The Urban Design Commission on Wednesday preserved the possibility for open space to replace two existing historic buildings on the 100 block of State St., despite sharp criticism of the concept from some commissioners.
The commission gave the design team for the Block 100 Foundation a very hard time late Wednesday night before finally adopting a motion that allows the team to move forward with development of the proposal.
The commission grilled the team on the “destination” quality of the private garden, the accessibility of the open space, the depletion of retail openings on Fairchild St., the loss of a Landmark building and another existing building, the deterioration of urban fabric, even the deadening affect that Overture Center has had on Fairchild St. and this proposal’s contribution to that affect. The main point of friction was the sacrifice of existing urban fabric for a private garden on the Mifflin-Fairchild corner of the block.
Commission chair Dick Wagner put a point on the deliberations. “If we as a body don’t think that the open space at the corner can work or we think that this volume of the building is wrong, then I think the project’s not going forward. But if we think those two things are possible, without giving it our traditional initial approval, we can adopt a motion saying we think the project can be developed, and these are the concerns, and we think these things can be accepted. Now, those acceptances are still conditioned an a whole bunch of other stuff. We can walk away and not do anything tonight, or we can say what’s possible”
Eric Lawson of Potter Lawson, who is doing the design work for the proposal, put the project in terms of the long-term vision for the city and for the Mifflin-Fairchild intersection, arguing that the proposal would be much greater than what we have right now, and that it would complement future development of the intersection. “This is a great vision. Removing the building at the corner is a great vision because it adds to the ability for somebody to say, wow, with a vacated Mifflin St. that’s a great place to put a museum.” On being pressed to incorporate the existing buildings, Lawson added that rehabilitating the Stark Co. and Schubert buildings is not part of Frautschi and Rowland’s vision.
The project team has made it clear all along that the private garden is a non-negotiable aspect of Frautschi and Rowland’s vision, but it is the part of the proposal that has gotten the most scrutiny. Architecture and planning professionals on the Commission have criticized the private garden for eroding the fabric of a cohesive urban block, for demolishing two existing and viable buildings, for reducing the permeability (the number of retail doorways) on Fairchild street, for being weather-dependent, and for being a private space that could exclude public use and require monitoring during closed hours. Three commissioners felt that the open space simply cannot work. Marsha Rummel, Todd Barnett, and Dawn O’Kroley expressed clear opposition to the idea. The commission also criticized the building element that would curve around the garden for bland, and having limited potential for future adaptability.
After a barrage of challenges and much hesitation from commissioners about allowing open space on the dense urban block, a flustered Lawson demanded movement. “We need strong action from this commission tonight that allows us to move forward.”
What they got from the commission, after more debate and capable examination of what is a truly complex set of issues, was a weak action, but one that allows the team to continue developing the proposal with some hope that it may be palatable to enough commissioners to adopt. After tedious attempts to articulate a motion, and a 10-minute break to craft the language, the commission voted on this language:
That the [Urban Design] Commission supports the concepts of the project. The volume of the building as proposed is acceptable with adjustments to the fourth story State St. facade pulled back from the Buell building [which implies, Wagner said, that the space would be shifted to another area of the project]. The open space at the corner can be supported if the issues are resolved, with the public/private interface of that space including civic programming that would invite the community in, and which activates Fairchild and Mifflin Streets, that retail presence on Fairchild be increased, that on-street parking on Fairchild be eliminated and the terraces be expanded to relate design-wise to the corner’s open space, and that the issues of the Schubert Building preservation by moving or inclusion should be addressed, and that the Plan Commission should undertake the appropriate land-use discussions as part of their initial steps.
The motion passed on a 4-3 vote, with Barnett, Rummel and O’Kroley voting no.
It was characterized as a “comfort resolution.” It was not a yes-or-no motion on the submitted proposal, but it allows the team to continue investing in the planning stage with some reasonable hope that the proposal can be approved. Wagner said the motion was “not the commission’s traditional initial approval, but a step along the path toward initial approval.”
Category: Executive Director's Blog