Rethinking the Amphitheater sign now

Dear Council Members, City Development Staff and Other servants of the public:

We the undersigned are very concerned with the new design for Charlottesville's Downtown Amphitheater and request that City Councilors and officials reconsider the plan for this public space.

The Amphitheater space is, first and foremost, a public park. Even if the occurrence of performance events are tripled, the area will mostly be unused in this capacity. Presently, 95\% of the time (or more), the amphitheater serves the community as a calm green space where one can go to have a box lunch, take a nap, read a book, or cuddle with a lover. It's also a great area for: tossing a frisbee; romping with your dog; skateboarding, rollerblading -- and even in the winter when we get one of our occasional snowfalls, it becomes a nice sledding/snowman-making area. The park is also frequently used for: dance, music practice, juggling, footbagging, Morris Dancing, and rallies to name a few.

Architects, designers, mall workers, city planners, and more -- the author of this petition has spoken with scores of people and has yet to find one who thinks the new amphitheater design is an improvement or even needed.

To get right to the issue, here are some concerns regarding the new proposed design, use and management:

The inappropriateness of providing public funds (even a loan) to a very wealthy private person, Coran Capshaw, (masquerading/protecting himself as an LLC[Limited Liability Corporation]) to transform a public space into a vehicle for personal profit. The loan is especially inappropriate as the author of this petition has approached the city's development department on more than one occasion regarding small business loans and was told there were none -- and sat through all the grueling comprehensive plan meetings with assurances that there would be revealed a panoply or resources for entrepreneurs only to be told again there were no local loan programs from the city. The below market rate, nearly 2 million dollar loan the city is making to Mr. Capshaw reeks of cronyism and favoritism. Mr. Capshaw obviously does not need the city to make him a loan as he is able to easily finance his other projects and this city money could be better used as seed loans for dozens of small businesses. If Mr. Capshaw is confident in the business model of his tent arena, he should use his own land and his own money (maybe he could build it in the middle of the student ghetto complex he's cramming in near the train station).

The lack of public input.
The new amphitheater should have been designed by locals who use it. Our community is filled with talented architects, designers and forward-looking citizens. There should have been signs posted on the mall about the redesign; there should have been design charettes; there should have been a community consensus.

The poor design.

Orienting the stage on a diagonal will reduce the number of people who can go to an event.
The tiers for seating are unnecessary and dangerous (think of people drinking beer stumbling around on these), and destroy the park atmosphere.
The cover is ugly (okay, this is subjective), and will overwhelm the space, the mall and City Hall. And has anyone done any studies to determine how it will hold up in gusty winds? I can see it sailing off into the sunset.
The cost. I understand it will cost a million dollars every seven years to replace the cover. Although it's possible that Mr. Capshaw's LLC will exist beneficently in perpetuity, another possibility is that the LLC will fold leaving the city with an unpaid loan and an amphitheater that requires massively expensive, regular upkeep (has everyone forgotten the Omni Hotel loan?).

The Downtown Mall does not need more grand events that completely clog up and overwhelm the parking, bars and restaurants for a small widow of time -- it needs more regular, modest, diverse events that bring people down to the mall in a steady fashion all the year round.

So that this is not just a complaint fest, below are some alternatives to the proposed design and the author invites the signatories to this petition to add their ideas.

The Design

1) Leave it as-is. The area works great as it is now set up. Bad weather only cancels a few events a year. The grass is nice on the feet and allows for easy mingling.

2) Keep the amphitheater oriented as it is now but construct a new, permanent, acoustically correct, aesthetically pleasing, hard-shell stage area. Leave it a mostly grassy area as it is now, and add to that area by grading that small portion of Main St down towards the stage. Many more people could see and hear the performances, less amplification would be required and we would retain a park atmosphere.

The Management

As stated previously, it is inappropriate for a person or company to control a public area for private profit -- it will simply not be managed for the common good under such circumstances. The area should either be managed by a city employee or by a non-profit organization. One better situation would have the Charlottesville Downtown Foundation become a true 501(c)(3) non-profit so that they could accept donations and they could continue organizing Fridays After 5 and put efforts into promoting other artistic events throughout the year.

Councilors, we hope you will take this seriously enough to put it on the City Council's agenda for September 20 -- there is no reason to move ahead rashly with a bad design; we have the time and talent to create a better amphitheater for everyone.

If City Council chooses to ignore this issue, the author of this petition would like to hear from any legal minds who might read this as to whether the citizens of Charlottesville have grounds to stop this project as a misuse of public funds.

In addition to signing this petition, please e-mail the city councilors directly:
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]

City Manager: [email protected]

For those who wish to see the proposed design before signing this petition, a model is on display in City Hall.

One last thing, whatever the final design, please keep the public sidewalk to the Belmont Bridge open and accessible at all times -- closing it for certain events is inconvenient and dangerous (people cut across the railroad tracks).

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Daisy PittmanBy:
Business and CompaniesIn:
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Charlottesville City Council and other public servants.

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