Sunday, March 15, 2015

Reasons to Demolish Marion Car Park Still Lame, HLC to Deliberate Thursday

Here we go again.

On Thursday the Historic Landmarks Commission will deliberate on an application to demolish the Marion Car Park at Ferry and Commercial.

Marion Car Park from inside the Conference Center
You may remember this from last summer, when the HLC kept the hearing open until this month. The hearing now is a continuation of that process.

But nothing materially has changed!

The idea last summer was that the owners and prospective developers would have a better idea of how a new purpose for the lot would offer a "better and higher use" than the parking structure proposed to be demolished. They would have a plan.

But no. They propose to level the building and merely to leave a new surface parking lot. Not a new building or anything. Just a hole in the urban fabric.
The applicant argues that a gravel vacant lot has more value than the resource [the building and parking structure] in its present state.
That is a laughable proposition.

The Staff Recommendation is rightly to deny the application, and this seems like a slam-dunk.

As we saw with Howard Hall, an owner doesn't actually have to try very hard to make the case for the value of a proposed new use. It just has to be plausible.

And the owners of the Marion Car Park aren't even trying to meet that low, low threshold!

What might be worse though, are some of the letters in support of the demolition. Real estate agents and developers say that there are prospective buyers in the wings who would come forward once permission for demolition is in hand. But that until the demolition is pre-approved, they and their plans must remain secret.

This is not right. Developers who want to demolish a historic structure should be fairly open and transparent, and offer a reasonably detailed plan. Demolition requests on historic properties need to meet higher standards, and secrecy is a FAIL on this.

Our appetite for parking let to demolishing
a truly historic building
This parking garage is no wonderful thing. It replaced a truly historic building, and the unsuccessful fight to preserve that building was the start of our local preservation movement and the Marion County Historical Society (now merged into the Willamette Heritage Center). Both for the way it expresses our voracious appetite for parking and for the way it represents the loss of an earlier, vastly more important building, the Marion Car Park represents failure. It possesses a kind of "inverse" historical significance, one based on absence and loss. It is a reproach to the city and its citizens.

Consequently, there are many kinds of redevelopment for which it would be easy to say, "yeah, this proposal definitely has more value than the Marion Car Park." A compelling plan for a new building and some historical commemorative signage would attract not just support, but probably a lot of enthusiastic support, for demolition.

But pre-approved demolition of historic structures, even ones as ugly as this, without a plan for the redevelopment is not good policy, and folks are right to resist that.

(There's not a whole lot more to say, alas. See the previous note for more. If folks are looking for early garages and early expressions of autoism to preserve, the Otto J. Wilson garage is almost certainly the pre-eminent local example that does not yet have an historic designation.)

1 comment:

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Apparently the application was deemed "incomplete" and this obviated the need for the HLC to take further action.

So for the moment there will be no demolition.