Friday, August 10, 2007

Goodbye Joe's Parking...

So I live at 4th & Main and I'm trying to get my head around the new Medallion Project going in next door (where they broke ground this week). From the start the word "medallion" puts me off. It conjures up the kind of generic mixed-use development I've seen from Seattle to LA. It makes me think of yellow siding and sage green trim, a Starbucks on the ground floor, maybe even a Gap. I hope that's not what the blueprinters have in mind at 4th & Main. We moved here, as I imagine a lot of people did, because of the historic feel of the neighborhood. It's precisely because Pete's is not the Daily Grille and the Banquette is not Starbucks that we feel like we can lounge around day and night, with our friends and neighbors, 42 dogs tied to the rail. It is the distinct lack of sterility that makes 4th and Main such a pleasant place to live. (note that in the rendering Mr Farkhondepour has rerouted traffic to make Main St. 2-way - phew that would make it easier to get into the parking garage.) Now on the subject of sterile development... I hate it as a rule. So I'm trying to figure out how to reconcile that with the fact that the NE corner of 4th & Main (both the parking lot and the sidewalk) are NASTY. The parking lot is full of rats and cockroaches and aside from the regular traffic of studio trucks and craft service tents - it's pretty deserted. Furthermore, it does seem like having a parking lot inhabit an entire city block is wasteful and really the opposite of a plan seeking urban density.

I know Gilmore is a controversial man in our neighborhood and some folks like him more than others, I haven't formed a real personal opinion of him, but I feel like the consensus is that he has created a charming life for the few hundred people that populate his holdings. I fear that the Medallion potentially sits in contrast to the cozy, bohemian vibe cultivated by Gilmore & Co.

The developers says his goal is to connect the project to the surrounding neighborhood. From the LA Daily News:
"Blueprints show an intricate layout of buildings crisscrossed by public alleys
and separated by plazas that will increase the flow in and out of the complex... "It's nine separate buildings and because of the way it is broken up, it is not going to have the big long block that's typical in L.A." ... said Farkhondepour. A wide pedestrian road will stretch from where Boyd Street dead-ends into Los Angeles Street across Medallion's lot and exit to Main Street with a wide staircase. Another thoroughfare will run north-south... A roughly one-acre plaza will mark where these paths intersect near the southwest corner of the block. There, plans call for a lawn-covered platform that will sit on top of a single story of stores and hold food kiosks. Farkhondepour said that he wants a variety of eateries to fill the bottom floors and have their seating flow out into the plaza... An amphitheater-style staircase will look out toward a smaller residential building with ground-floor retail. That could hold a large screen for projecting movies. To the west of the plaza, running along Main Street, will be a two-level row of restaurants and shops. The building's style will be a modern version of the historic structures to the south, with cornices and tidy rectangular windows. "The ideal situation for us is to copy properties in the Santee Alley area, and have all that weekend traffic. That's why we have the small spaces with big front-facing windows, to have the feel of an outdoor shopping mall but with all the security and the landscaping of private ownership," said Farkhondepour. A pocket park will fill the corner of Third and Main streets. Farkhondepour said he is looking for a small grocery store to fill a 12,000-square-foot storefront."

It all sounds good I guess but the secret is the execution, if it's executed badly it could at worst an eyesore at best a really corporate feeling development. Let's hope "Medallion" isn't code for “Medici". Also I don't want to take any shots at Santee because it actually seems like a decent place, but I've been over there a couple of times and really nothing about Santee is integrated into the street - there is a small entrance leading into the convenience store and leasing office and from the food court to the sidewalk, but Santee should not be the model for how to integrate new development - at street level- into an existing neighborhood.
I am always full of mixed feelings when I think about where downtown is headed. On the one hand it's obvious that it won't stay like this forever and it's far from perfect. My hope is that downtown develops without too much corporatization. It's hard to explain what it is but you know it when you see it. It's anywhere USA - Cheesecake Factory, Banana Republic, Borders... all the things that make cities feel like malls. There are cities that hold their urban core without sucumbing but I think it's hard when development comes late. But San Francisco, Seattle and Portland have managed to let development in without surrendering to chain domination of the urban landscape.
It requires vigilence though, in San Francisco there are citywide ordinances that specifically address chain retailers and provide much greater restrictions for their location and development. This is true in Seattle as well. The development that occurred in Seattle in the early '90's placed tremendous emphasis on cultivating charm and neighborhoods over the invasion of Outback Steakhouse and Borders... That's not to say Seattle, Portland and SF aren't populated by large retailers - it's just that they are kept in balance with urban development. But we can't rely on the Farkhondepour's of the world to look after urban planning - that responsibilities rests with the City Council, the Mayor's office and the CRA. It's on their shoulders to manage this redevelopment smartly.

1 comment:

bgfa said...

The model that they are using is not Santee Court but Santee Alley, the clothing market near 12th & Los Angeles Streets. It's a mid to low rise group of buildings with alleys between for pedestrians, largely on private land (read: legal to exclude undesireables).

My problem with the Medallion is the density: it's suburban density. That lot is HUGE, but they are proposing 9 buildings with 190 apartments. 190 apartments could fit on 1/10th of that lot. 2 of the 9 buildings will be parking garages, and the developers have openly stated that they want to attract national chain retail (watch for Starbucks, Quizno's, UPS store, Cold Stone Creamery, just like EVERY other new development elsewhere). Not sure they can pull that off, but it is possible.

There will be a public meeting Thursday August 16 at the Bank building at 4th & Main where the developers will present their plans. Give them an earful, and demand urban scale, not O.C. styled cheap shit.