Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Downtown Redevelopment Candidates and Union Street at Commercial: DAB Tomorrow

The Downtown Advisory Board meets tomorrow, Thursday the 28th, and they've got some juicy items on the agenda.

Consideration of "opportunity sites," dormant real estate and candidates for purchase and redevelopment by the Urban Renewal Agency, has been percolating, and they've now got a tentative list and ranking. At the top are the Belluschi Bank, aka former Wells Fargo bank, and Marion Car Park.

Pietro Belluschi's 1946-8 First National Bank:
Approved for demolition in 2008 and 2014

Marion Car Park from inside the Conference Center
They'll be talking more about the list at the meeting. The process would probably look something like what happened on North Broadway, with the so-called "A, B, and C sites" being transformed into Broadway Town Square with Salem Cinema, the YWCA building, and Broadway Commons. This model of urban renewal seems much more powerful than the 1970s style of the Pringle Creek Urban Renewal area, which as far as I can tell is pretty much a bust, generating no new increment of value on top of creating bad public space.

At the moment it is worth registering that the bank and car park are historically significant structures, though of unequal value.

We have argued here that we should be ready to demolish the car park for a high quality redevelopment project. Significantly more effort should be put into attempts at preserving and reusing the bank, an architecturally significant building designed by Pietro Belluschi. It was approved for demolition in 2008 and again in 2014, but perhaps that project is stalled out again, making the bank building available.

The bank building doesn't greet the sidewalk, however
One key challenge on the bank is the way the band of windowless, dark stone presents a blank and forbidding wall to the sidewalk. As a species of modernist box, it's not a very friendly building. Its street-level imperiousness contrasts with the humanism of the Littman relief sculptures above that celebrate trades and workers.

Probably hops!
Harvest on the Belluschi Bank,
relief by Frederic Littman
The best prospects for reusing the building would probably entail meaningful alteration of it, and some preservationists would not like this. Any successful project that does not involve complete demolition will require creativity and passion.

Anyway, these are important downtown sites that currently lack activity and commerce and it is reasonable to consider a kick-start on them with urban renewal funds.

Also on the agenda is an update on the crossing project on Union at Commercial Street.

In 2014: East/right side of Union not included in project
This is from almost two years ago, and hopefully an updated drawing will circulate as well as a more firm timeline.

Based on the drawing, the biggest question is on Commercial with the south-bound transition from a right-hand bike lane to a left-hand bike lane. East-west movement on Union seems relatively straight-forward as illustrated.

Meeting agenda and packet is here.

The Board meets Thursday the 28th, from 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm in the Urban Development Conference Room, 350 Commercial St NE, underneath the Chemeketa Parkade.


Jim Scheppke said...

Save the Belluschi building! Pietro Belluschi was the most accomplished architect ever to practice in Oregon. His modernist buildings are not to everyone's contemporary tastes, but I think over time they will be seen as more interesting and yes, even beautiful. This building might be his finest work in Salem. Maybe Social Security could cancel their lease on McGilchrist and move in here. It would be a much better location for them. Read more about Belluschi here:

Anonymous said...

The Belluschi building is nice enough but I think it is out of place downtown. Like you say, the large blank walls on the sidewalk don't greet the sidewalk. The space seems much too large for the downtown Salem market and should be split up into smaller storefronts that are more compatible and consistent with the other storefronts on Liberty.

Anonymous said...

I like the walls and the marble. The city should request the UofO Arch or Landscape Arch program to do student designs for the streetspace. Imagine some type of dining or cafe with outside tables.