2009 Mall Renovation Project

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The Charlottesville Downtown Mall underwent $7.5 million of renovations in the winter of 2009.

MMM Design was hired to developer construction documents and Barton Malow was hired to implement them.

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Planning for renovations

MMM engineers analyzed the utility infrastructure under the mall and found the lines were in decent shape, but that the lights and fountains were failing. They also found that the bricks laid in the mid-1970's were deteriorating because of the method by which they had been laid by R.E. Lee & Son in the mid-1970's. [1]

Design concepts were unveiled at a community meeting on January 28, 2008 that was facilitated by Becky Clay Christensen. [2] Nine people attended the first meeting. Two others were scheduled the following day.

At the meeting, Bob Stroh of the Charlottesville Parking Center and Christensen described tension regarding the idea of replacing the bricks on the mall. MMM officials pledged they would honor the original 1974 design of the mall by Lawrence Halprin, but they also wanted to implement features called for in a 2001 master plan of the mall developed by Wallace Roberts & Todd.

Initial concepts the featured water features and play areas for children, but these were later discarded. [3] Councilor Satyendra Huja stated he just wanted the mall to be repaired without new amenities. Councilor David Brown agreed. [4] Councilor Holly Edwards called on the renovation's engineers to create ways to embrace diversity into the urban fabric.

At a February 2008 meeting, project manager Joe Schinstock told City Council that the Board of Architectural Review required his firm to install the same 4" x 12" brick. He claimed at the time that those bricks were rare in the state and had to be imported from Nebraska. [3] Schinstock also explained the work would expand the fire lane from 14 feet to 16 feet. [4]

The BAR took up the question of brick size at their meeting on May 20, 2008. MMM architect Chris McKnight told the BAR the 4" x 12" bricks were too large and had become a tripping hazard. Instead, MMM's initial plan was to go with a 5" x 10" paver. The BAR sought more information on whether the mall's traditional herringbone pattern could be maintained under that configuration. [5] At this meeting, the BAR approved the replacement fountains and expressed interest in a plaza to commemorate the city's Sister Cities.

Meanwhile, other voices began to spring up in opposition of the project. Developer Oliver Kuttner wondered in The Hook if the city should simply spend $200,000 a year on masons to fix broken bricks. [6] Author Dave McNair contacted Halprin for his opinion. [7] Halprin urged the city to continue to use the same size bricks.

The project was also criticized by Elizabeth K. Meyer, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Virginia. She urged the city to retain as much of the Halprin design as possible.

At a work session in June, NDS director Jim Tolbert said he regretted the $7.5 million price tag for the renovations, but said the ability to install new utility lines meant that lights that were often dark could be restored. [8] Further consideration of new fountains stopped at this meeting. Tolbert also said a more local supplier had been found for the 4" x "12 bricks.

The big change was a decision to lay the bricks in sand, rather than mortar. Tolbert and Schinstock said this would make it easier to replace bricks, and would cause less wear and tear as bricks rock underneath the weight of feet and vehicles. [8]

Over 200 people attended a meeting in CitySpace on June 30, 2008 and asked several questions about the plan. [9]

On July 21, 2009, Council was asked to take a final vote on whether to proceed. Tolbert again explained many of the reasons to proceed, such as an ailing infrastructure. He explained why the existing bricks could not be "tuckpointed" and why MMM had opted to lay the bricks in sand rather than return to mortar. Tolbert also defended the continued existence of a $7.5 million estimate for the project, despite a shrinking project scope. He also announced a Design Assistance Committee would help oversee implementation. Council voted 5-0 to proceed. [10]

On August 19, 2009, the BAR ratified the design. Tolbert claimed that the original Halprin design had called for the bricks to be laid in sand rather than mortar. [11]

Preparing for renovations

Businesses were concerned about the disruption that would occur during construction. In October 2008, Council agreed to pay $50,000 towards a advertising campaign to educate the public about construction. [12]


  1. Web. Downtown showdown: Councilors, planners in Mall square off, Dave McNair, The Hook, Better Publications LLC, June 26, 2008, retrieved July 30, 2014. Print. June 26, 2008 , 726, .
  2. Web. Downtown Mall design concepts shared with community, Brian Wheeler, Charlottesville Tomorrow, January 28, 2008, retrieved July 29, 2014.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Web. Council says no to fountains on Downtown Mall, Sean Tubbs, Charlottesville Tomorrow, February 12, 2008, retrieved July 29, 2014.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Web. Council likes scaled back Mall renovation, Will Goldsmith, C-VILLE Weekly, Portico Publications, February 19, 2008, retrieved July 30, 2014.
  5. Web. Charlottesville BAR considers size of bricks for Downtown Mall revitalization, Ben Doernberg, Charlottesville Tomorrow, May 22, 2008, retrieved July 29, 2014.
  6. Web. Mall renovation: 'Simple' $7.5 million solution?, Dave McNair, The Hook, Better Publications LLC, May 28, 2008, retrieved July 30, 2014. Print. May 28, 2008 , 722, .
  7. Web. Mauling the Mall? Don't change the bricks: Halprin, The Hook, Better Publications LLC, June 5, 2008, retrieved July 30, 2014. Print. June 5, 2008 , 723, .
  8. 8.0 8.1 Web. Council seeks scaled back plan to renovate Downtown Mall, Sean Tubbs, Charlottesville Tomorrow, June 19, 2008, retrieved July 30, 2014.
  9. Web. Public pours in to comment on Mall renovation plans, Sean Tubbs, Charlottesville Tomorrow, July 2, 2008, retrieved July 30, 2014.
  10. Web. Council gives go-ahead to $7.5 million mall renovation, Sean Tubbs, Charlottesville Tomorrow, July 22, 2008, retrieved July 30, 2014.
  11. Web. Downtown Mall renovation will include new four by twelve inch bricks, Sean Tubbs, Charlottesville Tomorrow, August 20, 2008, retrieved July 30, 2014.
  12. Web. Council agrees to half of $100,000 request for Downtown Mall marketing effort, Charlottesville Tomorrow, October 9, 2008, retrieved July 29, 2014.