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Monday, April 4, 2011

Midtown Falling: Update

The demolition of Midtown Plaza continues...

Midtown Plaza from above. The images below follow a clockwise direction starting with the Euclid Building at the corner of Euclid and Atlas Streets (left-center of image) and ending on Broad Street (bottom-center of image).

Looking northwest at the Euclid, McCurdy and Midtown Mall structures (right to left). The entrance to an underground delivery tunnel is seen at right just below the Euclid Building. This tunnel continue for over a block to provide delivery access to other downtown buildings. Preserving and repairing the tunnel is a major focus of the redevelopment plan.

Looking west with Chase Tower in the background.

Looking southwest at the tower and the former Trailways station. Xerox Square is seen to the left of Midtown Plaza.

Looking north from Broad Street. Demolition of the former Wegmans grocery store has continued and much of the brick facade has been removed. In the coming weeks and months the facade of the tower will be removed to prepare it for reuse as apartments and condos.

And for a better perspective on what Midtown Plaza was meant to be read this archived Time article from 1962 that featured Victor Gruen and Midtown Plaza. Ironic, for all the talk today about how projects like Midtown Plaza resulted in the suburbanization of downtown the quotes from Gruen show that he, like Lou Kahn in Philadelphia, was attempting to diminish the rule of the automobile over the pedestrian in the center city by placing the garage underground and designing a series of street/highway "loops" that would carry automobile traffic around the downtown core, freeing it to be enjoyed safely by pedestrians.
Good intentions but not so good execution?

Also, note how this massive project was built for $30 million with no sweetheart tax deals. The city did pay for the 1,800 space garage below Midtown as a part of the deal made with the McCurdy and Forman families - who paid for all above ground construction - but there were no tax deals or loans. Compare that to what is slated to replace it and what it takes in this day and age to get a three story, 220,000sqft. building built at the Midtown Plaza site: Paetec to receive $6.4 million in tax breaks. The new building will cost $60 million - half of which will be publicly funded - will only fill about a quarter of the 8-acre site and its construction will not be the determining factor of a successful redevelopment of the Midtown superblock.

Only when the site of the McCurdy department store is developed and the Midtown Tower is remodeled and full will this be seen as a successful redevelopment of the complex. Even then, without the development of new housing to reach the critical mass of downtown dwellers needed to attract the stores and services all want to see return to the center city, the addition of 1,000 office workers - who will drive into their underground parking garage right off the highway, eat in the company food court and then at 5PM promptly head back out on the highway to their home in Penfield or Greece - will have little, if any, impact on the health of downtown.

Don't believe me? Check out all the office towers built downtown between 1960 and 2000. They were all gonna be the project to save downtown, too. Yet, here we are over fifty years later and the suits are spouting the same lame rhetoric of renewal through office buildings - urban renewal gives way to its slightly less ugly offspring, millennial renewal.

Urban renewal cleared whole neighborhoods of narrow streets and small businesses in older, "blighted" sections of downtown that were deemed" unworthy of reuse," de-mapped the streets and replaced them with superblocks of gleaming towers and windswept plazas in blind obedience to the cult of the NEW, era 1960.

Millennial renewal takes the urban renewal superblock, demolishes the "blighted" and "unworthy of reuse" modern structures, puts in a street grid to nowhere and buildings designed with an architecture of nothing that promotes spaceman-surrealist designs over modest, humane ones in blind obedience to the cult of the NEW, era 2000.

Which is worse?

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