A glassy new project by local architect Ken Hayes has been proposed for a corner across the street from City Hall, at Hamilton and Ramona Street. It is the latest in a string of major developments that are expected to add vitality, mass and a whole lot of office workers to downtown's second-busiest thoroughfare.
The current building, which once housed Radio Shack, would be demolished to make way for a four-story structure, which would feature retail on the ground floor, two apartments on the fourth floor and offices everywhere else. Altogether, the 15,000-square-foot building would include 9,190 square feet of office space.
Despite its 50-foot height, the maximum allowed under city law, the new development is unlikely to stick out in this part of the city. City Hall is eight stories high, as is the Casa Olga building one block away, which is in the midst of being converted into a hotel. In addition, developer Charles "Chop" Keenan is working on a similar project — a four-story building with retail on the ground floor and offices and two residential units above — less than two blocks away, at 135 Hamilton Ave.
Another four-story building, at 100 Hamilton, made headlines last year when it was sold for a staggering $64 million. Its tenants include the data-analysis giant, Palantir.
Because the Hayes building is consistent with the site's zoning, it does not have to go through the extensive review that characterizes projects seeking zoning flexibility. On Thursday, July 18, it cleared one of the few procedural hurdles in its path when it received the blessing of the city's Architectural Review Board. Members of the board, which had also reviewed this project on June 6, had some suggestions relating to colors and materials to be used in the new building before voting 3-0, with Randy Popp and Naseem Alizadeh absent, in favor. But they generally had good things to say about the project, with board member Lee Lippert calling it a "handsome building" and board member Alex Lew saying it will be a good fit on the Hamilton Avenue block.
"I think the massing is well done to integrate it in with the neighboring buildings," Lew said.
At the same time, the Hayes building will do little to ease the anxieties of area residents over downtown's well-documented parking shortage. In the last three years, residents throughout downtown, particularly in Professorville and Downtown North, have been calling for the city to do something about employees taking up all-day parking spots on their residential streets, a consequence of the rapid addition of office space nearby. The city has taken a multi-pronged approach to solving this problem, exploring the possibility of building new parking garages, revising its permit system for existing garages and temporarily suspending an exemption that allows developers to build without providing enough parking spaces for their tenants.
Lippert noted Thursday that the parking problem, while real, is beyond the purview of the architecture board, which is mainly concerned with the building itself.
"I sympathize with what residents in the SOFA (South of Forest Avenue) area and the area further south are dealing with, but frankly our job here is to review the standards with regard to quality and character and seeing that the buildings meet those standards," Lippert said.