True North Hotel Group is working to build a $16 million creepy car cave at 20th and Main. The creepy car cave would feature a dark and foreboding parking lot with a 115 room hotel precariously elevated on stilts above the lot. The design maximizes the amount of space devoted to automobiles along the prominent pedestrian thoroughfares of 20th and Main Streets, and maintains the appearance of a dingy windswept lot where passersby will fear getting mugged or worse.
It’s easy to imagine how a project of this scope could be designed to contribute to the urban character of the Crossroads. They could have put a lobby, bar, restaurant, or even retail on the first floor. There could be an entrance on the street and life and activity shining through the prominent first floor windows. The public realm around the hotel would feel safer with light and people watching the street. It is as if the designers imagined how this building could enliven this area of the Crossroads and then decided, “F*** it — let’s build the exact opposite of that!”
With a design that conveys “We don’t care about this city or the Crossroads; this is how our spreadsheet told us to build it,” it appears that True North astutely recognizes that much of its clientele are aging suburban boomers who find them through Priceline, and don’t get to choose which building they will be staying in beforehand anyway.
The impact of the project expands beyond the building itself and successfully undermines the City’s broader goals for this area. The City’s $100 million streetcar starter line is under construction now, with the goal of catalyzing pedestrian-friendly development, a goal which this parking-lot-with-building-on-top will strategically prevent just as it starts to get rolling. The City also worked to close the Walnut Street viaduct and prepare the site for this oppressive structure. Shortly, the City will begin work on the first phase of the 20th Street Streetscape project, which in conjunction with the streetcar stands to attract new investment and spur a transformation of the area. What better way to leverage these public resources than with a drab and gloomy hotel with a first floor devoted to nothing but car storage.
In September, the TIF Commission voted 4-3 to approve $2.38 million in tax increment financing for the project, but a lawsuit surrounding the billboard on the site has stalled the project for now. When the billboard industry is the guardian for urban design on a project, you know you have really accomplished something.