Once a lightning rod, Park City’s Main Street Mall aims to blend in
November 22, 2013
If you were hoping to see it festooned with reproductions of mining-era storefronts, you’ll be disappointed. It’s clearly a contemporary building. Still.
But if you’re one of those – like 40-year local resident Tina Lewis – who believe that buildings shouldn’t pretend to be older than they really are, chances are you’ll find things to like in the new design.
You’re looking at an architect’s rendition for 333 Main, the building formerly known as the Main Street Mall. In its original early-1980s configuration, the building drew flak for its size and its design. Many people said it didn’t belong on Main Street – and were not unhappy to see demolition crews setting up this fall for the first phase of a long-awaited renovation.
"It will be interesting to see people’s reaction to it when, in fact, it is also modern architecture," says Tina Lewis, who was on the Park City Council when the original design was approved. "It is not replicative architecture."
Lewis is a former board member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which describes itself as "a privately funded nonprofit organization working to save America’s historic places." She argues passionately that new buildings in a historic district should reflect the time when they were built. She points to the Egyptian Theatre, now the unofficial symbol of the Sundance Film Festival, which was built while the nation was still obsessed with the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. What would that building have looked like, she asks, if Parkites of the 1920s had instead insisted on replicating a structure of an earlier era?
"A hundred years from now, when people walk along Main Street, hopefully they will see architecture from all the eras of Park City’s history, from the City Hall in the 1880s to the Egyptian Theatre in the 1920s to the art deco Memorial Building (in the late 1930s)," she says.
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Architect Craig Elliott, a 20-year Park City resident, knows the controversy well. He and his firm, Elliott Workgroup, have been working – for a succession of owners – on various plans for remodeling the mall for the past 12 years.
"Our goal was really try to create a really quality building – somehow engage today’s architectural sensibilities but be compassionate and compatible with the historic nature of Main Street," he says. "I make my living working in Park City. I raised my family here. I don’t have any intention of trying to destroy it."
Unlike the original architects, Elliott and his co-workers didn’t start with a clean slate. Although many of the decorative elements on the Main Street side have been removed, they must work with the mass of the original building, plus an extra penthouse level being added on the south (uphill) side.
"My hope is that we improve it dramatically – the building’s appearance – and that it finds a way to say that, hey, yeah, that’s some relatively large building on a really attractive small-scale Main Street, but it also somehow breaks down its scale in a way that’s compatible with the neighboring properties," Elliott says. "And that’s a challenge. It’s not an easy task to do."
Elliott believes that the mall would not have been such a lightning rod if it had worked as a retail space. But it didn’t.
"I think it’s been proven all over the country: Mall buildings in small Main Street downtowns are really struggling," he says
"People just don’t want to go in a door to go into a door to get to a door to a store. The mall is Main Street. So our design takes that into account. We’re removing the mall components of the project, and all of the retail and commercial spaces open up onto Main Street now."
The plans call for about eight storefronts on the street level and 15 condominium units on the upper levels. But Elliott wants to make sure there’s a clear distinction between the two uses.
"There’s a reason why there are storefronts that have got a lot of glass on the lower level because they’re commercial, and then there are small windows on the upper levels of buildings on main streets. … You couldn’t tell what was Main Street and what was the upper levels on that building before."
The much-derided tan-colored brick won’t be removed, Elliott says, but you won’t see it. "It’s going to be completely encapsulated. So we’re not taking the brick down in most places. There’s a few places that we have to. But it is the exterior skin in most of the building."
What you’ll see from Main Street, he says, is a new skin made up of fiber-cement siding, in a variety of widths, similar to that on the Poison Creek building and the Sky Lodge.
"These products are relatively inert, and they’re considered green products. And they last a lot longer than a wood product does here at this altitude and this solar exposure."
The Park Avenue side of the building, a view that a former owner compared to the "back of the hospital gown," is also due for an upgrade, Elliott says.
"We know that it’s very visible from above due to the nature of the site, so the entire roofscape is essentially (going to be) a greenscape. It’s outdoor terraced area and green roof system. We’re completely upgrading the quality of the landscaping along Park Avenue," he says. "We’re refinishing the entire building."
A green roof, he says, means that it will be covered with soil, planted and landscaped.
With Park Avenue on one side and Main Street on the other, Elliott says the project is going to be "a tight build."
"It’s like building a ship in a bottle, somewhat. You’ve got a sidewalk on one side and then you have Park Avenue. And you really can’t use Park Avenue ’cause it’s a residential street. We’ve got some retaining walls and walkways and some stuff to do there, but you won’t be delivering materials there. Fortunately there are two tunnels that come from Swede Alley, so a lot will be delivered through the tunnels."
The tunnels, built under Main Street by the original developer, will help keep construction disruption to a minimum, he says.
"We were doing interior demolition inside that building for several weeks," he says. "I don’t think people even knew because they were doing the demolition and bringing it out the tunnels and taking it out Swede Alley. … They’ve been hugely valuable in that process."
So when can Parkites expect to see the finished product?
"Everybody asks me that question. They’ve been asking me that for 12 years," Elliott laughs. "The best I can tell you is the goal is to – and this is the goal. I don’t know how far that goes – but I know the goal is to try and get the commercial ready for next (ski) season and to get the residential ready sometime in 2015. We don’t know enough about some of the conditions of the existing building, whether we’ll get there or not. But that’s our goal currently."
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