Looking through the notes from the recent Downtown Charrette, it seemed like there was a lot of area covered and, rather than trying to get to everything, I am going to highlight some key ideas – and here let us focus on the concept of a town square.
Refined guiding principles:
- Create an active and inclusive public realm that promotes civic engagement
- Create a memorable identity for downtown
- Reinforce a sense of place with appropriate character, balanced historical preservation and thoughtful transitions to adjacent neighborhoods
- Plan for compact and sustainable development
- Provide safe, convenient, multi-modal connectivity into and within downtown
- Craft a development program that is financially feasible, economically resilient, and equitable
The idea of the town square, per se, is somewhat uninspiring. But what they are envisioning is an enhanced town square that has density and a better utilization of space.
If you look at the recent photo I took of E Street, you see the problem – the square is small. The bulk of the plaza is filled with parking and it is not really very functional as a gathering space.
Right now the buildings to the north are single-story, the buildings to the south are two-story, and both are underutilized as space.
But there are also limitations to these possibilities.
They did some feasibility analysis. They found that economics improves with density. For-sale residential may be feasible, on larger lots and/or at higher densities or larger unit sizes. Office over retail may work in unique circumstances involving high quality tenants.
They note that incorporating parking and/or affordable housing challenges economics further. In the current environment, “owner-users may develop but returns are unattractive for investor/developers.”
They conclude: “Feasibility challenges in current environment should not preclude planning for change over the next 25-30 years.”
What is interesting, however, as we have noted, is this is similar to what the developers are planning to do at University Mall. There they would take the existing single-story building and re-do the bottom floor which is retail, while adding three stories of residential.
On the other hand, it seems like the folks who bought the Brinley building are thinking of doing something similar in about 10 years. They would have a lower floor of restaurants and retail and then add offices, potential flex space and residential to make it perhaps four stories –though the plans are very preliminary.
The Charrette also looked at possible changes along 2nd Street.
At the Design Workshop, “the team selected potential sites for infill, and studied possible scenarios for their incremental redevelopment.”
Stage 1 would be to promote redevelopment of the single-story buildings at street corners into four- to five-story mixed use buildings.
Stage 2 in years five to ten: “Promote further redevelopment of 1-2 story buildings along 2nd Street with 4-5 story mixed use buildings. Include larger opportunity sites in this stage.”
Stage 3: in years 10 to 20: “Over the next 20 years, the remaining underutilized parcels can also be redeveloped. All redevelopment would be guided by development standards that reflect the community vision.”
They also looked at C and 2nd Streets.
First, “Within a time frame of one to five years, enable infill through new accessory dwelling units on existing lots.”
Second, “Within a time frame of five to ten years, promote redevelopment of one story buildings on corners with 2 to 3 story residential buildings.”
Third, “Within a time frame of 10-20 years, promote redevelopment of additional one story buildings with 2 to 3 story residential buildings.”
Moreover, they propose an innovation district at G Street.
They note that the innovation district can accommodate up to 500,000 square feet in 4-5 story buildings.
They write: “The G Street district can be considered a large Opportunity Site that offers a range of possibilities for future redevelopment. One such proposal is to create an Innovation District to attract potential employers. Zoning in this district can be left more flexible to encourage a broad range of uses in medium to large sized buildings.”
Bruce Katz and Julie Wager in “The Rise of Urban Innovation Districts,” write: “Innovation districts constitute the ultimate mash up of entrepreneurs and educational institutions, start-ups and schools, mixed-use development and medical innovations, bike-sharing and bankable investments—all connected by transit, powered by clean energy, wired for digital technology, and fueled by caffeine.”
Finally on North G Street, they propose a new public plaza with four-story mixed-use buildings.
The view would be looking north on the strip mall site next to the Co-Op.
Thoughts on some of these proposals?
—David M. Greenwald reporting