Saturday, September 27, 2008

Urban News Vol. 30

Sadly its been ten days since I've posted. The latest project has been framing walls in our new basement. I'm supposed to be month about a month away from the closing on the sale of our old Webster condo and the stress level seems to be ratcheting daily with each piece of financial news that comes down the pike. I'd really like to try to get two things out this weekend, today some local news, and tomorrow my Grand Rapids case study in blog form.

River Park Commons Plans Move Ahead
by Seth Voorhees, RNews

Article Key Points:

  • $42 million redevelopment plan presented by Conifer Realty
  • Six discrete buildings containing one, two, and three bedroom apartments will replace meandering low-rise public housing complex
  • Existing high rise to get makeover

I have read in other sources that the tower will remain subsidized housing and that existing tenants will be relocated within the tower as the work goes on. I've also read that the stand-alone apartment buildings will contain low-income as well as market rate apartments ranging from $900-$2000 per month.

There is a lot to like in this proposal. From what I understand, pressure from the South Wedge Planning Commission forced Conifer to reevaluate the placement of the standalones and parking lots to improve pedestrian access to the riverfront from Wedge side streets like Hamilton, Averill, and Hickory.

I have also been told that since the developer is utilizing tax-exempt federal private-activity bonds to finance constuction, that 20% of housing units must be subsidized. This is the right way to go regardless of financing structure, though some New Urbanists who are ardent numbers guys might say this percentage is high. The only minus that I have found in any of this is idea that the entire tower would remain subsidized, though I am glad its superstructure will be retained (this is embodied energy savings). If this is all considered the same project, then I have no doubt that the 20% threshhold is far exceeded. What is worrisome is that demarcating "that side" of the complex, not to mention a more tightly packed single building (which has never worked well in the history of public housing) factionalizes the micro-neighborhood (let's face it, most people are generally intolerant) and jeopardizes the higher end rent cash flow ($900 is not cheap for a one-bedroom in Rochester).

Retail Property For Sale - Price Rite Plaza

The Price Rite Plaza at the corner of University and Culver will add a new lower price grocery store to the east side of the city, competing directly with the Bourgeois Wegman's (who have forsaken those who made them great) and its Buffalonian direct competitor Tops Markets.

The store itself was carved out of a previously vacant warehouse. About half the structure was selectively demolished (and hopefully recycled) and the back half was re-facaded. Of course this created the standard suburban parking-centric model of grocery store development which was a disappointment. The site plan contains a 4000 square foot outparcel building that appears to appropriately frame the corner the way the HSBC across the intersection does. The execution looks reasonable in that the limited parking for this smaller property is tucked behind the building.

I have two easy to implement changes that would further enrich the public realm and enhance the pedestrian experience. First, ensure that the entry to the previously discussed outparcel building faces either University Avenue or the corner. Second, the typical pharmacy box outparcel also seen in the diagram could also be brought to the street front without sacrificing precious parking. The walk from the on-street bus stop to the grocery store is a somewhat foreboding trek through unpredictable traffic patterns as it stands.

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