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500 West Trade (14 story apartments on site of former Polk Building)


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Hueion, your point of view is understandable and popular in Charlotte. In a normal city, I might feel that way too about random cases of economic development over historic preservation, since it is definitely good to have active current activity over an empty remnant of the past. However, I feel in general that the ideal is somewhere in the middle, having a city mixed with modern and new structures while saving reusable structures from the past for modern uses. Charlotte, however, was no where near moderation, and very much opted to build whatever was in vogue and level the remnants of it pedestrian-focused era. As a result, we have so many buildings that are tall, but that suck the life out of the pedestrian streetscape. Then, when taken in toto, we have a city that has almost no connection to its past, and is struggling to retrofit pedestrian-oriented design to cover their mistakes.

Building something new is only better if it is better. Its newness does not make it better. Many times, when you have an issue of economic development over historic preservation, the differential in scale and use of the proposal is better for the city. The city benefited more from the arena than the small buildings that housed Carpe Diem. The city benefitted more from 3 Wachovia than from whatever was possible to do in the Old Masonic Temple. The city will benefit more from Bearden Park than from whatever was possible to do in the House of Jazz Building. Also, the city will benefit more from the Novare project in 3rd Ward than from whatever was possible to do in the old Duke Power building. This project is different, though, for me, and tips the scales far more in favor of keeping the current building. The potential for what can be done in a sturdy 5-story structure and tall ceilings is great. The uses proposed here, apartments, can be built into that structure and provide the same benefit to the city as building a new structure of similar scale. The equation tips more when you consider the likelihood that they will build a lesser structure of wood and likely cheap exterior cladding.

In the end, my arguments are wasted, as the building will almost certainly be torn down. But I want to go on record in saying that it is a waste.

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Reading some of the comments and attitudes here is really dissappointing. Comparing Buffalo trying to save every historic structure (of which they have many) to Charlotte is completely ludicrous, and yeah, just because Polk didn't house the Confederate army or something doesn't mean it's not worthy of saving. As others have noted, so much of the city's history has been leveled, Polk is worthy of special historic status by it's mere existence at this point. Just like creeping suburban sprawl, I'm sure each individual decision to demo a historic home or turn of the century mid-rise seemed logical and economically justifiable at the time, even to the point where creating vast surface parking lots was considered "urban renewal." But as we look at the built landscape, the collective results of those individual decisions made over time has left Charlotte with little sense of it's urban past.

And the worst part is it's Crosland. Ugh. Is this really progress? I think not.

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I also don't see anyone advocating for using absolute power to force the developer to preserve the building, or using eminent domain to wrest it from their hands. Most people here, myself included, would save that sort of heavy-handed use of power for the most extreme circumstances. However, perhaps a stay of demolition would be warranted.

What I'd rather see is:

1. At whatever public hearings this development must go through, the public shows up in large numbers to shame, scold, berate, etc, the developers for tearing down a great, though worn, old 5 story structure only to replace it with a fairly generic modern 8-story one of a design that is a dime a dozen all over town. Basically make them feel that their company's name will be a four letter word in Charlotte if they tear it down.

2. If that's still not enough, then the city comes to the table with some sort of incentives (relaxed parking requirements, streetscape improvements, a synthetic TIF dedicated towards renovation, even relaxed street retail requirements on Graham... who knows) to encourage them to preserve, and build on the rest of the block.

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I agree, mostly, I just wish there was some consideration of these among the development community, so that there could be some level of respect for these buildings that are already built and have merit. I am not calling on there to be a legal battle, but there was a heck of an outcry from the neighborhood when it SOUNDED like they were tearing down Spirit Square, even though that wasn't what the plans called for. There was an old warehouse across Graham Street from the Polk building that I always thought was cool and would have been really cool if only it lasted long enough for retail to return to the area. But it was torn down by Johnson & Wales to build a surface lot.

Realistically, this building is going to be torn down. I just find it interesting that it is a major criticism of Charlotte that its has so few old/historic buildings, yet there seems to be absolutely no issue with tearing out the rest of them. Granted, we do have a number of residences from those eras, but commercial buildings are almost all gone at this point, short of a few mill buildings and a couple of office buildings.

If you look through the photos of buildings on CMStory.org, showing Charlotte's early-20th Century urban life, you are struck by a few things. One, is that Charlotte would have a significantly more interesting downtown if a number of those buildings were still around. Second, is that with the exception of some government buildings and a couple of buildings on Tryon, absolutely none of those buildings exist anymore. The Coddington/Polk building is one that does still exist.

