Johnson & Wales presented their proposal for a parking garage on the corner of Richmond and Pine Streets at last night’s Downcity Design Review Committee meeting, and we have the renderings to look over. Let’s get to it.
As it turns out, it is actually quite nice, as garages go, it is even quite nice as far as buildings go.
Another building demo
Let’s get the main sticking point out of the way first, 37 Richmond Street (the Mirabar Building) will be torn down under this proposal. My understanding is J&W has an offer on the table to buy it provided they get permission to move forward with this project. The process for demo is they would need to receive approval and a building permit for the proposed garage before they can receive a demo permit. The process is complicated by the fact that they want to give the Mirabar owners time to secure a new space and move before they proceed with demo (good news for Mirabar’s patrons).
Of course, I never like demos, this building is handsome in its own way. As a bar, it does not have any glazing at the street and feels blank and non-contributing during the day. J&W considered building around it (they likely had to over the years when the owner wasn’t willing to sell), and considered moving it. The building is a remnant of a larger block of buildings and aside from its front facade, the other facades are meant to be interior to other neighboring buildings.
I am of course never happy to see a building be torn down, and we’ve been down this path of promises of a new shiny building if we allow for a demo before, we’ve been left with surface lots time and again. I do think that Johnson & Wales is different. We’ve seen that they have plans for major expansion within the coming years, they have already secured temporary parking for use during construction, and we know they have funds.
The proposal is for a 6 level open parking structure with brick, glass, and metal facade treatments, including 25 foot deep retail spaces lining Richmond Street. The building is slated to be 42,000 square feet with 2,900 square feet of retail space. It will feature approximately 750 parking spaces used primarily by students including Continuing Education students at night. The current surface lot on site has approximately 180 parking spaces. The 6th level of the garage will be open with the building reading more as a 5 story building due to the lower floor to floor heights of a garage as well as the top level not being enclosed. The main garage structure will be made of precast concrete. The vehicle entrance and exit will be on Pine Street (a B Street).
The site is zoned for a 100 foot tall structure, the tallest point of the proposed structure (the stair towers) will be 74 feet. The structure is built to the street with the Richmond Street retail reaching the Pine Street corner and extending down Pine Street for 25 feet. The stair tower on Richmond is set back slightly to allow for doors which open out and to add to the articulation of the facade. The stair towers are made of glass and metal. The glass design, including a glass backed elevator is to increase the perception of security not allowing those spaces to be enclosed and dark.
The facade on Richmond features window like openings in the upper mass of the building, with two different facade treatments to create the look of two attached structures. I feel mixed about that. It is one big mass, don’t try to fake that it is not, though the effect is not displeasing. I tweeted during the meeting that I thought the garage looked a bit like a brick version of Boston’s Motor Mart Garage, which is a large garage that is often held up as a good example of parking garage design. It is a hulking mass of a building and does not pretend not to be.
Above the retail level there is a metal canopy. Vertical glass banners run up part of the Richmond facade, I can take those or leave them.
Along Richmond Street, there is a service entrance (between the garage and the building which faces Weybosset Street), this is not allowed per zoning on an A Street and will require a waiver (see image above). The garage is set back from its neighboring buildings as they do not provide a flat facade to build to and there needs to be a buffer to act as a fire break. The alleyway created here is narrow and will be used for trash and other service uses.
Along Pine Street there will be another larger alley, this alley is proposed to be hardscaped and provide a pedestrian route from Pine to Abbott Park Place and Weybosset Street, the Pine Street pedestrian entrance to the garage is located here as well. Also, a generator for the university’s IT functions is located in this area.
The Pine Street facade is largely open, and the parking decks exposed are on a slight angle. The garage is considered open air and will not be sprinkled, creating the need for large openings to exhaust the building. Were Johnson & Wales not to get approval under existing zoning, this configuration would likely not be approved under new zoning set to pass prior to July 1st. They are cognizant about how the garage treats the street along Pine, it is a major pedestrian route for their students. Pine is a B Street, meaning it is not considered as important as A Streets. It need not have retail, service uses and things such as garage entrances are supposed to exist on the B Street. Not every street will be Westminster, they need to ensure though that the pedestrian experience is not drudgery here.
The retail along Richmond Street will be 25 feet deep, which exceeds the zoning requirements by 10 feet. 4 entrances along the frontage allows for the possibility for up to 4 retail spaces. The University official presented said the retail would probably be “University uses” which does not sound encouraging, however it sounded like not too much thought had gone into that aspect yet, so there may be hope.
At 2,900 square feet, the space is too small to relocate the University Bookstore there, a cafe would be welcome, but the already have a Starbucks a block away and there really is not a lack of cafes in the area. Perhaps a small market would be helpful, we don’t have one now in the Jewelry District.
Overall, there’s a lot to like about this proposal. The loss of another building is hard to take, but I have faith that this is a project that Johnson & Wales fully intends to move forward with. It is part of the school’s larger plans for expansion, concentrating parking at this location allows them to move forward with plans to build new buildings on their existing parking lots adjacent to the 195 Land they seek to purchase. More parking is always lame, more retail frontage on Richmond is good. There’s some minor issues to resolve but I support the DRC approving of this and am looking forward to seeing construction start.