Kidder Wachter Architecture & Design, hired by Erie Events, unveiled their plans for the old GAF property on Erie’s bayfront and it looks every bit as good as you would expect, drawings of buildings from various perspectives show how they would develop the property, many of the buildings are ground floor retail space with upper level apartments and condominiums. Based on the illustrations, it’s hard to find any visual fault with the concept. You can almost imagine the bustling activity, as the architects certainly did while bringing it all together, but it also brings up more than a few questions.
We’re just wondering
- Estimated construction costs are $300 million. Where is that money coming from?
- Is there pent up demand for this sort of housing? The city of Erie and Erie County are not growing so these housing units will have to draw from elsewhere in the area or attract residents from outside of Erie County, where would that be?
- Is there a demand for this sort of retail space? What stores will move in? Will they simply be relocating from another location in Erie? What happens in their old location?
- Is there a successful example of housing over retail space anywhere in Erie County? It has been attempted already and just last week, the Union Square town home development announced a sheriff’s sale of the coffee shop location, plus only 2 town homes have been sold out of 7 built from a proposed 140 unit development. How many are proposed in Bayfront Place?
- Have any businesses signed any contracts for the proposed retail space or shown serious interest?
- Who specifically is the target resident for this development? What age range, what income level, what family situation? Are there enough of them? Have any of them shown serious intent to buy a condo in this development?
- Is this the best use for this property or did the architects just do what they were told by Emerge 2040 planners? They use the same language in describing their goals, “vibrant and pedestrian friendly, mixed use” and similar verbiage, all very nice, but when you’re spending $300 million, you might want to consider commercially successful and profitable, as well.
Why not ask for proposals without restrictions?
The best way to get a lot of ideas is to ask. Why not have an open competition of sorts asking various commercial developers to submit all sorts of proposals for many different kinds of developments? None have to be accepted and some general restrictions on height and visuals could be included, but turn imaginations loose and see what they come up with. Urban planners always come up with the same tired “housing over retail” whenever plans like these are submitted, from San Francisco to Minneapolis and now for Erie, too. Those plans always seem to fail, but they sure are pretty.
How about coming up with something that’s an attraction that will draw visitors to Erie and the bayfront? We need people coming and spending money here, not more trendy housing that may very well sit empty. If an attraction works, then build retail space to serve visitors and if it begins to succeed develop limited housing for a real demand. Cities that succeed are built up in response to a demand from people who work and want to live nearby. Building big developments according to the whims of urban planners often result in ghost towns.
China has been building ghost cities for some years now, complete with all kinds of buildings and green spaces and playgrounds, all that’s missing is people. The photos are a little ominous and freaky. Erie County can’t afford that.
In early February, a public meeting will be held at the Bayfront Convention Center where Kidder Wachter Architecture & Design will present the Bayfront Place Development Plan.
The public meeting will be February 15th at 7PM, room 130 at the Bayfront Convention Center. Some of you may want to stop by and ask a few questions. It’s your money, maybe you should see where it’s going.