City scene setter
Published: Friday, January 31, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 31, 2003 at 2:43 a.m.
FYI: Buildings as tall as Midtown
Midtown's developers say the development's three buildings will average 280 feet in height when completed. Here's a sampling of some well-known structures around the same height:
The blue-glass gleam of its 23-story hotel will be visible to people driving by on Interstate 75. The hotel and its accompanying 23- and 26-story apartments will be easy to spot from as far away as the south end of Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. And from just about anywhere in downtown Gainesville, the three buildings will be visible through gaps in the tree canopy.
At least, that's the theory. "I've spent a lot of time thinking about this," said Schachter, the 24-year-old University of Florida graduate at the helm of the Midtown project. "I'd like Midtown to be the first thing people see as they approach Gainesville, and I think it will be. But the only way to know for sure is to build it."
Schachter and his father, Boca Raton developer Marvin Schachter, have already passed most of the regulatory hurdles between them and the building of Midtown, the trio of 280-foot-tall, mixed-use buildings they plan to erect in Gainesville by the end of 2006. With rental space for 1,500 student renters within walking distance of the UF campus, 300 hotel rooms near UF's sports stadiums and 45,000 square feet of retail space, the Schachters say they believe they'll be able to recover the $250 million they say they are borrowing to pay for the project.
And from the very beginning, they've had another goal in mind - to create a building that leaves its mark on the city, standing above downtown Gainesville's mostly two- to four-story structures to give the city its first true skyline. In homage to the Empire State Building, Ben Schachter is even seeking the city's permission to illuminate Midtown's top floors with colored lights that will change from holiday to holiday.
But while he wants Midtown to be Gainesville's most visible set of buildings, Ben Schachter can only make an educated guess as to how many places in Gainesville will offer a clear view of Midtown - or how far from town a person can go and still see the complex. And city officials say they aren't sure either.
"It isn't something that is part of our normal planning process, so anything I said would be a guess," said Tom Saunders, director of the city's community development department.
So far, Gainesville has only a handful of buildings tall enough to peek out from the top of the city's prized tree canopy. The University of Florida's two 14-story Beatty Towers residence halls, standing at 172 feet and 162 feet - can be seen above the treeline as far south as Paynes Prairie. UF's 157-foot-tall Century Tower can be glimpsed by drivers along 13th Street and from some places downtown. And a new on-campus structure - the approximately 150-foot-tall skybox addition being built at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium - is visible on the horizon as far south as Williston Road.
At an average height of 280 feet, Midtown's three buildings would tower above all those buildings. Schachter is convinced they'll be seen from I-75's raised overpasses and from Paynes Prairie. But he's not so sure they'll be visible to most of Gainesville.
"People think of Gainesville as flat, but it's really quite hilly, particularly on the west side," he said. "There are plenty of obstructions that will probably keep most people in town from seeing them."
Critics of Midtown have expressed concern that the project will loom over downtown neighborhoods - though city officials say Gainesville's tree canopy will block the buildings from the view of all but its nearest neighbors.
Gainesville resident Vanessa Williams wants to be one of Midtown's close neighbors. She spent Wednesday afternoon trying to close a deal on a house she hopes to buy on SW 5th Avenue in the Porters neighborhood - and she isn't worried about the idea that Midtown would loom on the skyline just two blocks away.
"I figure I'll be all right," she said. "This is definitely going to bring jobs, and that could only be good for the neighborhood. As long as a terrorist doesn't decide to crash a plane into it, I think it'll be great."
Steve Smith says he expects to be able to see Midtown's towers just above the trees in front of his business, S and S Cleaners, on SW 3rd Street. He doesn't look forward to the traffic jams he believes the project will bring to the area, but he doesn't have a problem with the height.
"It'll be a landmark," he said. "When I give directions to new customers, I usually start by asking them if they know where the Seagle Building is. This will make that even easier."
Newberry residents know what it's like to have a highly visible structure built nearby. Standing 265 feet tall at its highest point, the Florida Rock Industries cement plant is visible as far away as the intersection of Interstate 75 and NW 39th Avenue.
Rocky Voglio, who sells about 2,500 meals a week to Newberry residents at the Newberry Backyard Barbecue, says a few of his regulars grumbled about the plant's appearance when it was first built. But now, he says, his customers mostly talk about the ongoing debate over air quality at the plant.
"They don't talk about how high the stacks are, they talk about how clean they are," he said.
Florida A&M University architecture professor Mike Alfano can remember "a little bit of ruckus" on campus in 1977 when the state completed construction of a new Capitol Building, complete with a 22-story, 320-foot office tower, which can be seen from many parts of the FAMU campus.
At the time, Alfano said, people were worried that the building was not only too tall but too featureless and modern-looking, Alfano said. But hardly anyone comments on the building any more, he said.
"People have forgotten what it was like before the building was here," he said.
A UF graduate and former Gainesville resident, Alfano doesn't think Midtown will be nearly as conspicuous as the Capitol Building's tower.
"Gainesville's not a place that has a lot of vistas," he said. "You might be able to see this from University Avenue, but I'd bet that it won't be visible from most of the city."
Schachter says architects are now working on a scale model of Midtown that soon may become a part of the tabletop model of downtown Gainesville at the Florida Community Design Center at the Commerce Building on University Avenue.
While that may give residents a better sense of the project's scale, Schachter said, it probably won't answer the question of how far away the building can be seen.
But that question will be answered long before the building is complete.
"By the time we're halfway through with construction, the building will be pretty much at its full height," he said. "We'll probably know within a couple of years."
Tim Lockette can be reached at 374-5088 or email@example.com.
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