Monday, May 11, 2009

2007 Downtown Charette Report Vol. 10

I never did finish my deeper look at the excellent comprehensive document accompanying the 2007 effort to involve the citizenry in a reshaping of our city. I left off last September on East Main Street east of the river. As the muffled sounds of Lilac Festival live music remind me how much I love my neighborhood, I will pick back up with the River South focus area bounded by the new Troup-Howell Bridge (I-490), Clinton Avenue, Exchange Street, and Broad Street.

Observations made by the report cite the hinderance of surface parking lots insofar as wasting the potential of downtown land coupled with the notable character boost provided by the last vestiges of an industrious past that managed to somehow escape the talons of mid-20th century Urban Renewal (what a tremendously stupid term).

Nevertheless, the overarching recommendations call for an overall increase in the number of parking spaces in the district through the implementation of building wrapped multi-level motor storage facilities. On the positive, development density would be quite significant, creating commercial space for expanded neighborhood services.

An area already replete with destinations, the River South focus area currently contains an Olmstead Park (Washington Square), a professional sporting venue (Blue Cross Arena), the architecturally significant central library, one of the top restaurants in town (Dinosaur BBQ) in a converted freight station, and a well known theatre company (Geva) residing in a retrofitted naval armory.

To fill in the blanks does not come without challenges. Elevated and sunken expressway ramps hinder any east bank development or logical southern expansion to say nothing of a connection with the increasingly vibrant South Wedge neighborhood. Any attempt to create a contiguous riverwalk is thwarted by some buildings that directly abut the river while the exact condition of all of these sites from an environmental issue standpoint is at best a mystery.

What can be done about this street grid gobbling mess? One opportunity is the restoration of two way traffic on district streets as well as adding on street parking to contribute to more navigable streets as well as reduce the 'car-mover' factor on South and Clinton Avenues. Surface parking lots can be populated with the types of proposals I am about to expound on in order to create additional street life outside of core business hours. Renovation of heritage warehouse buildings will also add to the residential component of the area.

The first site screaming out for a better arrangement is the land vacated when the circular off-ramp of the South Avenue Parking Garage was demolished due to structural collapse. To the surprise of many, the footprint revealed was significant enough for a mid to high-rise mixed use building on the spot. The high-rise proposal presented in the Charette Report has a couple of flaws that I'd like to open debate on.

The first is its hideousness. Whichever architect worked with this focus group apparently tried to push the post-modern agenda. The good news is I doubt any building on this site will be executed in this manner. The second flaw is that Cornerstone Park would be swallowed up by such a design. A private industry co-operative park founded by the forefather to Frontier, Rochester Telephone, Cornerstone park suffers schematically from the typical 70's/80's effort to turn park activity inward as well as features that require excessive maintenance such as water walls. A simple renovation could rehabilitate Cornerstone Park into a decent lunch spot/commons area for this new development.

The next recommendation set is far more ambitious, but is one I like a lot in principle whether or not it occurs as cohesively as described. The Washington Square Village would be a dense, mixed-use urban neighborhood. The design of proposed infill would complement the architectural styling of existing warehouse structures. Additional details would include a landscaped median for Woodbury Boulevard as well as connecting Woodbury to the west side of the river via a pedestrian bridge.

The major individual additive components of a Washington Square Village would include a new sixteen story tower tentatively dubbed "Theatre Lofts" to complete the sqaure of building enclosing Washington Square Park to the northeast. The tower would rise above a more appropriately proportioned and materialized base.

Another major component would be to convert the large surface lot south of Geva and Capron Street with a set of three to four story liner buildings that front a multi level parking structure. While I'm never in favor of expressly building for parking, its likely that Geva is not interested in losing their main parking lot at this point in history (though the Washington Square garage is just across Clinton Avenue...).
As long as the parking decks are built level, the building would have more potential for future reuse, saving materials and energy (outer decks become rooms while interior ramps could become an atrium). The ramp serving South Clinton Avenue from the inner loop would need to be removed to accomodate much of this structure. Even in our motoring society, I'm not sure anyone would notice.

Interstingly, one of the recommendations has already occured. 250 South Avenue, once a storage facility for the city's original natatorium, has been redeveloped as commercial space on the bottom two floors, two loft apartments on the third, and a two bedroom penthouse apartment on the 4th. The redevelopment looks like a carbon copy of that which was diagrammed in the charette report (to the right, on the right). On the theme of renovation in this district, the Capron Street Lofts have begun interior construction. The units vary widely in shape and size and are of the for-sale condo variety.

So this has gotten a lot longer than first anticipated in terms of both length and days to compile. I'm going to break off here and come back soon with the West Bank as well as riverwalk ideas and River South focus area conclusions. I also have notes taken at Jackie Grimshaw's Wednesday lecture on Transit Oriented Development that will form the base of another upcoming post.

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