When the Downtown rebricking project got underway, it was clouded by pervasive public skepticism about the city’s ability to get a project done on time and on budget, particularly following the Third Street debacle. Yet the rebricking is halfway to completion and, says city steward of the project Jim Tolbert, still on budget.
For daily updates on the Downtown Mall rebricking, read Brick Watch!
“We are on schedule and at this point the total construction dollars are in the range of $6 million,” says Tolbert, director of Neighborhood Development Services. Of course, that $6 million is in addition to $700,000 already spent on design costs, but what does that matter when you’ve already spent millions and have budgeted for more? For Brandon Collins, an original opponent of the project (of which there were many on account of the amount of money being thrown at the venture), it matters a lot.
“I think there’s an overall problem of using the resources in a productive way,” says the local musician. Collins made a plea to City Council back in December, suggesting a maintenance project instead of a complete rebricking and a redistribution of the project money to combat the city’s poverty issues.
Project managers say the Mall project would be even further along if not for issues on the brick supplier’s end.
“When you look at people living in Charlottesville and how they’re suffering, it seems the resources for bricks could have been used elsewhere.” Instead, the resources have been used on celebratory block parties, marketing materials, and outsourcing laborers.
“The thing I’ve noticed,” Collins says, “is the media emphasis on businesses getting through it. It’s not just the businesses—it’s the workers.” Restaurant workers in particular, he adds.
“The economy is bad anyway,” says Rapture owner Michael Rodi. “We’re just hanging on for dear life.” Rodi was an opponent of the project too, mostly weary of the effect it would have on Downtown businesses.
“My attitude has always been,” he says, “if they had to do it, they should do it by hiring local masons and repointing little areas at a time. But this wasn’t the best time to do it.”
“Best time” or not, the project keeps moving forward and without a hitch, save for a case of slow paver production—which rendered the 300 block east, which includes both Rapture and C-VILLE, dormant for most of last week. In fact, Barton Malow Project Manager Chris Weatherford has a laundry list of expectations for this week.
“Number one,” he says, “we’ll finish the 200 west block [the block with Mudhouse] in time for their block party.” Plus, masons will start laying some of the 50,000 pavers being delivered this week on the north side of the 200 west block in front of stores; the middle of the 300 block east will be finished; storefronts at the 100 east and west blocks (Wachovia to the Consignment House) will see some demolition; and Central Place will be finished. As in, really finished. Crews will fill the seven large, square-shaped holes on E. Second Street and in front of the currently defunct Landmark Hotel with six maples and a willow oak.
Recent media reports say merchants are happy with the progress, but the original naysayers remain unconvinced. “It looks better, I guess,” Rodi says, “but I kind of look around going, ‘Where’s the seven million again?’”
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