Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Jeff Speck's ideas for downtown Davenport

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.


Anonymous said...

Did Jeff Speck or City Staff have any comments about the Forrest Block Building? It sets right on two main gateways of the downtown and it looks worse than any other property in the area.

If nothing was discussed about plans, it might be an interesting thread for you to do with pictures.

pioneer98 said...

Soemone asked how big of a drag that properties like the Forrest Block can be on the surrounding area, and Speck said he thought it had a long ways to go before it became a big problem for that area. I was kind of surprised to hear his take on that myself. He stated a couple times that he'd rather have a vacant building on a site than a vacant lot.

What is the deal with banks not wanting to fund condos downtown? Is it simply that they consider them too risky? It almost sounds like there might be a larger conspiracy at work here.

Outside Looking In said...

I am not a banker and I am not a developer, but from the outside looking in, here is my two cents worth of an explanation

Condo projects downtown are probably more difficult to finance for several reasons. When a bank makes a loan and takes a mortgage, it becomes a part of their loan portfolio. The Federal Bank Regulators require that the bank set up a loan loss reserve based on risk factors assigned to the loans. A downtown condo project carries a higher risk assessment than a comparable project in a residential neighborhood zoned for condos. Accordingly, a bank has to set aside a higher loss reserve (a liability on their Balance Sheet). For a developer to qualify for a mortgage, the banks would most likely require a higher percentage of equity from the developer.

It becomes more difficult for a developer to come up with the equity participation without some sort of public loan guaranties or incentives. So, to do the project, you need a financially strong developer, a solid business plan/marketing plan for downtown residential condos, participation of some sort from the public sector, or a creative land deal to create equity and a bank willing to assume the risk.

Anonymous said...

According to the Quad City Times this morning, both the Blackhawk and the Forrest Block Building were awarded Historic Tax Grants for their proposed projects. But the article also states that Highland Investment may not be going forward with renovations on the Forrest Block Project. If this is correct, the city should demand that the building be sold to a developer that will referbish that building so the tax credits won't be lost.

Pho3niX said...

The Riverwalk Lofts (old Salvation Army Building) got the historic tax credits as well. Three of four approved (out of ~35 statewide) were in Davenport. Yeah, we bad! (pun intended)

Anonymous said...

Things are looking up now that JLCS is closing. I hate the thought of the temp housing shutting down, bu the shelter was a crime attractor. Yippieee. Let's clean the place out and throw a party. The vagrants will move onto the next Ridge emprire in Des Moines. Watch out DH - they are coming......