Free at last? Fridays future depends on Plaza

Charlottesville's beloved and beleaguered summertime tradition, Fridays After 5, faces another obstacle this season: construction of a federally funded transit center scheduled to begin in August.

Last year, bad weather plagued the financially challenged outdoor concert series, already reeling from the loss of corporate sponsors and an unpopular decision to charge admission for the first time in its 16-year history.

Now comes Presidents' Plaza, an ambitious project to revitalize the east end of the Downtown Mall with a 10,000-square-foot transit center, visitors center, and a revamped amphitheater.

Plans for the project– designed by Philadelphia-based Wallace, Roberts & Todd– were unveiled a year ago, along with a plan by the same architectural firm to eventually upgrade the entire Mall with new trees, trash cans, and lights.

"We're hoping to coordinate mass grading and utilities work in late August-early September," says Bill Letteri, city chief of facilities. A retail component of the project has been dropped, he says.

The $6.5 million project, which will close Seventh Street, does not include amphitheater upgrades such as terracing or concrete risers. That's going to be funded by a public/private partnership, and Dave Matthews Band manager/local real estate magnate Coran Capshaw is widely believed to be the private partner.

Trish Goodloe, president of the Charlottesville Downtown Foundation, which organizes Fridays After 5, is in negotiation with the city, and was hesitant to comment until a contract is signed.

She does say, "We're planning on running a normal season, maybe with an alternate location."

"I can't imagine we're not going to reach an agreement," says deputy city attorney Lisa Kelley. "There will be Fridays After 5 at least through August, and CDF has agreed to work with us to identify an alternate site."

Whether Fridays will charge admission this year is up to the Downtown Foundation, says Kelley, but she thinks it unlikely they will. Last year, because Fridays was no longer a freebie, the organization had to pay the city $3,000 per event, according to Kelley.

"We're looking for a spot to keep it safe and in the downtown area," says Kelley. "The last few concerts could very well be in a parking lot."

The 10,000-square-foot transit center will house a visitors center and a dry place to wait for the bus.


The new and improved east end of the Downtown Mall will be transformed into Presidents' Plaza, thanks to $6.5 million in federal funding.