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I looked on the Historical Landmarks webpage and it doesn't look like this building is a registered Historical Landmark. That means that the developer will not have to have the Landmarks Commision review the demolition permit.

To get this building put on the Historical Landmarks you have to petition the Historical Landmarks Commision...if they approve, then they will take it forward to City Council for their approval.

Again for anyone interested in taking some action to save this building then the best place to start would be the 4th Ward Neighborhood Association. If you can get them on board then some "mountains" could be moved politically so that the building will be saved.

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I talked with the people I know at Crosland and they gave me a run down on the Polk Building.

FYI...

Crosland said they are going to 8 stories, which does not mean wood construction. Second, they said they are testing the bricks on the Polk building for "moisture content" because they were informed by the previous owner that the reason the bricks are falling down and they have all that safety netting up is because the bricks are too wet. If that is the case they said they could not reuse them. Crosland also said the previous owner was in fact the State and City - which never suggested keeping the building.

They also said they would actually like to keep some of the existing building because it is much closer to the street than new regulations allow them to be. But they said they are trying to work within the mid-rise code as well as seek LEED certification so it was not as easy as merely retrofitting the existing building due to different floor heights, chases needed for utilities, etc. in the new building. They mentioned to me they may be able disassemble the facade and re-build it into the existing building, but the condition of the bricks would require more study. Plus they said it may look odd if the floors of the new buildings do not line up with the Polk building exterior.

I told them to read this site...

And the worst part is it's Crosland. Ugh. Is this really progress? I think not.

Why are you anti-Crosland?

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(I think ChiefJoJo might have been mixed up with Crescent, as Crosland has generally been a decent developer from what I have seen).

I appreciate the discussion with Crosland. Frankly, it surprises me that they aren't more eager to save the building given their history, and given their desire to be LEED certified, which surely gives major points for reusing existing structures.

Actually, the building was owned by the State of North Carolina, which has barely heard of Charlotte, let alone care what happens to a building here. The city owned a sliver of land. I do agree, though, that they were more interested in seeing some large project come to fruition to help support Gateway Station than to worry about the existing building. But this project is a little bit different than the previous iterations of this project, which had height 2-3 times taller.

I must be honest, to me, it seems perfectly reasonable to put up new bricks of the same color if those bricks have a problem. The structure itself is fine, as are the other elements of the facade. It is common in places that do actually reuse and evolve their existing building stock to put up new building materials to match the original.

Here is a kicker. The 'renovations' that the state did included smearing stucco and paint over granite (see below). The stucco and paint are crumbling and peeling off, but the granite is just sitting there waiting to be exposed. I'm sure the state did other things that removed value from the the structure, but it still seems like an asset that Crosland should review.

Differing floor heights seems to be a weak argument for tearing down an entire building. How hard can that be to solve? Either put in some steps where the buildings abutt, match the heights in the new structure, or something else that an architect might actually enjoy figuring out.

I really don't want the situation to be to 'force' the developer to do anything. I just want an open recognition that there might be an asset worth incorporating to their project which can ADD value to their project. Given the similarities in scale, this seems to be mostly a matter of thought-work and design. It comes across as laziness for developers to seek a blank slate with every site, instead of working through the interesting challenges that come with existing buildings, especially those from a generation when buildings were built to last.

I might add, that I have always loved the building at 6th and Graham where they added a couple of new floors above an older building (the building with the Coca Cola mural/ad on it). I am not a purist, and would not mind seeing them adding their 3 floors on top of this building, even it is their goofy cosine roofline.

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Great info, harmons - given what Crosland recently did at the Alpha Mill apartments, which have been a huge success for them precisely because of the historic architecture that they saved, then they'd find a way to save Polk if it were feasible.

As far as Fat City, that's a Merrifield Partners project. Crosland is loosely affiliated with them, but they have no control over Merrifield (which is why he now has his own company).

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I really like the design of the original Polk Building. If the bricks need replacing, that's a heck of a lot cheaper than building an entire new building in its place. There are ways around getting the floors to match up, and even if not, having that quirky nature to this development would help set it apart from the rest. I really, really hope that their new site plan does not get full approval if not only to discourage demolition, but to also encourage greater density at this location. We don't need more plazas. What we need is a continuation of the uptown vibe. The Polk building gives an ideal opportunity to develop street-side amenities by working with the ground floor. Trade street is not the type of road where we should just settle with whatever a developer thinks works best. Sometimes the city needs to step in and make some stiffer requirements for developers on major roads like this. But, then again, this IS Charlotte.

