Ithaca Builds

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The Commons Project Finishing Next Spring, A Look at Another Pedestrian Mall

September 2, 2014 // by Jason Henderson

As announced a few weeks ago, the Commons Rebuild Project has hit another set of delays with NYSEG utility work, and won’t be completed until next Spring. While the news is certainly a bummer, the deck should be paved with concrete by early November, so I look forward to the center section being opened-up again for pedestrians.

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Pedestrian malls are quite uncommon (and not always successful) in the US nowadays, so on a recent trip to Charlottesville, Virginia (college town of the University of Virginia), I visited the Historic Downtown Mall. Charlottesville’s pedestrian mall is sizeable (seven blocks), highly successful, and it’s easy to see why: it’s in the dead-center of town, which is not far from UVA’s campus, and is anchored at one end by a large hotel and conference center (The Omni Charlottesville), Regal Theater, and the other by a public pavilion for outdoor events (the nTelos Wireless Pavillion), Downtown Transit Hub, City Hall, and Visitor’s Center.

The major blemish here is a failed hotel project: the Landmark Hotel, which was to be opened by now, but stalled back in late 2008 when the construction lender folded, the borrower defaulted on payment, then the FDIC took over, then the bank was officially dissolved, and now the property has been bought by another developer, but the City is claiming that the building is unsafe, so construction has not resumed. The original developer is CNET-founder Halsey Minor (see how to blow a fortune).

In any case, I was thoroughly-impressed by the place: large movable planters, sprawling open dining areas, plenty of lighting, directory signs on each block, brick and concrete pavers, and cross-streets allowing traffic fit well here. Charlottesville, like Ithaca, is a big tourist destination, so the retail mix was similar, and certainly loaded with restaurants and cafés. It was hard not feeling envious, but with any luck, Ithaca’s new mall will wrap-up in time for next summer. If you’re ever down in Hooville, it’s worth checking-out:

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The Landmark Hotel project:

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The Pavilion:

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  • Ex-Ithacan

    The Ped Mall in Charlottesville is quite nice. I haven’t been there in over 15 years. Still looks good. Winchester, VA also has a downtown Ped Mall, along the same siza as Ithaca. There are some pics of it in this Flickr album (sorry for so many pictures): https://www.flickr.com/photos/22001166@N00/sets/72157622708996340/

    • Wow- that looks really nice, and great photos by the way! I don’t think I’ve been to Winchester, but on this last trip I had the chance to visit downtown Staunton- was amazed by the amount of historic structures. Virginia has a lot of historic small town gems.

      • Ex-Ithacan

        Yep, Staunton was a surprise. I also thought Lynchburg had a ton of character structures.

  • lexluthor666

    The Charlottesville pedestrian mall does feel nicer than the Commons ever was, but it probably has to do more with its size (seven blocks as opposed to a mere 1-2), the slightly larger size of Charlottesville that allows it to sustain more successful businesses everywhere (being more of a regional hub doesn’t hurt it either) and its relative affluence compared to Ithaca. Not many head shops that I remember along this stretch, but plenty of fancy restaurants.