I was able to attend the meeting today, albeit a little late. From what I heard, I mostly missed introductions. And the acknowledgement by the design team that because a portion of the building was planned to have some element that would require sprinkling, that issue was no longer being used as a reason to not build retail.
The developer was represented by two Haskell Architects, Chris Holmes and Alan Wilson. The plan they were showing had the front of the garage about even with the Suntrust building, and shallow retail (about 20-30' deep) along the front. They were proposing that the additional space created by the curvature of Independent Drive could become a public plaza with opportunities for public art (they never said who actually was going to pay for that part of it - I suspect it was going to be left for the City to do at some undetermined time in the future). I believe this was offered as a means of satisfying the concern that the building needed something "interesting" for pedestrians. One of the DDRB members (the one who works for Haskell and recused from the voting) mentioned that he thought the plaza was a good solution and that possibly retail wouldn't be needed.
They were also proposing to having nothing more than a false storefront on the Hogan Street side to satisfy, again, that desire for pedestrians to "have something to look at".
Thankfully I could sense that the other DDRB members weren't buying into it. The statement was made by one of them that "we are moving in the right direction but we aren't there yet".
Mark Rimmer (as a member of the public - and operator of the courthouse garage) gave good reasons why the entrance should be moved from Hogan to Bay Street.
Chris Flagg (member of DDRB) stated his opinions about it clearly. The building should not be JUST a garage. It should be a mixed use building that has as one element garage parking.
"The Haskell Guy" read an email that he received from an interested citizen that offered the solution of moving the garage back and allowing infill around it. That was obviously from Lakelander. He liked the idea. Alan Wilson agreed that even if they didn't go that far, the garage could be set back a little further from Hogan to create a viable retail space on the ground floor.
The opportunity was then provided for others to speak, and so I stated that I think some are missing the point of the need for retail. It isn't just for pedestrians to have something to look at. It is about creating opportunities for commerce. We have dozens of public plazas that are wasteland primarily because of the void of activity around them. Any outdoor urban space has to be surrounded by complementing commercial uses to be vibrant. People aren't going to visit the plaza just because it is there.
Several others from the community commented on the importance of maintaining e retail requirement. Amy from DVI spoke (although was clear that she wasn't speaking on behalf if DVI - these were her personal opinions). My favorite was Melody Bishop who told us that she intentionally wore black and white to the meeting, because she felt this was a black and white issue. There is no gray area about the need for retail along the street.
After the meeting, I had a chance to talk more with DDRB members and the Haskell team. The overriding sense I got from them was that this could be worked out. HOWEVER it occurred to me as I started writing this that because the developer wasn't there, this really could have just been a smoke session. We need to have a strong contingent at the next DDRB meeting when they will be voting on it. Lots can happen behind the scenes between now and then.