Group: OneAmerica garage needs retail, better design

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OneAmerica parking garageThe city's Regional Center Hearing Examiner last week approved plans for a five- or six-story parking garage at the northwest OneAmerica parking garagecorner of Illinois and New York streets after developer Flaherty & Collins Properties made minor tweaks to its design. The monolithic parking structure serving the OneAmerica Tower would provide just 1,500 square feet of street-level retail space, even less than the giant garages across Illinois Street.

City guidelines say parking garages fronting pedestrian walkways should include “retail shops, restaurants, business services and offices.” Instead, Flaherty and garage designer CSO Architects offered to add additional landscaping and fake storefront windows for an "improved urban streetscape."

(The top image is the original design, and the bottom one is the updated and approved elevation. Click either for a larger version.)

A group of urban policy advocates and bloggers including Eric McAfee, Chris Corr, Graeme Sharpe, Kevin Kastner and Joe Smoker are appealing the July 12 approval, arguing taxpayers footing the bill for the project deserve better. They're asking for the city to do one of two things: Request a redesign of the garage to provide more first-floor retail; or move the garage to the block's interior, leaving the frontage along Capitol Avenue and Illinois Street "open to superior development possibilities in the future."

"The proposed site is within three blocks of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, three blocks from the Canal Walk, and just two blocks from the Statehouse," the group wrote. "This prominent block deserves a level of urban design consideration in accordance with its visibility to motorists and pedestrians."

The new garage would pave the way for an $85 million development set to bring a Marsh store and hundreds of apartments to surface parking lots bounded by Michigan Street, Capitol Avenue, Vermont Street and Indiana Avenue. To incentivize that development, city leaders agreed to contribute $13 million for the garage, which would be owned by OneAmerica. The garage would be built with similar materials as the OneAmerica Tower and include above-ground pedestrian connectors over New York and Vermont streets.

Jim Crossin, Flaherty's director of development, has countered that the purpose of the garage is to serve OneAmerica employees and tenants of the company’s tower. “You can’t escape the fact that it is a parking garage, and some things aren’t achievable,” he said. “By no means is it more than a utilitarian garage, so we think [the design] is appropriate.”

The men appealing the decision note in their letter that the city's Regional Center Design Guidelines won a national award for excellence in planning. "But neither the award nor the guidelines have any palpable meaning if we do not apply them beyond the lowest possible standard."

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