Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Urban News Vol. 64

My mind posesses a distinct penchant for certain activities that go along with adaptive reuse projects such as repainting faded brick-painted advertisments. Another of my favorites, the unbricking of original window openings (as Stantec is purported to be undertaking at High Falls), stresses the importance of place while promoting the street as an inviting and well observed public space. The following piece on the redevelopment of the Culver Road Armory claims window restoration, but I'm skeptical that more is lost than is gained.

Armory Redesign Pleases Culver Area Residents
by Brian Sharp, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Article Key Points:

  • Developers to transform Culver Road Armory into neighborhood meeting place/office building
  • Plans delineate Class A office space, boutique restaurant, and possible fitness center
  • More than 80 percent of the building surface will not change (mostly south side)
  • Construction could begin this summer after June 14 public hearing
  • Less than 3 acres of the remaining site reserved for future housing development
  • Developer committed to environmental cleanup and energy efficiency
  • 2nd floor will be added inside former drill hall
  • Main entrance shifted to the north side of the structure
  • Co-chair of neighborhood group coalition happy with plans

I would have to see more renderings for me to expound too deeply on the seemingly liberal application of what Fred Rainaldi calls 'modern' additions. What jumps out to me as distastefully autocentric is the orienting of the primary entrance toward the parking lot and 490 off-ramp. An entrance to a building of this magnitude should reinforce the relationship with the street/adjacent park and allow its passers through a modicum of grace and enjoyment upon arrival/departure.

While on the topic of adaptive re-use, I feel compelled to shout about comments by sitting city council members reflecting a desire to get the block cleared, referring to the north side of East Main between Clinton and St. Paul, the Renaissance Square site.

This outdated and insane thought process is precisely what city leaders need to avoid. I truly can't believe anyone still thinks like this. I maintain that wholesale demolition of that block is a poor course of action for a preponderance of reasons. There are historic preservation, urban planning, increments of finance, and energy concern/sustainability components that all weigh in against an all-or-nothing approach.

A refacading along historic guidelines with upper-floor apartment conversion seems like a no-brainer for these properties steeped in history. On the urban planning front, this would preserve the multi-entryway discrete building format that lends to sidewalk activity. Our downtown does not need any more block long buildings with one or zero poorly demarcated entryways such as we saw for years with Midtown Plaza (now woefully obsolete and being broken up into smaller blocks).

Financing a project that council might deride as 'piecemeal' has become the realistic option compared with adherence to the old paradigm in our post-financial crisis economy. Demolition coupled with insistance on large-scale development runs the risk of no development materializing whatsoever, an urbanistic algae bloom of sorts. A closer look at what is occuring on that block, with or without the big bureaucratic financial aid packages, shows that small-scale organic redevelopment will take place regardless of the best efforts of politicans. An eatery is open and a notable downtown grocery (not just a mini-mart) is being fashioned out at the Stone Street vista terminus now that the emminent domain noose has been removed from the necks of the building owners.

Finally, I must continue to bang the drum on embodied energy. The idea that the greenest building is the one that is already built is no lie. Factor in not only demolition and site prep costs, but also the original energy that went into the original construction of the buildings on the block. We as a society are no longer in a position of great wealth that allows for wiping clean the slate on a whim, nor would we want to based on my earlier points.

My reasoning firmly established, the following are projects that respect their history, embrace mixed use, and conserve whatever existing elements possible, are currently underway, and set a fine example for the future of troubled downtown blocks:

Renaissance at 500 - Lackawanna Ave. - Scranton

  • Restoration and reconstruction of eight historic buildings along the Lackawanna Avenue historic district
  • Street level - Restaurant & Retail space for lease on Lackawanna Avenue and the Plaza
  • Main street level plaza will feature performance space, open cafĂ© dining, seating areas, etc.
  • Upper floor residences: Open Floor Plan, High Ceilings, Stainless Steel / Granite Kitchens, Wood Floors, 1 1/2 Baths
  • The Bogart Boutiques - Leasable market-like space in rear alley
  • An upper level park utilizing existing green space (elevated former railway bed)
  • New Street and Walkways: A portion of Lackawanna Avenue will be reconstructed to include a banner-lined median, lit brick crosswalks and a street clock tower. The sidewalks will be transformed into a lit tree-lined pedestrian walkway
  • Color renderings above

The Mills at High Falls, Phase II - State St. - Rochester

  • Adaptive reuse and substantial rehabilitation of a four-building former commercial and residential row, part of the last 1840s-era standing block in Rochester
  • The development will include 21 units for low-income families and residents with physical disabilities, as well as market-rate lofts and apartments.
  • Additional funding is being provided by state and federal historic tax credit programs
  • Project estimated at $6.8 million in October
  • 10 one-bedroom apartments on street level, 11 two-bedroom multi-level apartments ono upper floors
  • To integrate with mixed-use buildings on the same block
  • Eligible for listing in the state and national registers of historic places as significant early 19th-century commercial architecture
  • Grayscale renderings above


Mike Kraus said...

There are discussions about clearing the buildings on Main Street? Is this part of the transit center thing? I'm not from there and no urban planner, but half the downtown seems to be a parking lot. Has there been talk of filling in one of the countless asphalt deserts?


Bob and Tia said...


Here are the comments I referred to:

I think it is part of the transit center in the sense that the locations have an intertwined Ren. Square history.

About the parking lagoons, there seems to be some activity. I've chronicled a lot of talk about the NE corner of Main/Chestnut and the Requests for Proposal that have occured. The SE of Broad/Plymouth is becoming the County Crime lab. The SW of Woodbury/Chestnut is now the ESL building.

Not sure what else is in the pipeline, but there is some cause for optimism.