City officials insist they want the block redeveloped.
Progress on the redevelopment of the 100 block of State Street has stalled while city officials push to get the developers to consider alternatives to tearing down the landmark Schubert Building, 120 W. Mifflin St., and its neighbor, the Fairchild Building, 122 W. Mifflin St.
Both the Landmarks and Urban Design Commissions planned on reviewing -- and possibly voting on -- the project this week, but both panels referred it to a later date. Meanwhile, Steven Cover, the city's director of Planning and Community and Economic Development, is to meet with the project team tomorrow to push for a compromise.
"Nobody wants to see this thing fall apart entirely," says Stu Levitan, chairman of the Landmarks Commission. "Landmarks doesn't want to kill this project, Landmarks wants to improve this project. We want to make this thing work."
The current proposal by Overture benefactors Jerome Frautschi and Pleasant Rowland calls for five of six buildings on the 100 block to be razed. A four-story office building and a private plaza would be built facing Fairchild Street, toward the Overture Center. The landmark Castle & Doyle Building, 125 State St., would be largely renovated, while other facades on State Street would be reconstructed or preserved.
But the plans for the corner of Mifflin and Fairchild Streets have been the most controversial. City staff, commissioners and alders are uncomfortable with tearing down the historic Schubert Building, along with its neighbor, the Fairchild, to make way for the office building. They also don't want to carve out space on the corner for a private garden plaza. Several architects say that's bad urban design.
However, city officials insist they want the block redeveloped and are looking for a way to accomplish the developers' goals without demolishing the buildings on Mifflin Street.
"There's genuine interest to find a project the city can support, that would honor this generous opportunity," says Ald. Marsha Rummel, who is a member of the Landmarks and Urban Design Commissions. "There's always more than one way to do something."
Rummel says city staff is hoping to convince the 100 Block Foundation to move the private plaza space toward the center of the block, at the back of the Buell Building, 121-123 State Street. The building now houses Eye Contact and is not treasured by preservationists as much as the other buildings. Rummel has also pitched turning the 100 block of Mifflin Street into an urban park. Others have suggested widening the sidewalk to include more green space.
So far, the developers have not shown interest in these ideas. In a letter to the city last week, they wrote that if they didn't get their way on the plaza, they would walk away from the project.
City officials are crossing their fingers that Frautschi and Rowland will change their minds. "This has the potential for being a really great thing," Levitan says. "If we do this right, this will rebound to everyone's credit. We can't afford to not do this right. The city wants to see something happen here."
"If Landmarks wanted to kill this, we could have killed it three weeks ago," he adds. "The reason we didn't vote is to keep this project alive." Landmarks will take up the project again on Feb. 27.
Levitan notes that both sides have already compromised: The developers have agreed to save the Castle & Doyle Building, while Landmarks has given the okay to demolish the Vallender Building, at the corner of State and Fairchild, even though some preservationists would like to see it saved.
"There's a sweet spot that enough people can agree to," Levitan adds. "I don't want to get this to an up-or-down, all-or-nothing vote on the council. I want a project that a vast number of people say 'that's a good thing.' I don't want this to come to a bruising battle at the council."