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Calling Cobblestone: Take some hints from the Distillery District

October 12, 2012

One of the most under-utilized neighborhoods in the city is the Cobblestone District. Hampered by the pair of massive arena lots that occupy two of the blocks that make up the area, the District itself is little more than on square block of densely packed buildings.

Once before, I explored some ideas for the Cobblestone District and it was on a relatively big scale. Rather than recycle thoughts from that post, I want to explore how to duplicate the Distillery District in Toronto in the existing structure of the Cobblestone District.

The view of the boarded smith shop (right) and other properties in Cobblestone that are ripe for development.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Distillery District, it is basically a pedestrian-centric neighborhood that occupies a very well-preserved whiskey distillery in Toronto. It is located a short drive from the proper city center and has an interesting mix of gallery space, boutiques and restaurants. The pedestrian-first design is quite popular thanks to the size of Toronto and nearby residential space. In fact, there are a pair of modern, high-rise residential (and mixed-use hotel) developments currently being built in the area. Once those projects are complete, the District will be a historic neighborhood with an industrial feel that serves a number of large populations driven from the new builds in addition to others coming from downtown.

What is truly brilliant about the Distillery District is not only the historical integrity that has been upheld in the core portion of the neighborhood, but the willingness to allow contemporary additions to be made to the area. In fact, a number of the new builds have taken facades and other pieces from former buildings that previously occupied specific locations. To specify (see pictures), this isn’t an adaptive re-use, but a new building basically constructed with some of the bones and skin from the older buildings included. Surely ideas as progressive as this would make such preservation fore-runners like Tim Tielman soil their trousers.

Of course, the lack of money and demand for multiple mid- and high-rise residences in the city is quite limited. So that specific example is rather unrealistic. The point is that every single brick laid in 1878 doesn’t need to remain in its original location. And that should be considered for site throughout WNY.

The Achilles Heel for Cobblestone is the lack of population that would regularly frequent the businesses in the area. Outside of arena events, there isn’t much use for the bars and restaurants that currently inhabit buildings in the neighborhood. With Helium’s introduction, there should be increased traffic since the comedy club should draw people independent of what is happening in the arena on a nightly basis.

Adding in the 100 or so nights the arena is filled to a full slate of acts at Helium should provide more of a draw in general to any of the bars and restaurants that do, or will, occupy space in the neighborhood.

The very open and dynamic main square of the Distillery District.

With the HARBORcenter development on the way, there will be more patrons introduced to the area which should begin to remedy the lack of daily patrons to the neighborhood (hotel patrons, beer league players and hockey parents). In addition, the proposed development on Ohio Street would inject another 48 residences and people who would drive to the city for things to do. With Cobblestone around the corner the convenience couldn’t be beat.

Without delving into additional complaints about those who are thinking of obstructing the Ohio St. project, the plan would undoubtedly do more for Cobblestone, Canalside and the Ohio Street corridor than any re-use of the existing Freight House.

The Cobblestone District already has good bones. The infrastructure has been long-established and the foundation for additional development has been laid by the three Savarino buildings along Mississippi St. Those three buildings are excellent adaptive re-uses which keep the integrity of the neighborhood while providing an excellent example of what can be done with any other building in the area. Taking the next step is what is necessary.

The smith shop on Illinois is pretty much the lynch pin in this entire argument. It is a dense structure that has a solid façade (South Park) and impressive reach (about 1/4 of Illinois). Getting an owner who has the ability to renovate (if possible) the property and make it ready for development is crucial. The back side of that building – and those on Mississippi – makes for a nice, natural alleyway which would be very pedestrian friendly if additional businesses could re-locate to the neighborhood.

Much like in Toronto, the space in behind the buildings is pedestrian friendly, has a historic and industrial feel and look and can connect to a number of different locations in the area which could easily be developed.

Some of the properties are currently occupied by companies who wouldn’t necessarily fit within a neighborhood trying to draw those looking to shop or eat down in the city. For example, the white Hi-Temp Fabrication building is a tremendous cornerstone for the neighborhood but is fully occupied. Although it would be an awesome place for lofts, for example, relocating the current tenants would be difficult. The same can be said about other locations on Illinois St.

However, filling those buildings with developments like apartments, restaurants or shopping will help create Cobblestone into a year-round destination. Cultivating the existing properties should allow for additional development in portions that have yet to be improved.

The proper area that makes up the Cobblestone District is truly only five blocks by one. However, the lot that serves the HSBC Atrium, the surface lots at Michigan and Scott (or Perry) and the land that is occupied by the Buffalo Creek Casino and the Fairmont Creamery could certainly be adopted into the big picture for Cobblestone.

That reflects more on the previous Pipe Dream post that I wrote. However, creating interest in properties like the FNC lots could provide the neighborhood with additional density and character, should period-style buildings find their way to the space.

As of now, the most realistic use should start with the smith shop and grow from there. Getting a proper revitalization of that stretch of buildings wouldn’t just double the renovated properties in the Cobblestone District, but it would create the momentum needed to get more interested tenants to ultimately turn the District into the neighborhood many have hoped it would become.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. October 29, 2012 12:17 pm

    Actively recruiting a few recognizable restaurants for the area would likely begin to spur overall development. Ensuring that all the structures built were in line with the Canal-era design structures would add character to the district. Allowing for the additional plans for Canalside to fall in line would provide the all-around, family friendly neighborhood so many are seeking.

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