Brink is planning to demolish the 1960s-era McDonald’s and replace it with ones similar to his franchises in Greenwich and Mechanicville. The plans are somewhat welcome, considering his existing building in the Spa City is a rotting piece of urban blight. And that’s putting it nicely.
But Brink –or rather his planners at Bohler Engineering –neglected to read the city’s 32-page diagram-filled zoning ordinance. Or at least that’s what one might surmise given the project they’ve pitched as a replacement for this unsightly structure. Most notably, the three designs pitched to the city lacked the requisite two stories and didn’t occupy 70 percent of the lot’s street frontage.
His consolation for these omissions amounted to one less curb-cut than the three that exist today and replacing a vile building with a structure that will probably look equally vile in 20 years. So it’s not too surprising his plans have been met with a bit of consternation. Were they not a bit anxious about the plan, the city might as well treat the goddamn comprehensive plan for a ride through the paper shredder.
For decades, Brink’s restaurant has served as a lingering reminder of the wanton disregard city planners once had for South Broadway. It was a time when the city’s grand hotels and rolling piazzas crumbled to the ground, only to be replaced by the unsightly shopping malls, acres of pavement and dingy fast-food eateries.
Much of the emphasis of urban planning has changed since then, at least from a municipal prospective. Many planners have realized storefronts located on the beaten path draw more pedestrian traffic than those located in front of a sprawling 100-space parking lot. Many aspire to connect streetscape skylines, creating a more contiguous feel for downtown regions.
The problem is the McDonald’s corporation doesn’t necessarily buy into these concepts. Why the fast food chain is ambitiously working with franchise owners to replace its Capital Region restaurants, they’re all conspicuously looking like buildings pried from the same mold. Perhaps this is the standard for bustling roadways in Mechanicville or even Clifton Park, where a similar structure was built.
In Saratoga Springs, however, there’s been a nearly decade-long push to polish the tarnished street front of South Broadway. The city has embarked on an ambitious project to reconstruct the curbs and sidewalks, allowing them to match those built near the park during the 1990s. Yet the buildings along this area seem woeful when compared to their northern neighbors.
Brink is in the position to build a structure both adequate for his restaurant and fitting with the other structures in the city, rather than his block. And if one land owner builds an attractive building conforming to the city’s zoning, then perhaps others will follow suit.
Time will only tell the direction of this project; whether Brick will come back with something fitting the city’s character or try to slip the standard corporate McDonald’s through the filter of the Zoning Board. Some have already indicated frustration with how long the project has remained under contemplation with the city, so it won’t be surprising if the lawyers get involved, CVS-style.
Instead, Brink and his engineers should take a good look at the buildings on South Broadway that have endured more than a century and then craft their design in accordance. If they do, chances are pretty good they’ll develop something that will last, rather than becoming the latest McDonald’s architectural fad to face wrecking crews several years down the road.