Forecourt. By Marriott.

Be forewarned: This may get wonky.

I figure that’s okay. With DM working the daily, well-reasoned news and perspective angle, Daren staking out the purview of “hare-brained schemes,” and Andisheh reminding us that, boosterism aside, we’ve still got problems to solve, wonky is pretty much what’s left. Which is fine. It suits me.

Recent talk about the Holiday Inn to Courtyard conversion got me thinking. Most, if not all, of the comments so far have focused on, at the micro-level, the quality of the accommodations or, at the macro-level, the hipness factor and overall economic benefit to Decatur. But what about the space in between those two extremes — the day to day quality of life for the people who live here?

The Holiday Inn was considered a coup when it was built because it fulfilled a key goal of 1982’s Town Center plan and, I think overall, it has been a successful addition to downtown. Nonetheless, from a design perspective, it’s really worked in spite of its design rather than because of it.

It’s as though, when it was built, someone said, “Shame about the location” and simply shoehorned their standard, just off the interstate, hotel template into the site rather than embracing the street and Decatur’s vision for downtown. But perhaps the Courtyard conversion presents an opportunity to correct that.

That’s right. I’m talkin’ ‘bout terraces.

The south is full of examples where the stark contrast between the private experience of a hotel guest’s stay and the public street outside is mitigated by a terrace between the two, allowing guests to enjoy, contribute to and participate in the life of the street from a semi-private vantage point, much like people do from the front porch of their house.

The famed Georgian Terrace on Peachtree Street does this beautifully.

It was equally evident historically right here in Decatur, as shown in this postcard of the famed Hotel Candler at the corner of E. Ponce and Church (snagged with gratitude from Next Stop… Decatur).

And, it could be evident again. Both sides of the present Holiday Inn, to the left and right of the drop-off, present opportunities to bridge the gap between building and street with terraces, in much the same way that the former owners of the Marlay designed their patio. In fact, to demonstrate, I just snapped a pic of the Marlay and stuck it on the front of the Holiday Inn. It ain’t pretty right now but, executed by a competent architect, think about the contribution such enhancements would make to the pedestrian experience. A livelier street for sure, but maybe also a better reason for people out walking to venture off Ponce, adding value to retail spaces heading down Clairemont towards Commerce. And with two extending terraces, the drop-off will then present more like a forecourt. Which ain’t exactly a courtyard, but it’s a lot closer than what’s there now.

This is usually the point where someone says, “But Courtyard is a chain. They have basic templates so there’s no reason for them to want to do this.” To that I say au contraire, my friend. Check out these cellphone pix of a new Courtyard in downtown Charleston. The first is along the front of the hotel; the second an actual terrace between building and street. Granted, this terrace is more closed off from the street but that’s only because this particular street is more like an arterial, with many lanes and considerable traffic. Basically, it’s a crappy street. But Clairemont isn’t.

A couple questions I don’t know the answer to: Since the building is transferring ownership and renovations are taking place, will the new owners be required to comply with our downtown regulations and better connect with the sidewalk? If not, is this something the Downtown Development Authority and the folks in Economic Development could push, essentially making sure the new owners understand our vision for and commitment to downtown so they can see that failing to embrace it leaves money on the table?

Tough to say, but curious what people think. Hopefully this first post hasn’t been enough for me to be summarily fired for exceeding the patience of the DM faithful.

28 thoughts on “Forecourt. By Marriott.”

  1. This is a great post, and a great point- a nice hotel can feel like a part of the life of the city in a way that the Holiday Inn does not.

  2. The “requirements” don’t kick in unless it’s a new construction but we will certainly be talking with them about ways to help the building fit better into our downtown. This company is the one responsible for the conversation of a hotel in downtown Charleston to a Marriott Courtyard so the example you are showing is probably their work.

  3. If this is wonky-ness, bring it on! Helpful to focus on what matters, and avoid getting distracted by what doesn’t.

    Cool doesn’t need to flow into Decatur from without. We don’t need a hip hotel to certify that we’re cool. Decatur’s cool is organic and flows from within. We’re so cool that even a Marriott Courtyard will be cool if it’s situated here. Of course, it’s up to Lyn, et al to help Marriott see the virtue of tuning their template to our vision. But I, for one, have confidence they’ll take that as far as it’s possible. It’s no accident that downtown Decatur is what it is today, and it ain’t because merchants and property owners got there by themselves.

