One outcome of the July 21 City Council vote to move forward with the $7.5 million rebricking of the Downtown Mall was the mandate from Councilor Holly Edwards to Neighborhood Development Services Director Jim Tolbert to explore ways to incorporate local residents into the renovation workforce.
“I would hope there are employment opportunities,” she said, urging the creation of a “true sense of economic justice throughout the city.”
Moments earlier, Edwards teared up as she discussed the recent killing of a 19-year-old on Sixth Street SE, near public housing. “We have to get back in touch with what’s important and what we value, but we seem to miss that until there’s a loss in the community,” she urged. “I want us all to take advantage of this moment to decide what we all can do, what we all can do to create a sense of community in every neighborhood.”
Karen Waters, executive director of the Quality Community Council, pushed Council to request local workers for the Mall rebricking.
Edwards’ comments had followed those of community activist Karen Waters. “It’s easier to get a gun than a job in this community,” she said to Council. “Let’s find a way local people can do the work—young people, homeless and felons.”
While she has just finished up a term on the city’s housing commission, Waters is also the executive director of the Quality Community Council, an organization founded in 1999 that is a “citizen-driven community coalition dedicated to improving the quality of life in Charlottesville’s most challenged neighborhoods,” according to its website.
“I’m in the community every day and I see the needs every day,” Waters says. “I get asked at least once a day if I know where there’s a job.”
So the notion of using locals in the rebricking effort “seemed like a no-brainer,” she says. “We have a vacuum in terms of well-paying blue collar jobs.”
The Downtown Mall will keep 4"x12" bricks, as shown on the left, but lay them without mortar, as shown on the right.
While her suggestion may appeal to common sense, it is not necessarily easy to implement. Concerns about meeting the Mall’s five-month construction schedule led Council to pull back from requiring contractor Barton Malow to implement workforce development. Still, Tolbert says he will formally ask the construction company to try and hire as many locals as they can. “We want to make sure that the contractors explore using a local workforce,” he says. Barton Malow declined to comment for this article.
“Shame on you if you don’t make it accessible,” Waters says of the rebricking effort. A mere instruction to explore the option will not satiate community advocates like her who want concrete action now, and are holding city officials, Barton Malow and the entire community accountable. “At a certain point, it’s on us as citizens not to accept excuses,” she says.
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