Published September 9th, 2021 at 11:30 AM3 minute read
By Kevin Collison
The long saga to revitalize the aging Barney Allis Plaza and its crumbling underground garage has taken another turn, this time due to a new proposal to add 300 units of affordable housing to the mix.
City Manager Brian Platt has asked consultants to return to the drawing board for a Barney Allis project that’s been in the works for two years.
He’s pushing for a redesign that would allow a residential tower along the west edge of the Plaza facing Bartle Hall and expand its garage capacity.
“We have a significant infrastructure project that must be done,” Platt said in an interview earlier this summer. “If the city spends this much money, why not get an additional community benefit out of it?”
Last March, after several delays, the City Council approved a $70 million proposal that called for the current 960-space underground garage to be replaced with a 500-space garage, and the Plaza above to be rebuilt as a street-level amenity.
Council members had been warned before the vote by City Architect James Freed the garage was in dire need of replacement.
“Make no mistake, this garage is nearly DOA,” Freed told a Council committee. “It is safe it can be used for a short period of time but the garage structure is deteriorating from the inside.”
At the time, the Council had hoped to have a “shovel-ready” plan ready by this summer in anticipation of potential federal funding in the proposed massive infrastructure bill now being considered by Congress.
That timetable however, has gone out the window as the details of the Barney Allis revitalization project continue to be tweaked, this time at the request of the city manager.
Earlier hopes the 65 year-old Plaza in the heart of downtown could be ready to host 2023 NFL Draft events are now gone.
At a recent briefing to the Downtown Council board, members were told by Jared Campbell, a manager for the nonprofit group, the earliest the Barney Allis project could be completed now would be June 2024.
Campbell said Bill Crandall, the city consultant on Barney Allis, had been asked by the city manager to expand the scope of the proposal to include “vertical” development options on the site, increasing parking and entry points to the garage.
“The team is currently looking at up to 300 units of residential with mixed use on the first floor on the western side of Barney Allis Plaza,” Campbell reported.
He added the city also has put on indefinite hold a proposal to redevelop property it owns at the southwest corner of 12th and Broadway as a parking garage to supplement the Barney Allis garage.
City spokeswoman Maggie Green said the Barney Allis rebuild concept favored by the city manager still calls for the Plaza to be lowered to street level and the underground garage replaced.
She said it would include a two-acre park and plaza; ground floor retail for amenities such as a coffee shop, an ice cream parlor, and other restaurants; and 700-plus parking spaces, significantly more than previously planned.
“We are still exploring how to add a tall and slender tower of housing to this site as well that will include workforce affordable housing,” Green said.
Platt said the housing is being proposed to help meet a city goal of creating 10,000 additional affordable housing units over the next five years.
“We need creative ideas to meet this goal,” he said.
A potential residential tower would be a separate project from the Barney Allis Plaza reconstruction plan, however the underground garage replacement would have to be designed to support the housing development above if it moves forward.
Details on how an apartment tower would be financed and whether it would be developed privately or by the city have not been determined.
“We don’t have renderings yet or a full understanding of the exact dimensions or project costs because as we discussed the due diligence is not yet complete and as a result the above is subject to change,” Green said.
Campbell told the Downtown Council any changes to the Barney Allis reconstruction plan must return to the City Council for approval.
He said the best-case scenario would have a new guaranteed price and design introduced to the Council next month, with consideration in December of January. That could lead to construction starting in June 2022 with completion in June 2024.