Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Urban News Vol. 43

A long overdue newsblast post focusing on some recent developments along Rochester's Main Street (especially the Cascade District) as well as an architectural paradigm revisited in Portland, Oregon coincident with the resurgence of streetcar implementation in that city.

by Mike Hedeen, RNews

Article Key Points:
  • Nothnagle Realtors announced it is moving its headquarters from Brighton to Downtown Rochester
  • Nothnagle interested in trying to help out the relocation momentum of companies to Downtown - CEO Armand D'Alfonso
  • "What we're trying to do is create an environment where people do want to come." -Mayor Duffy
  • Brighton Town Supervisor Sandra Frankel call Brighton, and especially Monroe Avenue, a real estate hot spot

This "article" may be the most well balanced piece of journalism I've seen in over a year of doing this regarding the city-suburb business balance. RNews did a fine job of focusing on the positives of each situation.

In terms of regional planning, Brighton completes the inner radius of the city physically in my opinion. It is quite possibly the most walkable and best served by transit of the suburban towns. I wholeheartedly agree with Frankel's assessment that Monroe Avenue is their primary development corridor, but I'd like to see some improvements in the form of development there. What could be Main Street, Brighton is still cheapened by 70's cubic office buildings, a plaza facing the wrong way, and deep street setbacks.

Projects Bring Fresh Vibrancy to Rochester's Main Street
by Brian Sharp, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Article Key Points:

  • Fifth Year Productions will create a street level video editing studio in the Granite Building
  • Asbestos abatement in Midtown Plaza to begin in the coming months
  • The city will solicit development proposals for a parking lot and the former Josh Lofton Charter School on West Main
  • Groundbreakings may take place on Renaissance Square and a Mixed Use complex on what is now a surface lot at Main and Gibbs
  • Fifth Year, a partnership with CGI Communications promised 100 new hires by May 2010
  • Buckingham Properties is handling the $4 million Nothnagle renovation
  • Nothnagle and Fifth Year will receive $3.7 million in city assistance with both expected to seek tax breaks
  • Fifth Year has received a loan that can turn into a grant depending on jobs created and jobs filled by city residents

Noting that tax breaks are used by competing cities to lure business away from the Northeast, I like the slant on the assistance given by the city to Fifth Year regarding residency credits. I also like to see activity in the Cascade District. An area currently dominated by parking lots, the Cascade contains a lot of what would be considered ideal loft-conversion stock as well as some gems like the former Buffalo, Rochester, and Pittsburgh Railroad offices.

Portland's Streetcar Architecture -- Past Becomes Future
by Fred Leeson, Portland Oregonian

Article Key Points:

  • Historically, buildings on commercial streets were built with storefronts flush to the sidewalks and with one or two stories of apartments or offices above
  • Historians and architects call them streetcar architecture
  • They add human density and retail services on streets served by public transit
  • Portland is slowly rebuilding a streetcar system that in 1919 had 197 miles of track
  • Portland has used its zoning code to encourage housing above retail since the 1980's
  • Without service for 60 years, streetcars will return to Portland's East Side in 2011
  • The 3.3-mile loop (bringing the total to about 7) will include 28 stops

I'm not sure streetcar architecture is an appropriate name considering Traditional Neighborhood Design is not the sole domain of towns serviced by electric street railways (and in fact predates it), as many completely walkable smaller towns exhibited the same styling and function along their Main Streets. Regardless, the point of the article is to show how fixed guideway transit systems plant a sense of permanence in the minds of developers and attract quality development due to the limited footprint available. Trends pointing toward taller units underscore a demand in the marketplace for walkability. Six stories is an accepted limit on this type of construction from sustainability standpoints.

1 comment:

urban explorer said...

One problem that we in the development industry have noticed is that a lot of street level retail is occupied by bars and/or restaurants.

Unlike traditional "streetcar" architecture of 90 years ago, today's bars, restaurants, and other retail spaces are open until at least 9PM and, if a bar, 2AM. Not many people want to live immediately above this kind of use.

One potential solution is a floor of office space to buffer the residential from the retail/bar/restaurant as was done in the Sagamore building on East Avenue.