Architects for Florida Blue’s proposed $22.5 million parking garage in Brooklyn have satisfied its critics on the Downtown Development Review Board.
The design of the 869-space garage was granted final approval by the board Thursday in a unanimous vote.
Architects with RS&H Inc. responded to DDRB feedback from the project’s Oct. 10 conceptual approval hearing by simplifying the facade design. They also added food truck areas, a second public park-like space and expanded the bays for potential future retail.
The garage at Magnolia, Forest and Park streets will free Florida Blue’s 4½-acre riverfront surface parking lot on Riverside Avenue for development of Fidelity National Information Systems Inc.’s $145 million future headquarters.
Florida Blue will sell that property to FIS by the end of the first quarter of 2020.
The insurer’s parent company, GuideWell Inc., also is preparing to add 500 contract and 250 full-time jobs to its Riverside Avenue offices, bringing its total workforce to 1,750.
The Downtown Investment Authority says the Florida Blue parking garage will meet increased parking demand in Brooklyn and support existing and proposed retail businesses and restaurants along Riverside Avenue and nearby Park Street.
Construction is expected to begin by Jan. 9 and be completed by Sept. 9.
Criticism from DDRB members that the facade design was “pretentious” and “frenzied” was gone Thursday.
The original design used eight mixed facades — called medallions — to create what RS&H officials called “visual irregularity” in the garage to avoid a generic look.
The amended design scales back to two medallions and uses colors more consistent with surrounding architecture in the Brooklyn area.
Remaining debate on the design Thursday centered on changing the color of the black firewall on the garage’s southwest side.
DDRB members suggested painting the wall to match the rest of the structure or commissioning an artist to add a public mural.
Board member Joe Loretta also asked RS&H officials to install special pavers to indicate a pedestrian crossing at the garage entrance.
The Florida Blue garage also has 60-foot deep retail bays, but they will not be built-out.
RS&H architects increased the garage’s first-floor ceiling heights and altered the ramping system to accommodate larger retail areas.
DDRB members said future tenants will be able to create viable retail space without substantial changes to the garage.
The board spent more than 20 minutes Thursday discussing if a specific market “trigger” to mandate Florida Blue build-out the retail bays should be included as a condition for final approval.
Florida Blue Vice President of Corporate Services and Chief Procurement Officer John Trevathan said the company will need time to study the public parking demand before removing ground floor parking for retail space.
Florida Blue and the city will enter a 39-year lease for public access to the parking spaces after 6 p.m. on weeknights and all day on weekends. Florida Blue will be responsible for garage maintenance.
Trevathan said there needs to be a market to sustain retail. He also asked the board to consider the cost of adding public parking before Florida Blue builds-out retail bays that could sit empty.
“Making this available for public use is going to increase our liability, it’s going to increase our insurance costs, it’s going to increase our security controls to virtually 24 hours per day and 365 days per year, it’s going to increase our common area maintenance,” he said.
“I would be looking at any opportunity I could to offset those operating expenses. I think it’s really critical that we be given the right amount of time to study the demand during the day for that parking,” Trevathan said.
Board member Craig Davisson said Florida Blue had followed DDRB’s “marching orders” related to retail at the site.
Ownership of the $3.17 million property will be transferred from the city to Florida Blue at no cost by Dec. 31, and the insurer will receive a $3.5 million completion grant to build the garage.
As city-owned property, the Magnolia Street site does not generate property tax revenue. Downtown Investment Authority officials expect the property in private ownership, zoned Commercial Central Business District, to bring in $5.1 million in tax revenue over 20 years, or about $255,000 annually.
The project will have 25,264 square feet of urban open space, which includes frontage on all four sides and two park-like areas at the corners of Magnolia and Edison streets and Magnolia and Forest streets.
Architects moved the vehicle entrance/exit of the garage to Magnolia Street for final DDRB review, which will allow space for the second park-like space.
“The second park part of this makes it a project I can get behind,” board member Brent Allen said. “The retail component is far-fetched. I’ll bet you a ham sandwich that it never happens.”
By: Mike Mendenhall