The city agency in charge of the nTelos Wireless Pavilion has granted a request to allow the operator to close the facility at night, when, officials said, vagrancy and drug use have been a problem.
“We have a camera in there and there have been nights when we have seen 15 or 20 people passing around liquor bottles, using hypodermic needles and relieving themselves,” said Kirby Hutto, general manager of Charlottesville Pavilion LLC.
The Charlottesville Economic Development Authority leases the amphitheater and grounds to Charlottesville Pavilion, which books events and maintains the live entertainment destination.
“Recently, there has been more activity in the overnight hours when there are not events at the pavilion,” said Chris Engel, the city’s director of economic development. “This has caused the operator concern.”
Charlottesville Pavilion asked the development authority to change the rules to clarify that the operator has the right to set hours of operation for the facility.
“This is a public space except during events, and except as other rules are created,” Engel said. It would still be open for people to use it during the daytime.
Charlottesville Pavilion also has asked that the Downtown Ambassadors program be extended to cover the amphitheater, as well as for a larger police presence.
“The police have remarked they weren’t sure what the rules were,” Engel said.
Hutto said the police formerly would break up parties at night, but stopped due to concerns that staying there overnight was not illegal.
“Several folks have been arrested and their charges were dismissed in court because there was not sufficient posted notice that sleeping isn’t allowed,” Hutto said.
Hutto said the rule change will allow his staff to post signs at all of the facility’s entrances. There will be no fences and no entrances will be closed.
Signs are currently being produced and Hutto hopes they will be up early this week.
Hutto said the city opted to close Lee Park at 11 every night due to similar issues.
“This is to address issues of smoking, drinking, hanging out and passing out,” Hutto said.
Tara Boyd, vice chairwoman of the development authority, voted against the measure at the group’s meeting earlier this month.
Authority member Carolyn Shears said she was concerned that a perception regarding vagrants downtown would be harmful to economic development efforts.
“This is a huge concern of mine as I try to sell the buildings across the street,” Shears said. “Does everybody understand that this is a problem?”
However, Engel said that police calls to the north downtown area are down this year compared with last.
“I think it’s fair to say there’s an ongoing effort on behalf of City Council and the city manager’s office in a broader context outside of the pavilion,” Engel said.
Community activist Brandon Collins said the decision to close the space at night should have been debated in a wider setting.
“Even though it is technically a private space, the pavilion is a public part of Charlottesville and should be open to all people,” Collins said in an email.
“It amazes me how many folks are outside City Hall every night, a public space,” Collins added. “We should treat the pavilion in a similar manner, as a public space.”