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Sunday, March 12, 2006

Agglomerations: A Lofty Goal?


It's been some time since my last post... again, the product of a hectic semester academically and otherwise! As it happens, I'm lucky enough to have a little free time this weekend, as Spring Break has arrived! It's strange...this Spring Break thing. I haven't had one in 6 years and I'm not going anywhere, but here. And that's what this post is all about...what's here!

This weekend kicked off with a bang at a party on the East Side of Cleveland in a building called the Hyacinth Lofts (3030 East 63rd Street). Wherever you're reading from, chances are that you've seen at least one building converted from an industrial or other use into loft apartments or condominiums. If you're in Williamsburg, Greenpoint or Bushwick, New York, you can't sneeze without hitting one. If you're in Cleveland, the number is growing and their popularity is apparently what's driving the trend.

What inspired this post is that I've been inside a number of these throughout Brooklyn and Cleveland over the past few years...some legal and some not...the most recent of which is the Hyacinth Lofts building. I find them to be fantastic spaces, inspiring, and a great asset for our older cities to build upon in creating new, unique opportunities for residents that cannot be found or re-created as part of the growing new suburbanist movement.

Personally, I think their populariy is tremendous, as many of these buildings are outstanding examples of our cities' architectural, industrial and commercial heritages. Also, as I am a proponent of urban development and adaptive re-use in support of sustainable communities and growth, loft conversions make a lot of sense.

They also make a lot of sense for the people who live and work in them. Certainly, not all loft buildings are intended to support live-work activities. For example, the Fries & Schuele in Cleveland's Ohio City is a former department store and boasts loft amenities (high ceilings, exposed brick and duct work, large windows, open floor plans), but to my knowledge, is intended for residential uses only. The ones that boast live-work capacity, such as the Tower Press, Loftworks, Painter's Lofts, and Hyacinth offer amenities and advantages beyond what an average resident would demand from a building.

Now, on to the Hyacinth Lofts... Not only did I find the building to be breathtaking inside and out and not only was it full of interesting people young and old, trendy and conventional, creative and appreciative of creativity, but I also found that it hosts, entirely within its own walls, its own functioning micro-economy.

While there, I chatted with a designer friend, who was hosting the party. I visited the loft of a film-producer friend, who does all of her editing in her unit. I observed a performance art installation that ran throughout the night in a shared side room. I met the building's developer, David Perkowski, who also did the Tower Press building and assured me that it was the tenants that I should be looking to for inspiration.

I also met another film producer, who told me that his firm was expanding into a second space in the building because of the opportunities and advantages that the Hyacinth offered. Not only does he have all the tech capacity that he needs in his unit, but there's a black-box space with a "green screen" available, a two-story community loft for openings and other events, an editing suite, and a sound room. That, and he told me that he's been able to hire several tenants from throughout the building to work on assorted projects. I was in the midst of a real, working agglomeration economy, all contained within an old Board of Education warehouse!

My mind swam with the potential that buildings like this hold. Hyacinth, for example, is situated in a significantly depressed part of the city among vacant warehouses and manufacturing structures, auto repair shops and houses that have seen better days. Still, there is a residential base and an economic and industrial base to the neighborhood...it's just that it appears to be in the final throws of decline, with no bright end of the tunnel in sight... until you come across something like Hyacinth. To know that there is more demand for space than this building can support is the first step in growing something that is bigger than its borders. Look around and you'll see other buildings that could accommodate this growth... some in the neighborhood and many more throughout the city.

Across the street from the Hyacinth Lofts, there is another building waiting for its turn to shine. The Meyer Dairy building is next on the list, with preliminary plans for conversion to lofts catering to performance artists, such as dancers. Apparently, the existing hardwood floors are to die for...

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