Downtown Mall

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Charlottesville's Downtown Mall is one of the centerpieces of Charlottesville. Created in the 1970's and open to the public on July 3, 1976, the pedestrian walkway has become a tourist destination as well as a defining element of Charlottesville's civic culture. It is bordered on the west end by the Omni Hotel, and on the east end by the Charlottesville Pavilion.


The mall was created as a way to revitalize the city's central core. City political and business leaders were concerned that the downtown area was declining due to retail developments such as the Barracks Road Shopping Center, which was growing at a much faster rate than downtown. [1]

Its origins date back to a recommendation made in late October 1959 by a subcommittee of the Chamber of Commerce. The Parking and Traffic Committee called for a study of removing pavement on East Main Street and restricting traffic to pedestrians. [2]

An organization called the Central City Commission was formed to explore ways to attract more people back downtown. The commission and City Council worked with the firm Lawrence Halprin & Associates to develop plans for what would become the mall. Council voted 2-0 to approve the plans on March 18, 1974. [3] Three members of Council had to recuse themselves because opponents of the project alleged they had a conflict of interest. [4]

There was significant initial opposition to the mall project, with it described as "a boondoggle, a $2 million mistake, [and] a gift to the ungrateful merchants of Main Street.[5]" Construction of the mall began on December 26, 1974. [6]


On several occasions including April 2003, Council has discussed whether rules could be set regarding panhandling. [7]

In late May 2018, Council voted 3-2 to spend $100,000 to study ways to improve safety at the two vehicular crossings. [8]

Mall Ambassador program

The City Council created the mall ambassador program at the end of 2012 as a way to provide more "eyes on the street" to deter crime on the Downtown Mall and to be a resource for tourists. The program was eliminated from the budget and it ended on June 30, 2016. [9]

Local Voices, Local History

VIDEO CREDITS: Narrated by Satyendra Huja;
Graphic design: Jen Fleischer; Project Manager: Kristin Rourke.

2009 Mall Renovation Project

The Mall was overhauled under a $7.5 million project that was subject to some debate. Wallace Roberts & Todd were commissioned to conduct a schematic design. [10]

On July 21, 2008 voted to proceed with a design being shepherded by MMM Design. The City promised that the work would be done in five months beginning in January, with the project being overseen by construction management firm Barton Malow. Block captains volunteered to help the City develop a construction schedule that minimized the impact on businesses.

Council also allocated $50,000 to help pay for marketing efforts to emphasize to the public that the mall will be open during the renovation. [11]

See 2009 Mall Renovation Project for more details.

Seating concerns

The original design for the mall called for 150 public seats that could be moved around. When the mall was renovated in 2009, around 30 benches with backs were installed on the Mall. Several of these around Central Place were removed in 2012 to deter vagrancy. In April 2016, the parks department appeared before the Board of Architectural Review to get their approval on replacement seats that would not have backs. The BAR did not support this and the parks department deferred their request. [12] The request came back to the BAR in April 2017 and the BAR voted to officially deny. [13]

Comparison to other pedestrian malls

There are other pedestrian malls in the United States. A group of 19 people from the County, City and the Chamber of Commerce visited Burlington, Vermont in mid-October 2002 to study their pedestrian mall. [14]

In 2012, the Virginia Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects designated the mall as an a "2012 Iconic Landscape." [15]

In 2013, the City Council authorized a Downtown Mall Ambassadors program which hired tour guides to help visitors and also to alert police to crime. [16]

Mall Attractions


  1. Web. Charlottesville Mall Works for Downtown, Kathleen Brunet, News Article, Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star, Fredericksburg, Virginia, November 11, 1986, retrieved January 2, 2017 via Google newspaper archive.
  2. Web. Study of Main Street Mall Proposed by Chamber Unit, Staff Reports, Daily Progress Digitized Microfilm, Lindsay family, October 29, 1959, retrieved January 2, 2017 from University of Virginia Library. Print. October 29, 1959 page 19.
  3. Web. Mall a Reality for Downtown, Dana Gumb, News Article, Cavalier Daily, March 27, 1974, retrieved January 2, 2017 via Google newspaper archive.
  4. Web. Former Councilors Share Memories of Early Days of Downtown Mall, Sean Tubbs and Brian Wheeler, Charlottesville Tomorrow, April 13, 2010, retrieved January 2, 2017.
  5. Print: Physical Growth, Social Strain Mark City's Year, Peter Bacque, Daily Progress, World Media Enterprises January 4, 1976, Page D1.
  6. Print: The Seventies: Central Virginia Ends Decade of Joy and Tragedy, Doug Kamholz, Daily Progress, Worrell Newspaper group January 1, 1980, Page A6.
  7. Web. Charlottesville City Council meeting minutes, .pdf, Council Chambers, City of Charlottesville, April 21, 2003.
  8. Web. Charlottesville City Council OKs $100,000 for Downtown Mall risk and threat assessment, Chris Suarez, News Article, Daily Progress, May 22, 2018, retrieved May 28, 2018.
  9. Web. Mall ambassador program cut in proposed city budget, Lauren Berg, Daily Progress, World Media Enterprises, March 7, 2016, retrieved December 31, 2016.
  10. Web. Schematic Design Report for Charlottesville Downtown Mall, Wallace Roberts & Todd, May 2005, retrieved April 26, 2016.
  11. Web. Council agrees to half of $100,000 request for Downtown Mall marketing effort, Charlottesville Tomorrow, October 9, 2008, retrieved July 29, 2014.
  12. Web. City panel seeks more options for Downtown Mall seating, Sean Tubbs, News Article, Charlottesville Tomorrow, April 30, 2016, retrieved January 2, 2017.
  13. Web. Design panel denies backless benches for Downtown Mall, Sean Tubbs, News Article, Charlottesville Tomorrow, April 18, 2017, retrieved May 9, 2017.
  14. Charlottesville City Council Minutes, 6 Jan. 2003. City of Charlottesville, Virginia. Retrieved 14 Jun 2009.
  15. Web. Downtown Mall to be honored Thursday, Daily Progress Staff Reports, Daily Progress, World Media Enterprises, September 30, 2012, retrieved October 8, 2012.
  16. Web. Ambassadors a second set of eyes and ears on the Downtown Mall, Aaron Richardson, Daily Progress, World Media Enterprises, May 6, 2013, retrieved May 6, 2013.

External Links