Take a seat?

Take a seat?

Dear Ace: Why can’t I sit where I want to on the Downtown Mall? What I mean is, why is so much of this public space taken up by private seating for restaurants? What’s the idea?—Paul Uppaskwat

Dear Paul: You cannot sit there because, as you sort of point out, other people rent the space! Ace doesn’t know you, but Ace has to assume you might object if he settled in for a long round of solitaire and a cool drink on your front porch without so much as a “by your leave”!
    (That said, Ace wants to assure you that most of his loitering has so far been largely without incident and that he is a very quiet  card player.)
    Anyway, where was Ace? Oh yes, trying to find someplace to sit free and easy on the 25 acres of pedestrian expanse we call the Downtown Mall, now celebrating its 30th year. Ace called his friends in City Hall, Ric Barrick, the official voice of Charlottesville, chief among them, and this is what they said: “Stop your bellyaching, there’s plenty of room to cop a squat.” Kidding!!! Barrick did not say that.
    Rather, Barrick reminded Ace that the City has plans to brick in the Mall’s side streets, which makes more Mall eventually, thereby, Ace presumes, reducing the ratio of leased seating to free space. Barrick further apprised Ace of the impending opening of Presidents Plaza, a.k.a. the Bus Transfer Station. “When we open [it] in November, we’ll see a big increase in capacity to sit,” he said.
    Yes, but for weary shoppers or those who merely need to grab a seat in order to concentrate on their people-watching, what are the current facts? “Pretty much any space that is not in the fire lane or main pedestrian walk space is considered potential café space,” Ryan Mickles, the City’s zoning inspector, says. Restaurants can rent a maximum of 800 square feet for $3 per square foot annually. That sounds like a good deal to Ace and indeed, some 24 restaurants lease space at present.
    That’s a lot of paid seating, Ace grants you, but still Ace cautions against your harsh characterization of the Mall. After all, without those charming umbrellas and attractive, pricey drinks to lure you Downtown, Paul, you probably wouldn’t be looking for a place to sit anyway.

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