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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

More "Urban" Is Not Always Better

The old Raiffie Vending Company building at 3663 Forest Park Avenue may not look like much, especially since its owner has let it sit without windows for the past three years. However, the two-story modern brick building has great qualities. Built in 1948, the building has a streamline modernist style that, while not greatly articulated here, is quietly attractive. Since the windows were part of the building design, the stylistic character was more clear before removal. Built of steel and brick masonry, the building is solid. This is the type of construction that is infinitely adaptable and practical for almost any use imaginable.

Of course, your mind might change when you see the new hotel that Sasak Corporation plans to build on the site of the modern warehouse. Five stories tall with wide street-level retail openings, this building adds more building density and urban connection to the site. Its masonry work is more interesting than that of the plain little box that now occupied the site, right? The hotel is a more urban building, you might think, and will add urban vitality to the site. Despite some flaws, like the 100-space garage in back being visible from the street through a pointless drive in front, this building makes the block more "urban" than the Raiffie building and thus constitutes an improvement.


Here is where the difference between rendering and reality comes into play. The developers are proposing to build this hotel at a cost of $90 per square feet, a price range below that of your average do-it-yourself Old North rehab. The masonry may look lovely in a tiny JPG, but it's not going to be brick in real life. The hotel will be clad in precast panels, spaced by those oh-so-obvious black seams.

Is the shift to "more urban" worth it if it means throwing away better construction for a cheaply-built building that meets all of the rote urbanist qualities? I say no emphatically. We can't keep throwing away buildings while we sit on an alarming amount of vacant land. There are many other sites in Midtown where a hotel could be built, and the old warehouse at 3663 Forest Park itself could be adapted if the developers wanted to try. But they'd have to spend more than $90 per square foot.


Doug Duckworth said...

Chesterfield urban

Brian said...

Hmmm...I initially didn't think this was so bad, but now I'm not so sure.

This is Sasak's (Pat Sasak?) second proposal for a hotel on this site. I don't see any urgent need to build a hotel on this spot, especially considering how hard it will be for eastbound cars to access it. I'd much rather see a new hotel in Grand Center.

Matt M. said...

Now that I have had more time to think about this development, and having read this post, I am more opposed to this project. As I said on my blog, a hotel should probably go into Grand Center rather than this location anyhow. The parking garage is simply inexcusable. And there are way too many vacant lots to justify this, as you note.

Plus, if this site is so desirable, could hotel not be built behind the present building, which would become the entrance?

Oh wait...that involves some creativity. And a real budget.

samizdat said...

Matt H.: How about on top, much like the Marriot was built on top of the old Spanish Pavilion? This is really a handsome building, with its' own style and sense of place. It doesn't deserve the wrecking ball. Especially for the pastiche of a crap tower proposed for its' replacement. 90USD a squ ft. Well, sometimes there's cheap and then there'e CHEEEEAP.

Doug Duckworth said...

Hello, The Metropolitian Building!!!!