Moving Mall: Downtown set for mega-changes

Ten years ago, plans to put an amphitheater on the Downtown Mall were all the rage. Now, thanks to $6.5 million in federal funds for a transit center, the City is contemplating a total overhaul of its vaunted pedestrian paradise to include– what else– an improved amphitheater, as part of what's to be called "Presidents' Plaza."

On Tuesday, February 18, the City unveiled the transit center plans, and a day later, the City-authorized steering committee huddled to plot its next move.

Charlottesville has just spent $381,827 on a Philadelphia consulting firm that recommends a unified approach. With a federal grant of $764,155, the firm, Wallace Roberts Todd, will move the following concrete proposals into "phase two" of its transit center/amphitheater planning:

* new trees

* new vendor rules

* new trash cans

* eliminating Seventh Street as a Mall crossing

* adding up to 7,500 square feet of retail space

* new lighting

While that last item will certainly anger developer Lee Danielson– whom the City once ordered to install lights compatible with its own '70s-era light fixtures– it's the amphitheater that may hold headlines the longest.

Already the name of well-known band manager and concert promoter Coran Capshaw has been raised as a possible operator of an expanded amphitheater, but Capshaw was unavailable to the Hook for comment.

City planning director Jim Tolbert says Presidents' Plaza will serve as a "gateway" to downtown. Unveiled in 1976 and at least thrice lenghtened, the Mall stretches 10 blocks from the Charlottesville Ice Park to a legal publisher house now called Matthew Bender.

Tolbert says the recent switch from clay bricks to ersatz brick- asphalt at the Second Street automobile crossing is just a temporary fix. No City funds have yet been allocated for the planned Mall overhaul.

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