Some people will always believe that spending more than $20 million to fill in a portion of the Inner Loop was a big waste of money. It’s getting harder and harder to make that argument, though.
With last Friday’s announcement of four projects selected by Mayor Lovely Warren for redevelopment of the former sunken expressway on the east side, even skeptics should have a much clearer idea of the potential.
Instead of a woefully underused stretch of freeway that divided downtown from thriving neighborhoods such as Park Avenue and the Neighborhood of the Arts, the land before long might be transformed into a vibrant mix of commercial and retail development, housing and green space—all serving as a gateway to the heart of the city.
The projects that the mayor is recommending to City Council include affordable and market-rate housing, retail and office space, a new hotel and expansion of the Strong Museum. And the developers behind these ideas—Home Leasing LLC, the Morgan Management LLC-Christa Cos. partnership, Indus Hospitality Group Inc. and Konar Properties along with the Strong—have solid track records.
To be sure, City Council needs to scrutinize these proposals, but the odds of approval seem high.
Moving forward is not risk-free, of course. The downtown market might struggle to absorb development on this scale, especially with competition from other downtown sites.
But as we’ve written on several occasions over the last five years, the greater risk would be doing nothing to fix a costly mistake.
The Inner Loop was constructed for a future that never arrived. Quite the opposite; the city that had a population of more than 330,000 when work on the Inner Loop began in the mid-1950s now is roughly one-third smaller. While it’s not the only factor, the moat-like Inner Loop surely contributed to downtown’s travails in the second half of the last century.
Fortunately, successive City Hall administrations—with the support of a number of private-sector leaders—doggedly pursued this project. Their efforts are being rewarded.
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