City has listened carefully on McIntyre project
Posted Jan 15, 2019 at 2:18 PM
Updated Jan 15, 2019 at 2:18 PM
Jan. 13 -- To the Editor:
Critics of the current design for the McIntyre Project include a number of my friends who care just as deeply about the city as I do, but who have come to a different view of the project. I watched the full proceedings of the recent council meeting when this topic was on the agenda. Having been involved with the project since late in 2017 when the council pushed (prematurely, in a lot of our minds -- Jeff Cooper recently reminded us of this) to name a developer and having participated actively in the following public input process (the city’s well thought-out response to the pushback), I have to say that to claim the city “isn’t listening to the people” is just plain silly. For those of us who had ideas and thoughts during the long process earlier in the year, the city and development team listened very carefully. The project records document the fact. Inevitably, no-one is getting everything they want but there was a lot of consensus on key points. The design could never satisfy everyone, but it is the product of a lot of listening, thinking, and design work.
I recommend anyone who is interested in this project to visit the city’s website devoted to it and study the session records. In particular, I suggest watching the approximately two-hour video recording of the first public input session of Stage 3 of the process held on March 27 last year. This video is also available on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/LyWoli4As0g. The design team from Redgate Kane presented their preliminary design ideas for the first time to the public. Their design professionals -- an architect and a landscape architect -- explained in detail how they arrived at their ideas, based on input from all the preceding public input sessions. They talked about how they worked with all the various constraints imposed on this project. Prior to that, the various public input sessions during Stages 1 and 2 became the basis for an “Essential Framework.” This design framework included four key areas: Design, Public Realm, Public/Private Partnership, and Design and Transportation. Public input was solicited and discussed for each key area. The council approved the framework as a guide for the developer’s team as we moved to Stage 3.
A recent letter referred to the Middle School project as an example of how a major project can be revisited. But that issue was all about location -- stay put or move to Jones Avenue -- not design. By comparison to the McIntyre project it was a walk in the park. If you watch the early Redgate Kane presentation you will hear references to “green space,” parking, and the Post Office -- the key topics that seem to have bubbled up again. If you watch with an open mind you will come away with a good understanding of the design we have today, which of course has since evolved, especially after review iterations with the National Park Service. You will also witness the impressive creativity of the design team as it wrestles to reconcile creative ideas and limitations. It was clear that this highquality design team was trying to bring us something Portsmouth residents will enjoy and be rightly proud of for years to come. For example, they proposed a year-round covered glass atrium -- a large indoor public space with all kinds of possibilities and something totally absent in today’s Portsmouth. Observe the amount of activity in Prescott Park’s “green space” during the colder six months of the year, then imagine how busy a sunny indoor public atrium would be on a cold January day. The designers also proposed opening up a sight line from Penhallow Street up to St. John’s Episcopal church up on the hill, a brand new view with steps and landscaping that I’m guessing every visitor to town will admire and want to photograph.
All of the materials relating to the public sessions are easily available on the city’s web site. The city has done an outstanding job of meeting its obligation to document and widely publicize the entire process from its inception a year ago. Sometimes, you’d never know it, judging by some of the commentary aimed at the council and city staff. People seem to forget that residents have an obligation too: to inform themselves in a timely manner and get their concerns and ideas back to the city when they can be considered as part of the process. In what realm of life do late-comers get to board a train that already left the station on time? Of course there are still legitimate questions and concerns; there always are. In particular, I applaud those residents who are putting pressure on the city to secure a good financial deal with the developer while negotiations are in progress. There may yet need to be some design changes, but to suggest that the City and developer return to the drawing board at this late stage of the game is not only a sign that the complexity and constraints of the project have not been fully appreciated but it is also an affront to a long, careful, and fully transparent process that involved a large group of engaged citizens and their investment of time and energy. I urge the City Council to stick with the existing program -- even in the face of some loud voices -- make adjustments where called for, and be the leaders we elected them to be, even -- maybe especially -- when it means to making decisions that are not universally popular and that may cost them votes in the next election. That’s what leaders do.