So how did we get here? How did we get to January, 2012, and residents of Heritage Hills are surprised that a housing development is about to go up on the former site of Mercy Hospital?
First, let’s go back one decade. Mercy Hospital abandoned its downtown home and opened a new complex in the mid-1970s in what was then the sticks – Memorial Road just west of May Avenue.
The old Mercy hospital ended up boarded-up blight on the neighborhood for a quarter century.
In the late 1990s the city finally got around to securing control of the block and the Urban Renewal Authority was tasked with finding a developer for the site.
Nicholas Preftakes made the first pitch in 1998. The $11.8 million proposal, the first downtown area housing attempted by Urban Renewal in 20 years, called for 16 two-story town houses, 72 city villas and 52 apartments. A rendering from the project shows the apartment building would have been six stories high.
The project was canceled in 2002 after Urban Renewal commissioners refused a request by Preftakes to acquire a duplex just south of the site. That duplex, once criticized by neighbors as a public nuisance, was later renovated into law offices.
The Urban Renewal Authority made another request for proposals for the site in 2006. By this time downtown housing was gaining momentum with the success of the Deep Deuce Apartments and other for-sale and rental housing popping up throughout downtown.
Two developers stepped up on this second go-round.
Marva Ellard pitched a plan dubbed Mercy Park, a $48.3 million development that would include 111 apartments, 22 for-sale condominiums, restaurant and retail, and a 72-room hotel. The Mercy Park proposal called for a restaurant, deli, shops and a grocery to face NW 13 between Dewey and Walker. Condominiums would face Walker while apartments would be built along NW 12 and Dewey. A hotel would be built in the center of the development, with underground parking serving the entire complex.
Chuck Wiggin, meanwhile, pitched Overholser Green, a $61.3 million development consisting of four buildings, four- to eight-stories high, with 109 upscale for-sale condominiums built above underground parking.
Wiggin’s proposal was chosen, only to fall through due to the economic crash of 2008. Wiggin attempted to persuade Urban Renewal board members to keep his contract in place and allow him to adapt his proposal into apartments. The board instead decided in 2010 to put the project back out for bid. And this time they received five responses – though one, pitched by Home Creations, was deemed significantly out of line with what was being sought by Urban Renewal due to its mix of office space and low threshold of investment.
This time Wiggin proposed a five-story complex with 24,000-square-feet for restaurants and retail, a 375-car garage, featuring 200 rental units with monthly rates between $600 and $1,900.
Ellard pitched a proposal again as well, this time submitting plans for a 150-unit, four-story complex that would have included enough parking to share with the nearby Unitarian Church and a daycare center.
This time around, the competition was joined by Richard Tanenbaum, whose previous residential downtown development included the Park Harvey Building and The Montgomery. Tanenbaum and his son Stephen proposed a four-story, 268-unit apartment complex with a pool and courtyard.
The Edge has undergone some changes since it was first proposed (as shown in the above rendering). In response to a push by the Urban Renewal board and neighborhood advocates, a retail mix was added along Walker Avenue. The amount of stucco facade was reduced, and garage was relocated to where it will be far less visible to the street.
These deliberations were open to the public; I even did live blogging and in-depth evaluations of each proposal.
Building permits are being sought, financing is apparently set, zoning is in place. All that remains, really, is a routine replatting of the block and approval for the exterior design by the Downtown Design Committee, which meets on Thursday. One variance is being sought – for a three-foot parapet to screen rooftop equipment. The Mercy site has never been this close to development – and after 13 years of similarly-sized developments being pitched and attempted for the block, it now has the attention of the Heritage Hills neighborhood one block to the north.