Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Urban News Vol. 6

It appears that Pittsburgh certainly was the correct choice for my last post. 39 of my last 85 pageviews have been from internet users originating from Pittsburgh. Yesterday was also a record day for blog traffic thanks to a benvolent link from Chris Briem's Nullspace Blog.

Today I bring the focus back on Rochester temporarily and some potentially troubling news regarding the development proposals for the corner of Main and Gibbs streets.

Development Plans for Downtown Site Rejected
by Brian Sharp, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle

Article Key Points:

  • Culutral Center Commission has rejected all four proposals due to unmeetable contingencies
  • The committee plans to meet again to development a more clear 'vision statement' for the site
  • Grove Place Neighborhood Association opposed to rental units, afraid it will change the character of the neighborhood
  • Frustrated developers claim committee has lost credibility
  • New Request for Proposals will be issued this spring
Lost in the hoopla surrounded downtown corporate relocation is this strategic parcel, controlled by a commission with an eye toward enriching the Eastman Theatre area. While I hate to see slowdowns during this time of great momentum (though as Bruce Katz says, 'you're at the shallow end of the pool'), some prudence needs to be exercised here to make sure that the development respects both the Cultural District and the pleasing residential enclave in the generally owner-occupied Grove Place neighborhood. To development quickly reflects economic progress while developing smartly reflects foresight and structural appreciation. What remains to be seen is whether this committee has this foresight and appreciation or simply unrealistic expectations.

I'd like to comment on the rejected designs despite their status as rejected and unlikely to occur. I don't have any more details than the renderings courtesy of the newspaper.

Graywood's mix of condo, apartment, and commercial space would appear to be a solution offering the most density on the parcel. Unlike some New Urbanists, I am not hung up on scale. It was also mentioned that the Graywood tower would complement the exisiting Eastman School of Music dormitory tower. In some instances you can disrespect the importance of downtown by building too short to appease an overcontrolling neighborhood association or committee. I can't discern any street layout information from their rendering, but to create a outdoor wall on the sidewalk with the commercial space is important.

DeWolff's submission is certainly the most visually compelling with terraced gardens adorning what appears to be the north or Grove Place side of the complex. In addition to the trifecta of space proposed by Graywood, DeWolff goes one step further and integrates theater space into the design. If you look closely at the enlarged drawing (click the image to enlarge), you can make out Eastman Place on the left meaning that we are looking from the northeast and that Main Street runs from the lower left to upper right of the rendering. It would appear that there is strong potential for commercial frontage on both Main and Chestnut.

Mark IV Enterprises has submitted the standard urban design of four story buildings, the lowest floor certain to be commercial. The main issue that I and the Grovers have with this one is that it would be completely rental. Secondary issue is that it seems the developers are afraid to disrupt precious scale. Certainly you don't want to take away from the majesty of Eastman Theatre diagonal from the lot, but this design looks better suited to blend in with the YMCA than the cultural district. Don't get me wrong, a few of these would go great on the Midtown site not used by PaeTec, but I fear a homogenization of downtown housing, exactly the reason most cite for leaving the uninspiring suburbs.

I don't have much nice to say about the Visions Hotels proposal. This would be an easy rejection for me if I was part of the committee. I simply don't see the value in a hotel for this area. The cultural center of Rochester is by and large frequented by Rochesterians. On top of that, this building shows the street exclusivity with no shared commercial tenants. Based on the description in the D&C, I'm guessing the townhouses would be in the back on Grove St, which is the only redeeming characteristic of this proposal.

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