Letter to the Auburn City Council, Planning Commission, Auburn Downtown Redevelopment Authority and city manager from the Historic Preservation Commission
The Auburn Historic Preservation Commission is aware of the project to build a multi-story hotel on Gay Street and is unanimous in our concern for the long term impact on our city.
Auburn has become one of the most desirable places to live in the state of Alabama, not because of what it may become, but because of what it is now. We are fortunate to enjoy the benefits of an urban city while maintaining the charm and unique identity of a warm and welcoming small town. Our town center best projects this welcoming environment which blends historic structures and traditional aesthetics with convenience. However, the Auburn that has welcomed visitors, students, alumni and those of us fortunate enough to live here is in danger of being changed forever.
City planners have actively sought developers to build on the site of the municipal parking lot and parking deck a multi-story structure that will house a hotel, 31,000 square-foot grocery store, restaurant and offices. The new building will likely soar over the existing structures that surround the site and set a precedent for other out-of-scale developments.
Our concern is this may cause increased demand for the razing of unprotected existing structures, such as Toomer’s Drugstore, St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church and the Bank of Auburn building (The Vault). The danger is that Auburn will become just another city that sacrifices its heritage, history and ambience in the name of progress.
Development is good as long as it is done intelligently and takes into consideration many factors. We believe that it is possible to pursue economic development while maintaining the character and traditional elements of this community. In Auburn, new development must be compatible with the traditional character that has made it so successful. This is not a new concept but one that seems to have been ignored.
The hotel project seems to violate elements promoted in the proposed Master Plan that city officials point to as a guide for future growth. The plan, which appears in some sections to contradict itself, state in the VISION FOR DOWNTOWN’S POTENTIAL: Encourage new development to be compatible in scale and design so as not to overwhelm the historic charm and character of Downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. The illustrations chosen by the citizen who participated in the planning sessions support this vision with three- to four-story structures that fit with the existing buildings. Those who support this project ignore these references to historic charm, character, scale and compatibility.
The Historic Preservation Commission encourages the City Council and city planners to step back and evaluate the total impact, including negative aspects, of the hotel project on Auburn. Once our town loses its historic center, Auburn will lose its heart.
We hope this letter will encourage discussion believing that a diversity of ideas can lead to a better outcome. We welcome comments from all addresses.
Charles Henrix, Chairman;
David Bess; Donna Bohanon;
Alfred Davis; Susan Konstant;
Joel Tremaine; Peter Weiss