City officials have often spoken of the huge opportunity Boulder has at the 8.8-acre former hospital site on Broadway, and of the need to "get it right" in redevelopment.
A study session of the City Council on Tuesday offered a peek at what getting it right may look like in the eyes of the planners and elected leaders tasked with turning the site, which the city purchased a year ago from Boulder Community Hospital for $40 million, into a community benefit.
The council showed a desire to investigate using the land, which sits just west of Broadway along Alpine and Balsam streets, to build a mix of housing types for different income levels, city offices and commercial space that includes bars and restaurants — all in a pedestrian-oriented layout.
The broad redesign of the site is still only beginning — construction won't happen until at least 2020, according to current schedules — but the council appeared mostly comfortable with what planners have identified as a "vision" for the multi-year project:
"Alpine‐Balsam is envisioned as a vibrant multigenerational hub for community life and city services — a welcoming and inclusive new model for affordable sustainable living."
Some on the council pushed for the word "equitable" to be included in the vision statement in reference to housing. Councilwoman Mary Young introduced the idea, and Mayor Suzanne Jones later commented that low- and middle-income units should have a strong presence on-site.
"Like, the vast majority, I think," she said.
Depending on how negotiations between the city and county fare, it is also possible that some housing could go on the county site at Iris and Broadway, which is also being redeveloped. Any arrangement in which city goals are advanced on that land would likely include the county using some of the Alpine-Balsam space for its own offices.
Given the conversations still yet to be had about possible cooperation with Boulder County and about the future of the central Broadway corridor, Mayor Pro Tem Andrew Shoemaker cautioned against committing to doing too much at Alpine-Balsam.
"If we can get a tremendous amount of housing" on Iris, he said, "then that's great, and if in return we get very little housing at the hospital site, I'm OK with that.
"What I don't want to suggest is that in the concept of fairness we've got to give everybody a little something on that site."
One thing about Alpine-Balsam that appears fairly certain is that the Brenton Building, which includes about 21,500 of the site's 355,000 square feet of facilities, will be retrofitted and used, at least at first, for city offices. The retrofit will run Boulder an estimated $8 million.
City Manager Jane Brautigam, in explaining the cost of the Brenton redevelopment, likened its insulation to that of a log cabin. The site's Medical Pavilion building — 20 years younger than Brenton — would be cheaper to retrofit, Brautigam said, because its systems are more modern.
Planners appear to favor reusing — as opposed to replacing or demolishing — the Pavilion.
The site also comes with 800 parking spaces, and community feedback gathered to this point has indicated preference for below-grade parking. In a memo, planners wrote that "there is significant value to using the existing garage on the southwest corner of Alpine and Broadway ... for parking as the reuse of the Pavilion is considered."
Tuesday's study session included some discussion of what city offices would best fit on the site. Boulder keeps employees in 41 different buildings around the city, and there is interest from officials now in consolidating some of that.
Brautigam said she envisioned prioritizing "direct services" at Alpine-Balsam, so that people who need to actually interface with a city representative can do it in a "one-stop shop."
For example, Brautigam said, someone who needs to apply for a grocery tax rebate and also ask about childcare subsidies could visit one address to accomplish both.
Boulder is also reviewing what kinds of city facilities it puts in the downtown Civic Area, which is being redeveloped currently. Brautigam advocated for keeping the offices of the city manager and city attorney in that area, in addition, possibly, to the municipal court and a new City Council chambers.
Brautigam called the current chambers, which sit inside the Municipal Building at 1777 Broadway, "constrained," and said she'd like to see a new setting that felt more inviting to the public.
The ongoing Alpine-Balsam conversation takes place within the context of a simultaneous exploration into the future of Broadway from University Hill to Iris.
Council members supported staff continuing to develop the "Central Broadway Corridor Design Framework," which will return for possible council advancement in early May — the same time by which the city expects to present a drafted vision plan for Alpine-Balsam.
This framework would be used as a planning tool in consideration of "existing and potential future interrelationships between five key activity centers along the central stretch of Broadway."
Those five centers are: University Hill, the Civic Area, the downtown commercial district, Alpine-Balsam and the county site at Iris.
At one point in the study session, Councilman Sam Weaver asked planners whether the city might inquire into a gondola as part of the Broadway plan. Chief Urban Designer Jim Robertson said that could be one of a number of tools Boulder looks at once it has actually solidified the city vision for the corridor.
Alex Burness: 303-473-1389, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/alex_burness
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