by Michael R. Allen
On the agenda for tomorrow’s Preservation Board meeting once again is the matter of the demolition of buildings owned by Forest West Properties in Forest Park Southeast. (Read all about last month’s attempt to get Preservation Board approval to demolish 30 buildings.) This time, the number of buildings is 32. This time, the Cultural Resources Office is recommending denying permits for ten buildings. However, the reasoning behind the ten buildings recommended is difficult to discern. It seems to have more to do with basic architectural features that with a comprehensive plan for the neighborhood. From a preservation standpoint, such reasoning may be logical but from a more holistic view it could end up producing dispersed vacant lots that diminish historic contexts appropriate for renovation and historic district designation without demolition.
In my testimony at last month’s meeting, I suggested a plan for ranking the buildings architecturally as a worst-case preservation strategy. In the absence of compelling plans for the buildings’ sites, the best case for planning still exists, despite what Forest West Properties says.
Since last month, a credible developer has made an offer to acquire over half of these buildings south of Manchester, in a pattern that would retain the remaining context there and may allow for a historic district to be created that would enable the use of tax credits.
As far as I know, Forest West has not responded to the offer except to immediately re-apply for preliminary review of the demolition. (The Board did not vote at last month’s meeting because, due to absences and recused members, only two members were able to vote so no quorum existed.)
Forest West needs to explore sensible redevelopment of these buildings and not continue in a mad rush to tear them down. There is still time to build a true redevelopment plan. Forest West knows a lot about waiting, because they have owned these buildings for over a year without coming up with any plans for redevelopment. All they can do now is take the easy way out with clearance.
Their best bet may be a sale to a developer with expertise at complicated urban development that is architecturally sensitive and at working in rebounding marginal areas. Demolition only will make things worse for the southern part of “the Grove.”
See the agenda for the meeting here.
Monday, May 22 at 4:00 p.m.
1015 Locust Street, 12th Floor