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City Council discusses possible Mall changes

The Downtown Mall, aged from 20 years of weather and traffic, soon may be getting a facelift.

Charlottesville City Council has been discussing whether to renovate the surface of the Downtown Mall for several years and recently hired a consultant to determine the urgency of the situation, Director of Public Works Judith Mueller said.

"We've known over the years it's been deteriorating," Mueller said.

The project would take about two years to complete and cost over $1 million, City Councilman Blake Caravati said.

But Council will wait for the results of the consultant's investigation before deciding to go ahead with the pricey renovation.

Mueller said she expects to know more about the consultant's investigation in a few weeks.

Charlottesville Mayor Virginia Daugherty said the project needs to be started soon because the Mall "is already in dire need of resurfacing."

Caravati said Council already has anticipated the renovations and has been setting aside money for the past three years to pay for the project.

"But it will be a couple of years before anything can happen" because of the high cost of the construction, he said.

The majority of the brick on the Downtown Mall surface dates back to 1976, though some portions are as new as 1982, he added.

Vice Mayor Meredith Richards said brick is a high-maintenance material and that the Mall's surface has had several decades of wear.

"It's in very serious need of replacement," Richards said.

Mueller said many other outdoor malls around the country built around the same time as Charlottesville's Downtown Mall already have renovated their surfaces.

If the city decides to renovate the surface, the project would be broken into phases to minimize disruption to Mall merchants, Caravati said. The city would not close the entire Mall at the same time.

The breakdown into phases "needs to be thought through very carefully," Daugherty said.

But some of the merchants said the repairs would be a poor use of city funds.

"If the city should put money into anything, they should put it into parking," said Sean Radford, manager of Bizou café on the Downtown Mall. "I've never thought once [that] it needed repair."

Bizou employee Michael Berry said repairs are not necessary, but perhaps the surface could be cleaned.

"The Downtown Mall [surface] is fine," Berry said.

Before beginning resurfacing, Council needs to decide what type of material to use -- actual brick or a cheaper, longer-lasting composite material that resembles brick.

Richards said some people are concerned about how authentic a composite material would look adjacent to the brick buildings on the Mall.

The Board of Architectural Review would have to approve any possible surfaces, she said.