The Landmarks Commission Monday night unanimously recommended against tearing down the Stark Building at the corner of Fairchild and Mifflin Streets for a proposed development on the 100 block of State Street.
Although the commission's vote is purely advisory, it's indicative of the resistance the developers -- Overture benefactors Jerome Frautschi and Pleasant Rowland -- face as they seek to raze half of the 100 block of State Street in order to build a $10-million office building and private plaza across from the Overture Center.
The commission put off voting on the issue over which it does have sway: whether to grant a certificate of appropriateness to raze the Schubert Building, a city landmark at 120 W. Mifflin St. Commission chairman Stuart Levitan told the commission that the Urban Design Commission wanted to weigh in further on the project in hopes a compromise could be reached.
But in discussion, there seemed to be little support for allowing the Schubert building to be torn down. Commission members said the fact that the city went through the lengthy process of landmarking the building shows that it believes it is a structure worth saving.
"There are other ways to do what they want to do without demolishing a landmark," said Ald. Marsha Rummel, a commission member.
The commission heard hours of testimony on the project, evenly split between those in favor and those opposed. Some who spoke in favor of the project had ties to the Overture Center, such as Overture Board member Betty Harris Custer who told the commission, "Things that are a part of your history have to give way to make way for the future."
Also in favor of the project is David Stark, whose grandfather built the Stark Building. He told the commission: "The benefits here far outweigh the costs." He added that he'd never been in the building and knew little about it.
The project manager, George Austin, said that the project was a unique opportunity because the developers were not seeking city financing and had "cash in hand" for the project, meaning they weren't encumbered by the need to pay off a mortgage. Thus they could do things other developers wouldn't be able to do.
But some commission members said that also worked against their case for tearing down the buildings. Their deep pockets mean they can renovate the buildings, if they want to. "This is a unique developer," said Rummel. "There isn't really economic hardship."
In recommending against demolishing the Stark Building, commissioners said it was a unique building in remarkably good shape that had lots of potential. "This building sits nicely on the corner," said commissioner Michael J. Rosenblum. "It's maybe not a jaw-dropping building, but as you pay attention to it, it has real charm."
The developers have said if they can't tear down the two buildings, they'll walk away from the project. The Urban Design Commission meets next on March 7.