Opinion and Editorials

EDITORIAL: Apartment deal is solid decision

July 20, 2013

There is much to praise in the proposal to redevelop the north half of the former Market Square Arena site, which was officially unveiled July 16.

The 28-story apartment building promises to be visually appealing. That’s a subjective judgment, certainly, but consistent with much online reaction to the skyscraper’s design.

Based on the renderings and comments by developer Flaherty & Collins, the glass-clad building will have a silver cast, which will make a stylish eastern bookend to a downtown flanked on the western edge by the blue JW Marriott.

A smidgeon higher than the 25-story City-County Building across the street, it’s hard to argue the building is too tall. And it’s not too short; it is a welcome departure from the onslaught of four- and five-story apartment buildings under construction downtown. The project will broaden the skyline without causing it to tilt with visual weight or make a statement so loudly that it detracts from the ongoing revitalization of downtown. If the skyline were a smile, the new building will add a well-positioned tooth.

What we can’t tell from the sketches is how the building will relate to the street. An earlier generation of high-rises made their mark on the skyline but failed at the base, where pedestrians should be engaged rather than ignored.

Indeed, drawing more residents downtown is the project’s biggest potential upside. The influx on the east side of downtown will continue momentum built by other apartment complexes added in recent years or set to open soon.

Developer Flaherty & Collins Properties has a solid track record, which makes it a good bet the project will move off the drawing board and eventually house apartment dwellers and a ground-floor retail tenant. We hope it will draw a large retailer, perhaps a high-end grocery, to address a common lament among downtown residents.

While there’s much to like about the project, it’s unfortunate that developers still insist on incentives to invest in downtown.

With an apartment occupancy rate hovering around 99 percent and the economy improving, the city might have been in a position to give away less to Flaherty & Collins than the equivalent of $23.4 million in cash and land.

To its credit, Flaherty & Collins asked for fewer handouts than three of the five contenders for the project.

When the city considers its next big redevelopment, it should make the process more open. Too much of the deliberation about this decision took place behind closed doors, which sidelined experts who might have helped improve the finished product.

The city also should take a transparent approach as it finalizes the details of its deal with Flaherty & Collins. Important questions include: What protections are in place for the city if new property tax revenue is not adequate to cover bond payments? Are there clawback provisions if the private financing falls through, or the developer fails to follow through on its proposed design?

All in all, this looks like a good project. Everyone in the metro area has an interest in wishing for its success.•

To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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