12 Mar Opportunity to Strengthen Douglass Loop
Thursday, March 13, 2014 by Patrick Piuma
Catching the 17 bus at Douglass Loop on my way to work the last few weeks I kept walking by the PNC Bank building on the corner of Bardstown Road and Douglass Boulevard. When I noticed the building had a “for sale” sign I was overcome with this sense that there was an incredible opportunity here. The building itself appears to be in great shape. The architecture somewhat fits with the area and has a very typical “old is new bank” look to it even with the drive thru pretty well hidden from the main road. What I couldn’t shake out of my head was that this was a prime opportunity and location for something better.
Strong corners in an urban area set the tone for the entire neighborhood. Banks, gas stations, fast food restaurants, basically buildings that rest in a sea of asphalt parking or drive thru lanes on corners destroy the sense of a walkable urban neighborhood. We unfortunately have a number of good examples of this type of development along our inner-city neighborhood corridors. It is true that the building only occupies roughly 180 feet of frontage and takes 30 seconds to walk past, but it is the potential of this corner that makes it so interesting.
What if instead of the bank building, a low to mid-rise mixed use building occupied the space? A series of storefronts or office spaces could line the street with a building that met the sidewalk. Above, two or three stories of apartments or condominiums with attractive balconies and/or rooftop decks could provide more residential units to build density at a historic commercial node. This building could bring together the Douglass Loop and strengthen the Bardstown Road corridor which begins to lose its urban neighborhood feel as you move south due to more autocentric uses that break up the fabric of the streetwall. Even though the bank building is fairly new it may be worth removing a perfectly good building to do something that would have a much bigger and better impact on the neighborhood.
The bank property reminds me of a conversation I had with an out of town urban designer while giving a tour of Bardstown Road. He was blown away by the length of the commercial corridor and how, save for a few places here and there, that the built environment formed an almost continuous and complete pedestrian environment. This bank property is an opportunity for a creative and innovative developer to capitalize on the location and provide an example for strategic town center development throughout the city. The property also could serve as a model of transit oriented development that our community sorely needs.