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.