MONTPELIER — City officials and the public got a look Tuesday at two different developers’ visions for how the Carr Lot can be transformed into a multimodal transit and welcome center. About 100 people attended the forum.
The two developers, DEW Properties and Redstone, a commercial real estate development firm, responded to the city’s request for proposals.
Mayor John Hollar, calling the event historic, explained that each developer would have an hour to share its vision.
In most respects, the proposals each respond to specific needs yet remain unique.
The DEW team included representatives from the local Black River Design.
“The reason I’m so excited about this project is that I grew up in Montpelier,” said Don Wells, president and principal of DEW, telling the packed meeting room at the Montpelier Senior Activity Center on Tuesday evening that “we view this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’ve always wanted to do something special in Montpelier.”
Wells said DEW has been talking to city officials since October about the project as well as the capital’s community members. From a meeting in October, the company gleaned these visions for the Carr Lot: a destination, sustainability at different levels, a place to launch kayaks, riverfront access, a community space and more.
The site is within the floodway, and the company was told then that parking needed to be minimized on the site and off-site parking may need to be found; that the building could be between two and six stories in height; and that it needed to contain the long-hoped-for transit center, for which the city has two federal grants and has added city money.
“That’s what we knew we had to respond to. We listened and we heard,” said Wells.
DEW is one of the largest construction manager/general contractor firms in Vermont, recently wrapping up work on Barre City Place.
Jay Ancel, of Black River Design, said the company has worked with DEW on projects including the Newport Downtown Renaissance Block, work at the Montpelier fire and police stations, the city schools, and the hotel and water park at Jay Peak. The landscape architecture firm working with DEW designed the Hanover, N.H., transportation hub and has worked a great deal in Barre.
Wells said DEW has met with state officials to discuss a possibility of putting levels of parking on top of existing parking on Taylor Street and with the Basharas, who own Capitol Plaza Hotel and Conference Center, to discuss parking expansion partnership possibilities at a parking area that serves the family’s hotel in the city’s heart. “We would really provide an opportunity to help solve the parking problem,” he said, not add to the existing parking shortage.
The building DEW proposed is expected to cost $7.6 million and calls for up to 12 private residences.
Potential tenants for project were listed, including the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, the Vermont State Employees Association, the Vermont Association for the Blind and a confidential prospective tenant, which Wells said would be pursued. He said the company has met with the farmers market representatives and hopes it can work with them to be an integral piece of the plans.
The total size of the building proposed, including the multimodal transit center, is 46,000 square feet.
Larry Williams, a principal with Redstone Commercial Group, introduced his team, including an architectural firm and landscape architects, saying both firms are “world-class architects that just happen to live in Vermont.”
The architectural firm is Gossens Bachman Architects.
“This is a rare place-making opportunity for the city,” said Williams. “We think a public process is critical. The public input has to be gathered in the right order. We agree with the city that the quality of design on this project is very important.”
Williams said the firm brings both experience and creativity, saying the city needs a partner that brings a project that is financially feasible to the table. He also said Redstone can demonstrate a long history of success and innovation. “We’re not sure if this is a hotel, a residential building, an office building,” he said, noting there are many high-quality contractors in the region that can work with Redstone to bring its vision to fruition.
Williams said the firm has developed more than 40 projects and is a real estate brokerage and property management company that manages more than 1.5 million square feet of commercial space, including more than 700 tenants. It has developed the University of Vermont’s Redstone Lofts and redeveloped the Banknorth Block in Burlington.
Williams showed through his presentation that the company has experience in public-private ventures of large scale and investment.
Chase Mill, a Burlington mill building on the Winooski River, is being renovated by the firm, which is also developing a hydro-electric project on the site, said Williams, pointing out the firm’s work in renewable energy and sustainability.
The architectural firm working with Redstone was the architect for the Montpelier district heating project, the Montpelier Senior Activity Center and more, and has a commitment to riverfront redevelopment, said Gregg Gossens, partner in the firm.
Gossens said DEW brought a designed project but that said Redstone plans more civic involvement in that process to build the project around community consensus.
Like DEW, Redstone envisions a green or living roof, and has experience through its landscape architect partner, including a green roof at Fletcher Allen Medical Center, where produce is grown and used in the hospital’s cafeteria.
The Redstone project would allow buses to leave to the south and not have to go through downtown, the team explained. The plaza would face south. Both plans also include the bike path extension through the site, an important piece of the redevelopment plans.
Redstone also showed the hoped-for inclusion of the city’s thriving farmers market as part of the plans. The Redstone project does not require off-site parking.
Redstone’s plans include several options for the upper floors, including a hotel, with the possible square footage up to 50,600 square feet and a maximum price tag of $15 million.
The office use for the upper floors, of 21,200 square feet, was shown to cost $4.68 million; for 41 residential units for the upper levels, 36,400 square feet and a price tag of $7.54 million.
Many visuals were offered by both firms.
Secretary of State Jim Condos, during the public question and answer period after the presentation by DEW, said the state is about 600 parking spaces short for state employees’ needs, and he expressed concerns about the Taylor Street bridge, saying it’s not wide enough to carry buses. “It’s not going to be conducive for buses coming across that bridge, and that’s a major thoroughfare” for commuters, he said.
Sustainability is a critical piece of what the city is hoping for in the building to go on the Carr Lot, and the firms partnering with DEW shared their experience in building projects with “net zero” energy use, including at the University of Vermont and at Putney School.
From the process, the firms working with DEW came up with a list of priorities, with the site being a “living, breathing dynamic place” being something they heard over and over again; also that the space needed to create a community destination and be pedestrian-oriented and a place that encourages community gathering.
Wells said DEW did not want to create any competition with any other city businesses; the proposal from Redstone includes a hotel for the upper floors as one of the possibilities. The development partner the city ultimately selects will own the upper floors and manage the tenants.
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