Now that I'm slower than even the mainstream media, I guess I'd better post my reactions to Jeff Speck's presentation at the Figge last Thursday night.
For background, here's the QCTimes article about it, here's their editorial about it, and here's a blog post about it from Information Swimming.
Now, one of the things that didn't make it in the QCTimes articles was that Mr. Speck never expected every one of his suggestions to be utilized. His phrase was that he was throwing a lot of stuff at the wall to see what sticks. The Design Center and I believe the Downtown Partnership will be working on more public input sessions about downtown improvement ideas.
Another misconception is that Jeff Speck suggested moving the Freight House Farmer's Market out of downtown. In fact, he suggested moving it farther INTO downtown, and onto second street. I understand where he's coming from in wanting to combine the popularity of the farmer's market with the success of the 2nd Street corridor, but I think the Freight House area could be the next success story and shouldn't be given up on. Second Street is great, but it doesn't have the river views or historic Freight House as a backdrop. The area of the Freight House was one of the few suggestions that I disagreed with.
One of the things I really liked were his suggestions of smaller buildings to fill in missing areas. One idea was to take out a couple of the drive-through lanes at the USBank on 2nd Street and replace them with a skinny building shielding the rest of the drive up from the Figge plaza. Plazas feel more like plazas when they're surrounded by buildings on 3 or 4 sides. As far as bank drive-up lanes, Mr. Speck correctly pointed out that you rarely see them full these days. The drive-up lanes near the Figge and the library on Main are both taking up land that could have better uses.
Another good infill idea was to build a narrow building along the east side of Iowa Street between 3rd and 4th street to connect the Crescent Warehouse District down to the 2nd Street corridor. Right now you have to walk between a demolished cement plant and a large parking lot, which doesn't provide a welcoming impression.
As you can see from the few things I've mentioned, a lot of the suggestions weren't for public improvements, but for areas ripe for private development. One of the problems that was mentioned at the presentation was that local banks are unwilling to finance condos downtown. Considering the extremely high occupancy rate of the apartments downtown, I have yet to understand why both banks and developers are so wary of trying condos and market-rate apartments. Something is going to have to change on this front for downtown to really take off like I feel its close to doing.
I'm going to stop there for today. Jeff had a lot of good ideas, but having visuals really helps. I'm hoping to be able to get a copy of the map that was shown at the presentation, and hopefully a video of the entire presentation will soon be available somewhere online.