Monday, December 06, 2004

Razing High Street

My guess is the city economic development folks would have rather razed the properties in the 900 block of High Street and had some big box store move in.
While city officials were dreaming up town centers and other ways to push High Street’s revitalization west, a New York developer was already on the job.

Van Hildreth had cleared out a century of barber chairs and other castoffs from a run-down building west of Effingham Street.

Located in the 900 block of High St., it was closer to an inner-city soup kitchen than the showy parts of downtown.

But today tenants are paying $1,200 to $1,300 to live in the gleaming loft spaces that Hildreth first envisioned two years ago.

“You would have thought I was crazy,” he said. He knew that Effingham Street had traditionally been considered the track, so to speak, that divided downtown from blight and crime.

But Hildreth had been doing renovations of apartments and lofts in New York for about 20 years. Long enough to know there are profits to pushing such boundaries away. And long enough to see success drive the cost of once-bargain properties sky-high.
I'm thinking he didn't get free City-owned property or huge tax incentives from the City.

Said the editor of the Portfolio magazine:
Over in Portsmouth, meanwhile, officials are excited about the arrival of a Home Depot — on land that had been owned by the city — regardless of the negative impact it will inevitably have on small, independent businesses.
The editor went on to write,
I mention the impact on small businesses because it is a concern that often comes immediately to mind in such discussions. But suburban sprawl affects all of us in a more general way by replacing beauty with sterility.

Again, I would argue that this is terrible for the economy in the long-term because many of the creative workers that make up the heart of today’s workforce are repelled by such gloomy landscapes. But I see no need to linger on economic implications. For me the matter is much simpler: beauty speaks for itself; its value is self-evident.

Indeed, if chambers of commerce want to rewrite their guidelines, they would do well to start with this premise: Is this project beautiful?

I know, I know – it sounds loony. But think about it. Think about what that might mean, and imagine how things might play out if this really were our top priority. Imagine the effect it would have on our minds and our souls and our productivity. Then get back to me.
Yes, big box stores are beautiful! And if that's so, I hate to think what's ugly.

And then, over in Norfolk, it seems the folks at ODU might have their heads screwed on straight. They're creating a "university village" in the heart of Norfolk's west side:
Old Dominion University Real Estate Foundation announces that the first three leases have been executed at The Shops at University Village. Boar’s Nest Bar Bistro, Port City Java and Perfectly Frank are the first of many anticipated restaurants and shops to lease space in the 75-acre mixed-use development behind the Ted Constant Convocation Center on Hampton Blvd.

These first three leases, together with a university fitness center and public safety office, occupy space within the 50,000 square feet of ground-level retail on Monarch Way. New student apartments opened in 2003 and 2004 on the upper floors.

This residential/retail development—a $55 million investment by the Real Estate Foundation—is the first private investment in The University Village. When fully developed, investment in The University Village is expected to exceed $260 million. Master development plans for the urban village include restaurants, shops, residential, office and research facilities, a city-owned golf course and hotel on land surrounding and adjacent to the Old Dominion University campus.

“Today’s announcement represents a significant milestone in the development of The University Village,” says Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim. “The spectacular growth of Old Dominion University is making a significant contribution to Norfolk’s growing reputation as one of the most vibrant and exciting communities in the United States.”
Norfolk is a city, that's trying to create community. Portsmouth is a community trying to create, er, retail big box stores. Chesapeake, well, Chesapeake is going to turn into suburban sprawl from border to border.
Smart growth advocates in Chesapeake are concerned that the city’s rural areas may soon be overrun by sprawl.

At a public forum last week, Citizens for the Preservation of Rural Chesapeake expressed concern that the city’s long-term development plan is weighted too heavily in favor of developers’ interests.

Chesapeake’s story is in many ways a “Tale of Two Cities.” One city to the south has open spaces, farms, and a night sky full of stars. The other city to the north has developments, subdivisions, and so many lights that only the moon is visible overhead.

Last Thursday, about 150 people from rural Chesapeake came to the heart of suburban Chesapeake for a citizen’s forum at the Conference Center. The topic for the evening was plans for growth and development that seem destined to merge these two cities.
When are we going to figure out a sane way to create economically viable communities without razing everything from old buildings to wooded lots?

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