A recent C-ville Weekly article seemed to suggest that if we wanted more chairs like the ones on the DTM the City would have to order new ones:
C-Ville Weekly: “…According to [City spokesperson Brian] Wheeler, if the community wanted to add more wooden chairs to the mall, or even “a different type of bench that was much longer, [that] you could lay down on,” the proposal would have to approved by the BAR.
The city would also have to allocate a significant amount of funding for the seating, says Wheeler. He estimates the wooden chairs on the mall cost $1,200 to $1,500 each, and says they are expensive to maintain….”
But, as the DTM just discovered, there are 16 beautifully restored mall chairs [not new ones] stored in a shipping container at the Parks & Rec facility at Pen Park. Another 10 unrestored chairs are stacked in a poll shed. Apparently the restoration of the chairs was ordered about a year ago. So why haven’t they been placed on the downtown mall?
According to minutes from a February 19, 2019 City Council meeting, interim City Manager Mike Murphy explained that specifications were made about where the benches would be re-installed after the 2008-2009 re-bricking of the Downtown Mall, but that “after several community meetings where concerns for public safety were discussed” then City Manager [Gary O’Connell] ordered the Parks & Rec Department to remove them from the mall. Indeed, at the time, there were concerns that having too much public seating invited increased vagrancy and loitering on the mall.
According to Parks & Rec staff the DTM spoke to, the old chairs [approximately 26 of them] were ordered restored and have been stored at the City’s Pen Park facility. No one appears to know why they were ordered restored or for what purpose.
The DTM contacted interim Parks & Rec Director Todd Brown and all City Councilors about the newly discovered chairs, but only heard back from Councilors Lloyd Snook and Michael Payne. Snook asked where the chairs were stored, and Payne expressed a desire to have them returned to the downtown mall. Neither of them knew the old restored chairs even existed.
“We should fulfill the initial vision for the Downtown Mall by including as many public benches/chairs and public spaces as possible,” says Payne. “Privately owned businesses were only a small part of Lawrence Halprin’s design/vision, yet that’s what now dominates almost the entire pedestrian mall.”
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DTM is maintained by Charlottesville journalist David McNair. Got a news item or new listing? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.