City development staff have come out against the current proposal (PDF) for the 100 block of State Street, opposing the demolition of two historic landmarks and saying the proposal does not fit in with the city's Downtown Plan.
Steven Cover, the city's director of planning and community and economic development, wrote in Nov. 10 letter (PDF) to the project's manager, George Austin: "Staff does not support the project in its current iteration. I strongly encourage you to reconsider your approach."
Overture Center benefactors Jerome Frautschi and Pleasant Rowland have proposed the $10 million project, which would demolish half of the block adjacent to the Overture Center. Facades on State Street would be rebuilt, while an office building and plaza would be built behind the facades. Rental income from the building would be used to fund Overture's operation.
The letter lists a number of problems with the current design. Cover objects to plans to demolish two historic landmarks, the Castle & Doyle Building at 125 State St. and the Schubert Building, at 120 W. Mifflin St.
"Demolition of landmark buildings is something that the city takes very seriously and should only be considered in rare instances for truly extraordinary projects," Cover writes, adding, "the deconstruction and reassembly of one building wall is not considered preservation as the entire building is designated a landmark."
Cover also says staff believes that 122 W. Mifflin St., though not a landmark, "is clearly eligible and worthy to be designated as such."
City staff also dislike plans for the new construction. Cover writes, "Our staff feels that the site plan, and the massing, scale, rhythm and proportions of the proposed development disrupts the existing urban fabric along both its West Mifflin Street and Fairchild Street frontages. The structure's design that is pulled away from the corner disrupts the pattern created by the surrounding buildings. Creating a private plaza at the corner also diminishes the sense of enclosure that is created by buildings that are close to, and oriented towards, the sidewalk."
Austin says he welcomes Cover's early feedback. "The letter was informative. It states the issues the city staff had. It was timely, since we haven't filed any land-use applications yet."
Asked whether he thought a Cover's concerns could be addressed in the plan, Austin says: "Any project goes through a process and we're on the front end of that process.... "The give and take of how [our] vision lines up with other priorities and opportunities is part of the process."
Developers are scheduled to come before a joint session (PDF) of the Landmarks and Urban Design commissions -- the first committee meeting on the project -- Monday, Nov. 14 at 5 p.m.