  4. If we could only bolt the Marlay onto the front of every building in Decatur, this would be one hell of a town. Maybe put two or three Brick Stores along Church St and an extra Leon’s on Candler, while we’re at it.

  5. OK, only kind of relevant, but…

    I was treated to a special behind the scenes tour of the Big Tex Cantina yesterday evening.
    (Soft opening on Friday at four. First couple of people that present me with a truly hare-brained scheme get a draft on me.)

    Anyhoo, one of the highlights is the 25-30 person terrace they’ve installed on Swanton Way in what was just wasted, ignored space before. It’s going to be a great spot, and I think it will be a big step toward turning that forgotten stretch into a vibrant area.

    It makes me wonder what other lost outdoor space is floating around, waiting to be reclaimed as dining or drinking space.

    1. I keep saying they should open a restaurant in 315 W ponce and use that unused walkway thingy as a patio, but Scott wants that awkward building A installed, so he’s never supported it here.

      1. tsk, tsk, that is my lunch spot you are talking about! It is a little sterile but I enjoy the surrealness of cement benches on curved path and of course great trees! Building A is a hideous concept but not much hope for a passive green space in a commercial zone. A patio would be preferable to building A.

    2. Hare brained scheme — fix or get rid of the Gazebo. A band stand facing a planter. Brilliant!

  6. Good thoughts. Marriott standards can be worked around since it is an existing building. The hard(er) part at this point is probably convincing Noble Investments that it will make financial sense AFTER the fact that they bought the building. I’m sure they decided what to spend before they bought the hotel. There’s a need to dialogue with Noble quickly for good ideas to be considered.

  7. Nice recommendation. When you think about it, every public building in the south should have a shaded, breezy entryway. What could be more welcoming?

  8. The bold choice would be to move the drop-off loop to the side of the building uphill and make the entire Clairemont front a terrace/outdoor dining area. There’s no drop-off in front of the Georgian Terrace. If I remember correctly the North side has a terrace already, which could be attached to a front terrace, but I can’t remember that space ever being used for anything. They could even add a second floor terrace to the front if they wanted.

    Some fairly large street trees would be lost to a driveway around the side but they could be regained with additional planting space freed up in front. And there is a pocket park across that side street (Marshall according to Google Maps) anyway. The big problem, other than the expense of course, is that Marshall is cut off from the parking deck entrance in back and may be one way (I don’t know). So traffic routing is problematic.

    1. I don’t believe you’re entirely correct on the “no drop-off in front of the Georgian Terrace.”

  9. What makes everyone think Marriott going to do anything different than Holiday Inn? They’ll change the sign add a few amenities like their signature enclosed glass fore courtyard and voila!, new hotel. These are both large corporations and their only reason to exist in spite of what the ads say is to make a profit.

      1. That’s exactly right. At the time the hotel was built, it was among the first major investments in the Town Center plan. Decatur had a vision in place but little to demonstrate any likelihood of it succeeding. Thus, while unfortunate in retrospect, it’s completely understandable that the initial developers played it safe.

        Today, there’s built evidence all over town, along with a thriving downtown identity. That presents way greater predictability for Marriott and allows the city greater opportunity to make the economic case that better integration with the street will reap financial benefits.

        I agree they exist to make money. And to that end, we’re far better positioned today to make the case that investing in our vision (and evolving reality) of downtown will make them more of it.

        1. What will up the profit even more is making minor changes and saying it’s new and improved. I will be very surprised if they do much to the hotel. They’ll make more changes to staffing and service then they will to the physical structure and more likely updates to the interior than exterior. Noble runs other properties in Atlanta so go take a look. I think the hotel near Turner field is one of theirs.

  10. Finally, someone with some vision on here. I love your concept. Let’s talk through the space across the street now. Brick and mortar….lots of glasses street front ….and a hotel full of people on business with 100 feet… Hmmm.

  11. Love this post. Brilliant idea. When do we start writing the letters and emailing the petitions?

  12. Great post. I agree that the current design leaves a lot to be desired, but considering it is thirty years old… is not as bad as it could have been. I think it was a considerable risk to build it at all as Decatur’s downtown was a relatively barren place at the time.

  13. Confirmed the fact that the Charleston Marriott Courtyard that Scott uses as an example is the same one that the new owners of the Decatur Holiday Inn own. It was also a Holiday Inn that they renovated and reopened as a Marriott Courtyard.

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