The City’s Economic Development Committee this afternoon unanimously voted to recommend the Walgreen’s project on Clairmont Avenue and 32nd Street to the full Council.
Originally Walgreen’s had planned to demolish Fire Station No. 22–and two neighboring long-time businesses, Bogue’s Restaurant and Clairmont Auto Repair–for a new store and parking lot. After an explosion of neighborhood opposition to the demolition, and frustration at the lack of public awareness of the City sale of this property, Walgreen’s amended its proposal. Now, the company promises in writing to preserve the Fire Station and make efforts to move Bogue’s into it, or find another neighborhood tenant. The new drug store would be placed in the middle of the block, leaving the historic corner building in its role as gateway marker to the Highland Park, South Avondale, and Forest Park neighborhoods.
Once Walgreen’s changed their plan to include preservation (the community had reminded the developer, Connolly Net Lease, that Walgreen’s had agreed with the National Trust to not demolish buildings on the National Register some years ago), a lot of opposition died away. While it is true that the current proposal is immensely better than the previous, it is probably important to remain a little skeptical–this large corporation had no initial intent to save the fire station or help displaced businesses. Let’s hope their new spirit of community cooperation is genuine.
Walgreen’s committed to holding a design charrette for the proposal, with public input. They have also engaged David Blackmon of Blackmon Rogers Architects to lead the design process. Here’s hoping for an inspired design for the new building; carefully planned and shielded parking; clear pedestrian emphasis at entry points; a skilled restoration of the fire station; and a commitment from the City to help both Bogue’s and Clairmont Auto find new homes. Oh, and a new policy that whenever the City is selling property–especially property on the National Register–they at least put up a “For Sale” sign, so the community, and not just RFP insiders, is aware and able to make proposals.
A big step in the right direction. Now come the important details. Stay tuned.