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I really like the design of the original Polk Building. If the bricks need replacing, that's a heck of a lot cheaper than building an entire new building in its place. There are ways around getting the floors to match up, and even if not, having that quirky nature to this development would help set it apart from the rest. I really, really hope that their new site plan does not get full approval if not only to discourage demolition, but to also encourage greater density at this location. We don't need more plazas. What we need is a continuation of the uptown vibe. The Polk building gives an ideal opportunity to develop street-side amenities by working with the ground floor. Trade street is not the type of road where we should just settle with whatever a developer thinks works best. Sometimes the city needs to step in and make some stiffer requirements for developers on major roads like this. But, then again, this IS Charlotte.

Why do people think there is a public approval process with this project? The site is zoned and as long as they follow the rules for what can be built, they can do it. The Polk building is not a historical landmark despite the views by some here. Also, with all the stalled projects, any City that can get a $100,000,000 investment in downtown will take it.

But how can you ask for more density but also ask they keep that building, which one must admit was not built to accomodate first flor retail and residential above. I also hope they keep parts of the building too, but considering probably no one on this board has been in the building since it was shuttered, I think it is a little over the top to ask for a public protest or the City to deny a developer from building without preservation requirements. They have told me the building structure is not ideal for first floor retail or mid-rise residential. Emergency exits, fire line distances, etc have to be met in a larger building. Call me crazy but I don't all developers are liars and are out to work against the betterment of the Cities they depend on people moving to in order to fill up thier projects.

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Why do people think there is a public approval process with this project? The site is zoned and as long as they follow the rules for what can be built, they can do it. The Polk building is not a historical landmark despite the views by some here. Also, with all the stalled projects, any City that can get a $100,000,000 investment in downtown will take it.

But how can you ask for more density but also ask they keep that building, which one must admit was not built to accomodate first flor retail and residential above. I also hope they keep parts of the building too, but considering probably no one on this board has been in the building since it was shuttered, I think it is a little over the top to ask for a public protest or the City to deny a developer from building without preservation requirements. They have told me the building structure is not ideal for first floor retail or mid-rise residential. Emergency exits, fire line distances, etc have to be met in a larger building. Call me crazy but I don't all developers are liars and are out to work against the betterment of the Cities they depend on people moving to in order to fill up thier projects.

What are the requirements for public review in Charlotte? In Asheville, Regardless of whether you follow zoning regulations or not, a building over 50 units or 100,000 square feet is considered a "Level III" project and is therefore subject to public hearings and council approval. In Raleigh, the threshold for requiring council approval is 10,000 square feet outside of downtown, and a different threshold that I actually don't know in the downtown overlay district.

Surely for a project of this size, even downtown, the site plan is subject to council approval?

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Yep, no public input is required for this project to proceed. Only if they need to rezone the property or if it becomes a registered historical landmark (which it currently isnt). It is zoned UMUD so it will have to go before a design review with Planning Staff....but there is nothing in UMUD zoning that stipulates old buildings must be preserved.

If you are interested in preserving this building I suggest you contact the 4th Ward Neighborhood Association immediately to begin the political process to do that.

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It is a historic building (for Charlotte) that I have written a lot in this thread about my desire to see it kept (obviously stripping the stucco/paint off the granite facade and rebuilding the brick exterior).  However, there really has not been much or any momentum for projects on the site.   The one thing that does make it seem destined for eventual development is that it is now privately owned by Crosland.  However, Crosland itself is no longer a developer, so it is less likely to have a project over some other land.

 

It is a shame that Charlotte does not have much/any experience in redeveloping old buildings like the Cottington/Polk building, considering there is value in having buildings that show the city existed a century ago beyond just single family homes, but that said, the state was a terrible owner and made some bad changes which make the building look unattractive.

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^I've been told by another architect in the city that there are some serious structural issues. Dunno if that's just hearsay or what.

Hmmm. Don't know.  I used to work in the LandDesign building next door and walked past it all the time at lunch.  One day on my way back from Presto, a guy with blueprints and a camera was in the rear parking lot of the building and I asked him if it was going to be torn down.  His reply was that the issues were all cosmetic (brickwork coming loose), but that the developers hadn't yet decided what their course of action would be.  Of course, that was in 2005.  Who knows? 

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It was built strong enough to store and sell automobiles, which in the 20s were already heavier than the carriage-like cars of the 1900s and 1910s.  That says to me that the structure was actually much more solid than many buildings of its time.   Of course it has obvious facade issues, but that seems really basic to put up a brick facing tile or even a modern alternative to tweak the look. 

 

If the price is reasonable, there is absolutely demand for loft-style apartments in buildings like this.   It is purely a matter of the imagination of the developers and the value they place on being in a building with history rather than tearing it down for a stucco run-of-the-mill structure.

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