonder if affirmations will be enough.
"The Mall merchants are taking a terrible beating," Cynthia Schroeder, owner of the clothing store Spring Street, told Council. "...the Mall is like a ghost town right now."
Schroeder said she worried about the number of vacancies on the Mall and hoped that downtown landlords and the City would do something to stimulate occupancy. Indeed, on a stroll down the Mall recently, the Hook counted at least 11 vacant retail and office spaces.
Ghost town or no, the city's anticipating a booming retail biz in bricks.
"We want to try to sell them in small amounts, for people who just want a piece of history or add to their patios, "says Luchard, "but we're also going to sell them in larger lots."
The larger lots, says Luchard, will be sold on the government surplus auction website Govdeals.com. There is also a plan to invite bids on sections of the brick that have yet to be removed, selling the spoils to the highest bidder.
Luchard says the city has already salvaged an estimated 8,000 clean bricks, but did not have a count yet on the unclean bricks, many of which have yet to be removed. There are an estimated 375,000 bricks on the Mall, and as city planners said before the project began, 80 percent of them appeared to be in good shape.
Indeed, some– including City Councilor Satyendra Huja– felt that the bricks were in such good shape that they should have been re-used for the $7.5 million project itself.
"First, we need to use the bricks we have, clean them up, and reuse them," Huja said last June, before eventually approving the project. "This will save money and preserve the character of the Mall."
At a packed public meeting on the project last July (Tolbert said it was the biggest crowd that had ever assembled at City Space), most felt that the exiting Mall bricks simply needed to be repaired.
The biggest applause of the evening, along with a few hoots and hollers, went to City resident David RePass, who questioned the basic rationale of the project.
"We have been told that the Mall renovation, quote, ‘will preserve the original design.' Well, that's not true," he said. "A fundamental part of the design has been discarded: the mortar between the bricks."
The new bricks are being laid in sand, without mortar, which city planners have said will make them easier to install and maintain.
"It scares me that you didn't think of reusing the existing brick," said another speaker at the July public meeting, his voice rising in indignation as he pointed out that most of the bricks, according to the city's own planners, were in good condition.
As Tolbert predicted, many of the old bricks are being destroyed or damaged by the removal process, which, in the interest of keeping the five-month project on schedule, has involved scraping them up with a small back hoe and piling them into a dump truck with a front-end loader. But now that the decision to sell them has been made, crews appear to be handling their removal more carefully.