Friday, November 11, 2005

Ideas, issues and brainstorming at MSPA's Small Area Plan kickoff.

Last evening at the Grand Convention Center, the Main Street Preservation Association hosted a kickoff evening designed to gather ideas and strategies toward a Small Area Plan for the Mansion Row Historic District.

Kirkwood Design Studio of Bloomington, Indiana, offered an informative presentation that might be briefly summarized as applying the lessons of New Urbanism to our unique locale -- taking inventory of what we have, knowing what has worked in other communities, and formulating a plan of action accordingly.

Diggin' in the Dirt's Ann Streckfus, an event organizer, will be returning often to these topics. Here's her first dispatch:

MSPA Still Gathering Info for Small Area Plan

MSPA was pleased at the turnout last night–53 people, including Mayor James Garner and Councilman Steve Price, were in attendance for the slide presentation by Marc Cornett of Kirkwood Design Studio, Bloomington, IN, with group discussion afterward.

As Ann notes, workshops are being held today and tomorrow. Read her article for "where and when" details.

Undoubtedly the biggest news to come out of last evening's meeting was the announcement of a renovation plan for the unoccupied M. Fine factory building, located on Main Street between 14th and 15th. The building's owner unveiled a $7.5 million makeover into a retirement home, with 58 "independent" units and 23 assisted living, and with the stated aim of retaining the original look of the building while unifying it under one architectural design.

Here's the Courier-Journal's report: Retirement home planned at factory, by Ben Zion Hershberg.

When the structure is remodeled, (its owner Jim) McCain said, "It will anchor the east end of Main Street."

Given the four bed and breakfasts currently operating on Main Street, the many historical structures already renewed, Al Goodman's work at the Moser Tannery complex, the approaching M. Fine project, attractive new condos under construction behind the floodwall off 6th, and Scribner Place finally underway on the west side of State Street, it's obvious that the Main Street corridor is primed for an explosion.

According to Marc of Kirkwood Design, absolutely central to any plan that seeks to maximize this coming explosion is traffic management: "Speeding is a traffic design issue, not a law enforcement issue," and "not just slowing traffic, but bringing it in."

In short, it is time for a massive, city-wide reconsideration of the way traffic moves in New Albany.

Marc discussed the importance of on-street parking as opposed to open parking lots, green areas, how new structures can be woven into the existing neighborhood fabric, encouraging pedestrians and walking, and repeatedly emphasized the importance of "third spaces" as a crucial tenet of New Urbanism.

The ideas and issues exchanged last evening were undeniably progressive and utterly fascinating, tying together various themes that already have been voiced, and providing valuable new information. Those of us who live outside the vicinity of Main Street's area plan have work of our own to do, as with the East Spring Street Neighborhood Association's interest in devising an area plan, and Develop New Albany's ongoing efforts in the historic business district.

The point is to integrate these areas of focus into a functional and vibrant whole.

As a postscript, here are two views of the revamped Veterans' Plaza on Market Street, as snapped three days ago. Much has been done since then to have the memorial ready for Veterans Day events. Read Chris Morris's Tribune article for insight into this cooperative community venture.


ceece said...

how great! There have been many ideas for the old building, and I am glad to hear of someone following through.

Can't wait to hear more!

Jeff Gillenwater said...

Unfortunately couldn't make the meeting but, in the general spirit of things:

"Forget the damned motor car and build the cities for lovers and friends."

—Lewis Mumford

The New Albanian said...

The M. Fine conversion probably won't come without some measure of controversy, i.e., Greg Sekula's question of Mr. McCain about historical tax credits, and the response that the imperative of finishing ahead of rising costs might preclude the lengthy process of qualifying for such credits (and we don't want to lose time worrying about the color of the curtains, or something to that effect).

Note that I'm not bringing this up as a zinger aimed at either McCain or Sekula. It was suggested last night that the M. Fine building lies outside the boundaries of the historic district. What happens next and who has jurisdiction (if any) is probably another topic.

Bluegill, it reminded me of our discussion with Mike Kopp on tour day about buildings in Europe retaining exterior facades, but being completely rebuilt on the inside.

Jeff Gillenwater said...

Mrs. Bluegill has been filling me in on the building situation. It does seem reminicent of that.

While I understand the owner's concerns and applaud some of their vision, I do hope they'll take the idea of facade preservation seriously. It'd be a shame to see one of the early projects become devisive.

Are they considering any mixed use for the ground floor of the development? In the interest of community building, it would be intriquing to have a place close by that encouraged people to hang out with an older generation.

My initial interest in New Albany was sparked by spending time downtown with my great-grandparents and their cronies as a kid, listening to stories while hopped up on coffee candy.

Ann said...

Mr. McCain has offered to let us tour the Fine building. I think it would be great if a group of us could arrange to walk through it with him and make a few suggestions such as those mentioned here. He seems very enthused about the project and I think he'd like to hear what we have to say.

We'll be making plans for a walk-thru soon and I'll keep all you who are interested informed.

I'm with you, Bluegill. I'd much rather see us draw these older people into our neighborhood than see them shuttled out somewhere. I have many fond memories of stories from the older folks in my life when I was a child.

The New Albanian said...

Constructive engagement certainly seems possible in this instance.

Katie "The Intern" said...