Thursday, May 8, 2008

Convention Hotel Complex

Here are the renderings of the Courtyard/Springhill hotels proposed for the Marriott convention hotel complex. First is the north elevation viewed looking due south, and the second is the west elevation to be seen facing due east. Yes, the renderings are fuzzy, but this is what was made available at the Metropolitan Development Commission hearing on May 7th.

Three petitions relative to this project were approved yesterday. A rezoning of the grassy wedge at the west, which was apparently owned by and zoned for White River State Park. Variances for the buildings to encroach into the Sky Exposure Plane, and to allow for a driveway on Washington Street being 5 feet from the intersection with West Street. A vacation of all of the public right-of-way up to curbline of the all the surrounding streets. The MDC expressed a lot of concern about how the developer's attorney had modified the commitment requested by the staff that they reach an agreement with the State Patrol to ensure that the building and construction activity will not interfere with emergency communication signals that are broadcast past the site. The petitioner also slightly modified the commitment requested by staff that would require that enough space be reserved between the existing streets and the proposed buildings to construct minimum 8-foot wide sidewalks with 2 feet of separation from the curb, unless they later get the DPW to agree to less space.

I believe the only hurdle remaining is the Regional Center Approval of the designs, which is an administrative review done by City planning staff. People could probably contact them about their concerns, but I don't know if they typically consider public comments during an administrative review.

The Regional Center Zoning Ordinance does contain the following language:

The action of the Administrator upon such approval request shall be subject to

the filing of an appeal, within ten (10) days, by any aggrieved person to the

Metropolitan Development Commission.

The Metropolitan Development Commission may consider and act upon such

appeal of the action of the Administrator at any public meeting of the

Commission and shall either approve, disapprove, or approve the use, site and

development plan subject to any conditions, amendments, commitments, or

covenants by the petitioner. The petitioner or appellant, if on appeal, shall have

the right to be heard.

Thus, if the public felt aggrieved by whatever design might be administratively approved, there would be a mechanism for having the design debated in a public hearing, however, I suspect there would be a filing fee for such appeal.

My biggest concern would be that the north and west ends of the building, which are the parts that project out closest to the street appear to be nearly blank walls, with either no windows, or very small windows within a stairwell (it's really hard to be sure from the poor quality and lack of detail indicated on these renderings). I've heard others characterize the design as being an interstate off-ramp hotel, and I have a hard time understanding exactly what that means (aside from the somewhat objective position that the building would not be as architecturally "nice" as most other downtown hotels), but I think the two box signs near the top of the presumed stairwells, and the inward design are the biggest signs that this is not an appropriate urban design.

One needs to look at the site plan (this is the L-shaped building at the northwest portion of the site) to understand how significantly the ends of the building will impact its appearance. The building won't be visible from the east because of the JW, and the upper floors may or may not be visible from Victory Field to the south dependent upon the height of the ballroom that will front Maryland Street (I wonder how that will address the street). I haven't seen a south elevation. The most prominent views of the building would appear to be from the north and west. Unless someone is standing at the end of the canal, northwest of the hotel, they will be looking at one of the two ends, which I'm imagining looking like the ends of the Lugar Tower, except with two cheap illuminated boxes at the top.

Will an 8-foot wide sidewalk be wide enough to accommodate the throngs of people going to/from the 1,500 or so hotel rooms at this complex? Aren't most sidewalks in the downtown core double or more this width? How many people can comfortably walk along an 8-foot sidewalk? Probably not more than three, which would mean that two pairs could not pass in opposite directions without walking single file. Is it really impossible to design a hotel complex that could attract a Super Bowl without compromising an inviting streetscape and proper pedestrian accommodation? Will we be able to attract similar events in the future if we do?

Would it be too much to ask that if the building is going to be an L-shape, that the ends look a little better. Since when are urban buildings designed with a stairwell being the closest part of the building to the street frontage? And couldn't they at least use individual letters to identify the hotel names as most every other downtown hotel does?