But when the demolition is going on in someone else's town, it doesn't seem to be a problem. Witness the soon-to-open new Medici Restaurant in Normal, Illinois.
The rendering above portrays the interior of the newest outpost of the Hans Morsbach empire, the beer-and-burger cash cow that will soon open in the hometown of Illinois State University. The building is all-new construction partly subsidized by the Town of Normal as part of a very ambitious and radical redesign of its central business district.
Morsbach is a prime beneficiary of a tear-down and subsidized redevelopment done according to explicit New Urbanist design principles. I've had coffee across the street from the new Medici, and it looks damn good. Too bad this is the exact opposite of what some Hyde Parkers, including Morsbach, want to do with our own dilapidated, low-traffic commercial district at Harper Court.
The plan for Normal, a product of the Chicago new urbanist and sustainable design firm Farr Associates, has entailed the demolition of wide swaths of the downtown area, including numerous buildings built over the last several decades. As with Hyde Park, a new Marriott hotel is slated as an anchor for the redevelopment, along with a children's museum, and a major municipal commitment to bring about an integrated streetfront design that recalls the commercial heyday of the town in the early 20th century.
The image above is the nondescript 1980s era building that was demolished to make room for this, the new home of the Medici, Normal.
As you can see, the new building was erected with a facade that refers explicitly to the remaining historical buildings in the area. To guarantee this harmony of new and old facades and a pleasant sidewalk experience for pedestrians, the Town of Normal adopted a set of design stipulations, tied to grants and low-interest loans for facade and structural redevelopment. One example of this comprehensive new urbanist approach -- which required sidewalk-fronting facades, and historical decoration -- is the very pleasant building picture above, one of several that help to restore the downtown's historical integrity, charm, and walkability.
So what does Normal have to do with Harper Court, and Harper Court to do with Normal?
Let's ask Hans Morsbach, because he has some very specific ideas about what to do with Harper Court:
I strongly believe the answer to Harper Court's trouble lies in doing a better management job rather than tearing the place down. The rationale put forward for the redevelopment scheme is not credible, no matter how many consultants were engaged to gussy it up. (April 12, 2006)
Morsbach backs up this position by arguing that retail is declining in Hyde Park -- with the curious exception of his stretch of 57th Street -- and any redevelopment at Harper Court -- including a tear down and new construction -- would be fruitless.
Can we assume, as the backers of redevelopment do that a redone Harper Court, larger and more expensive, will somehow do a better job than the current incarnation? ... I seriously doubt that the veterinarian, the restaurants and other establishments will be better served by new and presumably more expensive retail space. More importantly, I doubt that these businesses will find it easy to survive the disruption the redevelopment project imposes on them.
So let's review:
- Hans Morsbach's new restaurant in Normal, Illinois, is in a new building that takes the place of a previous retail establishment that was displaced and demolished. Numerous other long-standing businesses were also displaced, but Morsbach is obviously happy with the new, modern space: as he told the Maroon, "It's beautiful and it's huge."
- The Normal Town Council, after watching their central business district decline for three decades, decided to turn it around. To do that, "consultants were engaged to gussy it up." Morsbach isn't complaining.
- Morsbach obviously expects that "redevelopment [of downtown Normal] ... will somehow do a better job than the current incarnation," and that the redevelopment is better than "doing a better management job." Otherwise, he wouldn't have sunk his money into it. But when it comes to Harper Court, it's apparently better to stick with the status quo, despite the striking case of Toys Etcetera demonstrating that a small business can make money in Hyde Park, just not at Harper Court.
- The most delicious irony is to be found in Morsbach's comparison of Harper Court redevelopment with a "Second Coming of Urban Renewal," when his new restaurant in Normal is a beneficiary of publicly subsidized demolition of major chunks of its downtown, including portions of entire city blocks, as shown below.
Mr. Morsbach seems to care a lot about principles when it comes to renewing Harper Court. But when Urban Renewal arrives in Normal, Illinois, it's a great business opportunity. Perhaps it's time for Mr. Morsbach follow the same business principles in his own neighborhood that he follows in someone else's.