At the Downtown Action Committee (DAC) review meeting for the Marriott Residence Inn hotel on Hibiscus street, the developer submitted this rendering, along with other elevations. It was apparent at the time that the architecture proposed was to be of the roadside, interstate exit variety: Ugly, uninspired, auto-oriented, and suburban in character.
The applicant requested several variances to get the project built, and got them. But the main problem with the urbanity of this project is the porte cochere, which completely dominates the street level, breaks up the building street frontage, and makes the site feel scaled to autos instead of people. And a porte cochere is allowed to be built by right in the Downtown Master Plan (DMP). My comments at the time were critical of the porte cochere and I suggested an alternative approach, which was ultimately was not taken by the DAC. In the DAC’s defense, it was likely outside of their Special Review scope:
Mr. Jesse Bailey, Vice President of the Downtown Neighborhood Association,stated that he lives in City Palms and walks to work past the subject site every day. He expressed two (2) concerns about the project: 1) The Porte Cochere – Mr. Bailey said he believes that the porte cochere will be very detrimental to the public realm; the design is more of a suburban garden style hotel. He suggested that valet parking at the curb might be more appropriate; 2) Tree Canopy – Mr. Bailey said there is a real tree canopy problem downtown. He hoped that the trees on the sidewalk will be preserved. He said he would hate to see a curb cut and a parking lot where there should be a building fronting Hibiscus Street.
The result: Completely predictable. Completely ugly and un-urban.
I won’t fully dissect the architectural merits or flaws, as that’s not my background and someone else could do a better job. Several influential planners and architects retweeted my tweet, which leads me to believe other architects have similar criticisms. Perhaps they would like to comment, below.
— Gil Meslin (@g_meslin) September 24, 2014
When this is the outcome that results, some of the Zyscovich DMP regulations have to be questioned. As someone wary of overregulating development, I realize this is a fine line to tow, but if there is one primary function of the DMP, it would seem that ensuring at least a passable frontage is it. In this case, that very minimal standard was scarcely met; very little of the site actually fronts the sidewalk to engage the public realm. Instead, we are presented with a place for cars – car parking, asphalt for queuing cars, and a massively wide curb cut breaking up the sidewalk. Here’s a counter example of how to do things right, from Naples, Florida (The Inn on Fifth). Notice how the building comes up to the sidewalk. This building has a clear face – it is clearly oriented toward the street and sidewalk. And active uses at the ground floor engage the street and make it interesting to walk past.
It is disconcerting to see that this project was essentially built by right in such an un-urban fashion. If there is one thing the DMP should insist upon, it is buildings that help define and shape a quality public realm, as that is what creates public benefits to the neighborhood as a whole. Streets are places for people that should be treated as outdoor living rooms, with the buildings framing them, forming the walls. In this case, there is a gaping car park where there should be a permeable entrance/exit onto the street that enlivens it.
Most culpable in this bad design is the Zyscovich DMP itself, as the porte cochere can be built by right, and the DAC special review likely had little it could do to improve this unfortunate design.
We shouldn’t be so desperate for hotel development that we forget about the long-term vision of creating a great city in the process.
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