Last evening I had the chance to attend the 5th public meeting for the Richardson-Olmsted Complex (being referred to as ROC) Master Plan. It was a well-attended presentation in which the majority of the attendees lived in the surrounding neighborhoods. By the end of the meeting, most people walked away with a better understanding of the project while knowing, at the same time, that the presented idea were just that… ideas.
I am beginning to get a sense that there is a good number of people who think that the concept of an extensive architecture museum is a bit overblown – there are a couple of multimedia features and interpretive features that would tie into the Visitors Center, but there could be some fine tuning on the concept. A few integral components of the architecture museum could be easily incorporated into the visitor center – possible solution all around? Why dedicate so much time and money to the architecture draw when the entire city is a ‘living/breathing’ architectural museum? There are so many other ideas that were presented last night that I’m sure Building 45 (Administration Building aka The Towers) will have no problem finding a better mixed use dedicated plan.
The proposed interactive ride to the top of the towers sounds incredible… kinda like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory ride (without breaking through the glass roof of course). Can you imagine the views? I’m still torn regarding the incorporation of the Office of Mental Health (OMH) into the grounds and exhibits – I can visualize the relationship a bit better after the presentation and understand that the building was built with the intentions of housing patients… the idea of having a gallery dedicated to artists with mental disabilities is an interesting one. It was also good to hear that the grounds are as integral to the project as the building itself… there were talks of temporary artist and architecture installations as well as reintroducing productive landscapes where visitors might encounter urban reforestation efforts, agricultural uses and even water features like streams that would mimic former drainage systems.
The talk of ground improvements prompted a few neighbors to ask about the condition of the surrounding neighborhoods. A liaison from The City answered that he would bring up the concern and it would be looked into – after all, have you seen the condition of the houses on the south side of Forest? It was also noted that the ROC investment would naturally take care of many of the residential concerns that the neighborhood has been facing for years. Just think… can you imagine living across from such a dramatic public property? The ROC committee made it clear that one of the priorities on this long-term effort was to pinpoint short-term goals in order to open the grounds and parts of the Administration Building as finances allow. Just this month The State freed up $8 million to continue building stabilization efforts. It was unreal to learn that there were once 2000 healthy trees located on the grounds – today there are 250 trees (many in questionable health). As the grounds are re-opened, dedicated walking trails and bike paths are a key component.
So what about the issues revolving around parking? It’s a big one apparently. Preservationist Tim Tielman suggested that if this country is progressive enough to elect a black president, then it could probably deal with parking further from historic structures. At this point, the solution is to line the two miles of internal winding roads with a mix if designated on-street parking, smaller close-proximity lots and isolated larger lots. The idea of utilizing the underground network of tunnels was raised – a great idea that could be instrumental in designating parking to more of a concentrated satellite area of the grounds. I was happy to hear that there was going to be an effort to create a grand entrance on the north side of The Towers, with a primary visual focus on the Administration Building. That’s a natural. Then, incorporating the Olmsted Park vision would be key in ways that would interconnect off site park amenities.
So what about building uses other than a Visitor Center and Architectural Museum? The boutique hotel concept is an excellent one – a hotel in the museum district would be a welcome addition. Apartment and town home use was brought up, though I think that it would be a lost opportunity to privatize various buildings (but it could help pay for the development – living would be for the elite due to cost projections). Other uses ranged from Buffalo State College classroom opportunities (with a better site integration with college grounds) to meeting, event and conference facilities for the city’s non-profit community. Dedicated office space doesn’t appear to be getting much traction. Housing and studio space for artists was also thrown into the mix – think Corning Glass, Torpedo Factory or Artspace on crack. A couple audience members brought up the Chautauqua Institute and Roycroft as synergy models – those concepts could really gain some traction if researched.
As the presentation unfolded, similar successful projects around the country were hi-lighted. One ‘similar’ massive project (Grand Traverse Commons) steamrolled after a restaurant opened in the bowels of the building. From there, a slow and steady progression of amenity advancements gained traction and contributed to the overall success of the project. It just goes to show that this Master Plan does not have to be constructed overnight. It’s smart to set short term goals to open up the building and the grounds to a community that never thought that they would see the day that this plan would be on the road to completion.