The Daily Pulse:

First Idea-Gathering Meeting for West Jackson Avenue

Thursday evening's public meeting about the West Jackson dilemma--how to deal with a two-acre property that's unexpectedly bereft of historic buildings after the McClung fire two months ago--drew about 100 citizens to the Southern Railway depot building. It turned out to be a charrette-group-discussion sort of affair of, like the ones we first got used to during the Market Square design process more than a decade ago. So many architects attended the meeting that nearly every table seemed to include at least one, and some boasted three or more.
Mayor Rogero was there, along with at least half a dozen officials from her administration, plus KCDC chief Alvin Nance, as well as City Councilman Marshall Stair and a few Metropolitan Planning Commission staffers. Bill Lyons, the city's chief policy officer, opened the discussion, and turned over the better part of an hour to free-form blue-sky conversation about the site, a dozen different conversations at a dozen different tables, each supplied with a large map of the site.
As Lyons explained, it was mainly the kickoff for a public process "to inform the Request for Proposals" the city is expected to issue later in the year.
Representatives from each of the populated tables stood and offered the consensuses of the people at his or her own randomly organized group.
Specific suggestions ranged from performance space, with either inside or outside music and film venues; a corporate headquarters; a children's museum; sports retail; a "creative class collaborative center," perhaps with rock-climbing options; drugstore and grocery, of course; a craft village, perhaps in boxcars on the tracks; Clarence Brown Theatre performing-arts center, which has been formally proposed for nearby World's Fair Park; high-rise condos; the elusive intermodal transit center, built with the undying hope of future passenger-train travel.
Some proposals seemed to be suggesting one big project for the site, but a more mixed-use approach seemed to rule the day, and one table, represented by MPC director Mark Donaldson, specifically requested multiple RFPs to promote a more gradual and organic development of the site.
It was remarkable that a clear majority of the impromptu presentations offered different variations of two basic ideas. Connecting the extraordinarily long block with lofty Vine Street, either by some creative steep-slope pathway treatment, or by creative architecture that might include a rooftop plaza; and connecting West Jackson with World's Fair Park, not by the already proposed Broadway-crossing greenway, but below, on grade, behind the buildings, alongside the train tracks.

The latter idea brings out the surprising adjacency of the site with the World's Fair Park area, and the fact that the two sites are physically accessible with neither hills nor crossing streets, since that connection would be underneath the Broadway viaduct. But it might call for some complicated negotiation with railroad right-of-ways.
City officials did not comment on any of the proposals during the meeting, and emphasized that they'll be collecting more suggestions from the public in weeks to come, via an option on the city's website. 

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