“Everything’s about to fall in place”
If all goes to plan, construction on a new state office building on Federal Street and an adjoining parking garage will begin in November.
The timeline for the project was revealed at a joint meeting of the Design Advisory Board and the Development Review Board at St. Albans City Hall Monday night. The boards were given an advance look at the proposals prior to holding formal hearings on the project.
David White of White + Burke, a real estate firm assisting the city with the project, said the hope is to have all of the permits in place in August and hold a tax increment financing bond vote for the parking garage in September and close on the real estate transactions on November 14, with construction to start four days later.
The first steps were taken last night with the Design Advisory Board gave its approval for the demolition of the Moose Lodge on Lake Street and the Brickyard Tavern on Federal Street to make way for the garage and office building.
“Everything’s about to fall in place,” said White when asked about the status of the many real estate deals on which the project hinges.
The state is close to selling the existing state office building on Houghton Street to Mylan Technologies, Inc., which would allow that firm to expand. A deal between the city, which owns the future site of the new state office building, and the project developer the ReArch Company, is also close to completion, White said.
The state office building has 165 employees. The move “brings these 165 employees who are currently on the edge of downtown into the heart of downtown,” said White.
Negotiations are ongoing with potential developers of a hotel for Lake Street.
The proposed garage has roughly 375 spaces. The state would lease 170 and a potential hotel on Lake Street another 100, leaving 100 spaces for general public use. That is approximately the number of spaces available in the lot currently.
State office building
Andrea Murray of Vermont Integrated Architecture presented the plans for the new state office building.
In designing the building, Murray said the firm studied the architecture of the city’s downtown buildings. The state office building will be at least four stories, possibly five, and at least 35,000 square feet. “We have to take this big box and make it look like it fits in this place,” said Murray.
To replicate the feel of a downtown building, which traditionally has retail or restaurant space on the first floor with windows inviting potential customers to look inside, Murray designed a recessed entrance with lots of windows. The entrance includes a ramp for handicapped access and benches for seating.
In order to break up the mass of the building, recessed metal panels divide the façade into two brick sections. One of the sections is slightly taller and narrower than the other. Currently, there are two adjoining buildings on the site with one taller than the other.
The final color of the metal section has not yet been selected, but the firm is examining existing downtown color schemes for inspiration. They are aiming for a subdued color that will be “subservient to the brick,” according to Murray.
A bridge will connect the state office building to the garage. Final designs for the bridge are not complete, but Murray said it would likely be subtle and not intended to draw attention.
Because the new building will house programs for which demand is increasing, the state is considering adding a fifth floor, explained Murray, who also said the state is hesitant to move into a new building with no room for growth.
If it remains at four stories, the building will have a mechanical penthouse on the roof to conceal rooftop equipment. If a fifth story is added, that room will be incorporated into the fifth floor, which will also likely be recessed from the front of the building on Federal Street.
The building is being designed to exceed codes for energy efficiency and the electrical system has been created for the easy addition of solar roof panels in the future.
The parking garage will have five levels with an elevator and stair tower in the northwest corner near the state office building, and a second stair tower near the covered walkway leading to Main Street, explained Peter Cross, the project engineer.
The building will be pre-cast concrete poured in a factory and then set into place on top of a concrete foundation, according to Cross. There are multiple colors and architectural details which can be added to the concrete, representatives from Desmond Associates, the architects designing the garage, explained to a previous meeting of the city council.
Those details have not yet been finalized.
The garage will be approximately 46 feet tall, with the elevator tower extending to 58 feet.
The state office building is currently planned at 48 feet, with the penthouse on the roof reaching 61 feet. If the state decides to add a fifth floor, the height will increase to 63 feet.
There will be two-way vehicle traffic around the garage along the rear of the buildings on both Kingman and Main streets, with enough room to allow for delivery vehicles.
The city is meeting with building owners to clean up the backs of the buildings on Kingman Street with added landscaping, designated locations for dumpsters and other improvements, explained Cross.
Prior to requesting approval for the demolition of the Moose Lodge and the Brickyard Tavern, the city hired historic preservation consultants to assess the historic value of the buildings, an engineer to evaluate the buildings and a real estate expert to provide an economic analysis of the buildings’ value, as required by city regulations governing the demolition of historic buildings. Also included was a photographic record of each building.
Both locations are owned by the city.
With the reports in hand, the Design Advisory Board (DAB) gave its unanimous approval for the demolition of both buildings within 15 minutes of opening the meeting.
Chip Sawyer, the city’s director of planning and development, described the Moose Lodge located at 43 Lake St. as “an underdeveloped building for that site.”
The one story concrete building was constructed in the 1950s after a fire destroyed the second story of what had been a two-story building.
The building reflects the architecture of the time, according to preservationist Liz Pritchett.
Much of downtown is included in a historic district, and historic buildings within the district are listed on the National Register. The Moose Lodge was not included in that listing.
“The loss of the building to demolition, in my professional opinion, would not have a substantial impact on the overall character of the historic district,” wrote Pritchett, calling the demolition “a reasonable option as part of the overall revitalization plan for the city.”
Cross Consulting Engineers estimated the cost of bringing the Moose Lodge to current buildings codes at $547,000.
The Brickyard Tavern was included in the historic district. The city is seeking to demolish the Tavern and an adjacent building at 31-33 Federal St.
In a letter to the Vermont Division of Historic Preservation, preservationist Lyssa Papazian described the two buildings as “marginal to poor examples of historic properties that contribute little to the overall historic character of Federal Street and its surrounding blocks.”
Papazian concluded demolition of the buildings would have “no adverse effect on historic properties.”
Cross Consulting Engineers put the cost of restoring the two Federal Street buildings at $1.2 million. A previous estimate from Connor Contracting had estimated a higher cost of $1.5 million.
Both boards will meet again to formally consider the applications for the new state office building and the parking garage. The DAB will examine the aesthetics of the two projects on July 22. The proposals will then go the Development Review Board for site plan approval.