The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

29 April 2004

Downtown renaissance (the sequel)

Lileks is talking about Minneapolis, of course, but some of this I'm seeing at my end of I-35:

I lament the loss of the old great hotels as well, and I wish they were still around — but if the Nicollet and Andrews were still here, they'd be gutted and turned into condos with incredible views and nosebleed tax assessments. That's what market forces would require. In the past, the government leveled Skid Row on behalf of new urban theories, and it did so with the full approval of the technocrats — not despite its effect on transients and day laborers, but because of its effect. The old flophouses were stinking lice-ridden hellholes with naught but chicken wire and cardboard to segregate the occupants; demolishing these places was seen as a great civic good. Be done with them, and let shiny white Corbu towers rise in their place. (Note: they didn't.) But no matter who drives the car — government or the market — prosperity will push some people out of downtown housing.

I. M. Pei's urban-renewal plan for Oklahoma City, hatched back in the go-go Sixties, had much the same effect, and there was never enough money to follow through on the more grandiose plans: the end result was rows of empty buildings occasionally broken up by vacant lots. The downtown core has recovered, for the most part, and Bricktown, on the other side of the tracks, is booming, but west of the Arts District is still pretty much a ghost town, and residential and industrial areas between Reno and the river are about to be liquidated in the name of I-40 expansion.

On the other hand, the Skirvin Hotel isn't going condo. Assuming the financing gaps can be filled, the city, which presently owns the structure, expects the hotel to reopen in a couple of years with Hilton branding. But with the marginal stuff swept away, housing close to downtown is about to get very expensive indeed.

Posted at 7:31 AM to City Scene

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