Talk of DTM decline and demise a familiar story

Christmas concert on the DTM — 1993. Photo by Steve Ashby.

Once again, there’s been talk about The DTM’s decline and possible demise…about how economic circumstances, recent events, development, and alleged city planning bungling is hurting the downtown mall area. After writing about The DTM for a number of years, one thing I’ve noticed is that it’s decline and demise as been predicted pretty much since it was built, and has continued to be predicted over the decades since then, and yet….and yet…as businesses come and go, and as complaints come and go, the DTM keeps going on, evolving, thriving, defying the perceptions of the day. See timeline below:

  • In 1980, Fashion Square Mall opens, luring downtown businesses and customers, and many think it will spell the end of the downtown pedestrian mall.
  • In 1985, the downtown is struggling so much that the city funds and opens a 209-room hotel, which is today the Omni.
  • In the late 1980s, Eugene, Oregon; Kalamazoo, Michigan; and Fayetteville, North Carolina are among the dozens of cities digging up their failed pedestrian malls.
  • In 1990, a brutal murder in front of the current Bizou space paints the mall as a dangerous place to be.
  • In 1994, many believed the proposed mall crossings would ruin the mall. Sign-carrying protesters urged “Save the Mall”
  • In the summer of 2007 a series of seemingly random attacks in and around the Downtown Mall sparked fear and outrage in the hearts of Mall visitors, many calling for increased police presence and cameras.
  • In 2007, a popular Italian restaurant on Water Street, La Cucina, closed when the WaterStreet building went up around them. At the time the owner said, “Unfortunately, it’s going to be hard for small restaurants to make it in Charlottesville in the next few years. Rents are so high, and buildings are so expensive, that only chains or restaurant groups can afford to move in. It’s going to be an interesting few years for restaurants in Charlottesville.”
  • In 2008, many were worried that the difficulty of finding parking on the mall was going to hurt business. “It’s a game that’s a huge problem,” said then Downtown Business Association president Bob Stroh says, “people downtown moving their cars every two hours. It just doesn’t work, doesn’t free up space. Eventually, it’s a problem the city will have to address.”
  • In 2008, mall merchants banded together and demanded that the city put a halt to a $7.5 million re-bricking project because they feared it would disrupt and damage their businesses during a difficult economic time.
  • In 2009, after the re-bricking project commenced, the Downtown Business Association asked the city for money to help struggling mall merchants. “I’m concerned about the struggling merchants on the Mall in difficult economic times, and the ongoing construction,” Cynthia Schroeder, owner of the downtown clothing store Spring Street, told Councilors on Monday. “The merchants are taking a terrible beating from the construction…the Mall is like a ghost town right now.”
  • In 2012, representatives of the North Downtown Neighborhood Association completed a 36-page report, based on several surveys, which concludes that homeless panhandlers and “groups of idlers” have “seriously deteriorated” the quality of public life at an “important and vibrant public meeting place.”
  • In 2017, Spring Street Boutique owner Cynthia Schroeder tells C-Ville Weekly, advocating a city marketing plan to bring locals back downtown, that “Locals have a bad perception of the mall —that it’s “dangerous, dirty and filled with homeless people asking for money.”


David McNair View All →

writer. journalist. editor

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