The Downtown Mall’s unfinished Landmark Hotel could go from drafty skeleton to a lively composition if one nonprofit’s vision gets support from the city and the building’s owner.
The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative, a Charlottesville arts organization, has shared a proposal for how art installations could make the most of the structure while owner John Dewberry waits to restart construction efforts.
“There needs to be a temporary answer,” said Matthew Slaats, executive director of the Bridge PAI. “Art could be a placeholder for what will eventually become something better.”
Last month, the City Council reached an agreement with Dewberry Capital to defer a declaration of the building as blighted. In return, Dewberry must clean up the surrounding area of trash, secure the building from intruders, install a new 10-foot fence and remove all graffiti.
Slaats would like to fill the windows facing the mall with art installations, place giant photos along the temporary barrier and drape meshed images as coverings on the building walls.
His proposal includes three scenarios for the project with varying price tags. The first is estimated at about $43,000, while the most expensive would cost about $118,000.
Georgia-based Dewberry was not able to be reached for comment on the proposals.
“Instead of paying just anyone to come and paint [the barrier] green again, maybe the budget could support artists to do something there,” Slaats suggested of the funds Dewberry will be spending to comply with the city’s orders.
The arts proposal has received support from the Downtown Business Association, positive feedback from several city councilors and support from many local artists.
“We would love the building to present a better appearance to the public,” said Bob Stroh of the Downtown Business Association. “The building sends an unfortunate message about downtown that we don’t think is real. Downtown is successful and very vibrant.”
Stroh said the association is in favor of any effort to improve the building’s appearance, but not without first ensuring security at the site.
“Conversations were not received well by the owners, and the conversation fell apart,” Stroh said of previous security and beautification efforts. “We don’t want anyone hurt and we certainly don’t want the building falling apart and on people.”
The Bridge PAI’s proposal is the latest creative effort to make use of the six-year-old skeletal structure.
“The rhetoric of the conversation had the city blaming the developer and the developer blaming the city,” Slaats said. “That doesn’t do anything positive for what people hope that space will become.”
Elizabeth Steel, owner of a mall business, said she is in favor of the art proposal for security reasons.
“It would make me feel safer, because using the space would make it less abandoned,” Steel said.
However, local resident Chris Kelly expressed skepticism the project will happen.
“While [the project] is trying to change the conversation about developer versus the city, it is still about that,” Kelly said. “It is about who owns the building.”
Kelly said past efforts to project images onto or use the sides of the building were denied by either the city, the owner, or both.
“This hotel debacle is a huge issue and an awful thing about Charlottesville,” Kelly added. “The fact that we’ve let it carry on this long is ridiculous.”
The proposal represents broader efforts by the Bridge PAI to address and potentially solve city problems through community engagement and artistic means.
“Art can go in from bottom-up and work with the people, talk to them, figure out how they engage in the conversation and then produce drawings and ideas about how those ideas can have a presence,” Slaats said.
The Bridge PAI is awaiting a response from Dewberry before it seeks approval from the city’s Board of Architectural Review.
“Charlottesville has high ambitions for itself, and this project shows how those ambitions could actually play out,” Slaats said