Friday, April 18, 2008

Downtown Revitalization Plan: Looks good on paper, but...

...maybe too narrow-focused?

You've probably seen this front page story in this Fridays' DDN, about how the city wants a plan to incentivize "vintage structures".

The paper says the there will be $1M a year for five years to:

"...promote transformation of vintage downtown Main Street buildings with financial incentives for developers who take them on as projects..."

..and goes on to say that target uses are jobs and housing.

Note that this is just for "vintage downtown Main Street buildings". Presumably vintage means prior to WWII.

Which begs the question on how many of these are left, considering Main Street has lost a lot of prewar structures via various urban renewal schemes and new construction. Arguably Main Street has the lowest concentration of prewar buildings.

Mapping out vintage Main Street buildings, and color coding them by private and public/non-proift use, one see there are 10 in private hands, and two (Kuhns and McCrory) have recently been renovated (maybe the McCrorys could use a bit more).

Note that most of these buildings are over 7 stories tall, actually most of the them are small high- or mid-rises. Probably somewhat costly to renovate. One, the Lindsey Building, is owned by the city, but is vacant. Presumably the city might be interested giving it to a developer to renovate.

But what is noticeable are the very few older propertys and the relatively large scale of the buildings.

Vintage Downtown Beyond Main

Broadening the look, diagramming the core of downtown by including blocks flanking Ludlow and Jefferson Streets, one sees considerably more vintage buildings, at smaller scale.

..which also occur in loose clusters. Two of these have sort of historic district designation, either nominated or eligible...Terra Cotta (maybe), and Fire Blocks and vicinty.

Another sort of cuts across the heart of downtown, including Ludlow, the Arcade, and Main south of 3rd. The last undisturbed prewar block front (no parking lots or new construction) is in this cluster..north side of 4th, between Ludlow and Main.

The Fire Blocks cluster on 3rd between Jefferson and St Clair has the last mostly intact prewar streetscape, with minimal disturbance by new construction and parking lots (though these are on the street they are not large enought to distort the streetscape)

What Will $1M per year Buy?

Given the scale of the buildings on Main, not much. Example from Louisville compared to Dayton:

An old hotel of roughly the same scale as a Dayton midrise (but more elaborate inside) cost $20M to renovate into mixed use (but mostly residential).

Comparing it to the Fidelity Building, perhaps $10M to adpatively re-use the Fidelity? $1M wont go too far there (10% of reno cost)?

Perhaps a much larger deal fund would be needed to do the kind of large-scale renovations that would be needed on Main for places like Center City, Fidelity, the Lindsey Building.

$1M a year might go much farther if used for the smaller vintage building clusters off Main. Buildings like this, where the issues are in part code compliance, restoration to NPS standard, fire safety, hazmat abatement, where a city grant could help to reduce development costs.

Since these occur in clusters there could be a concerted effort to regenerate these two ways:

  • Residential districts, using the $1M/yr fund to work on converting upper floors to residential, perhaps to fund fire code compliance work
  • Ground floor use, using the $M/yr fund to assist in ground floor tenant improvements for new and existing businesses (retail, nightclubs, food & drink, gallerys, etc). some great streetscapes could be made even greater, and unused upper floors could be made livable.

Note that this isn't to denigrate large scale renovations of downtown office buildings. This could be done as well, but needs a more robust funding stream. $1M/year is not going to help too much. The impact would be greater if this money was focused in the older building clusters off Main.


Anonymous said...

Jeffrey- once again- great research.
However, this is nothing but another attempt at corporate welfare- and the future recipients of this money have already probably been identified.
Having worked with several developers who have completed projects in the urban core (I consider "downtown" much larger than the area the city defines it as) the main problems aren't (or haven't been) cash or willingness- they have been the absolute obstinacy of the planning, zoning and building codes departments and their steadfast tactic of roadblocking every innovative use.
The Cannery was originally to have offices on the second floor- to create a work/live/shop building- code issues and HUD funding killed it off.
My favorite building in the Oregon District- the old Morris furniture building, is locked out of parking within the right radius, so no occupancy permits would be issued.
We would be able to do a lot more by relaxing code modern code requirements than by piddling in a million a year.
Examples: A local family owned small grocery was forced to put an ADA bathroom in a former gas-station- even though they were not required to provide a public restroom. Additional cost: $10K, benefit to citizen: $0
The list goes on.
Sprinkler systems, elevators, etc can add huge costs- even if the building is fireproof- and has an old style elevator (Lofts on Sinclair).
The list goes on. This is another do nothing solution to a real problem (sort of like the Bush stimulus package). Wrong solution to the wrong problem.

Jefferey said...

Thanks. When I first read this I thought this was a great idea, then I read "main street" and thought this isn't enough $$$ to make an impact, esp if they are talking residential conversions.

I don't think this is nefarious, I just think its ill concieved, based on what I know about costs and deal funds in other citys.

I recognize code compliance is a big ticket item for adatpive re-use, which is why I was suggesting that this would be a great use for the money..smaller jobs (spread the wealth) in the areas I was pointing out, and the city pays for the code compliance line items in the reno estimates via the grants.

The parking issue is just silly. When I lived in downtown Sacramento I didn't have dedicated parking. I had an "E" Permit, which meant I could park in certain areas long term. It was a hassle, but they wanted people in town.

In Dayton's case there is plenty of parking everywhere, it just needs to be pooled more. If you have walk to a lot, so what?