A win-win for SOHO, architect and developer of Fat City Lofts
by Mariko Lamb
Aug 12, 2011 | 4560 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A rendering of the site of Fat City/Top’s Nightclub at Pacific Highway and Hawthorn Street shows how developers plan to maintain the art deco architecture of the existing structure. Courtesy of Jonathan Segal Architects
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After lengthy debate during last month’s Historical Resources Board (HRB) meeting, architect Jonathan Segal, GLJ developer Luke Daniels and representatives from the Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO) have worked out an alternative design agreement that would restore Fat City/Top’s Nightclub to its original 1941 Top’s appearance.

During the HRB’s meeting in June, a record-breaking number of community advocates attested to the building’s historicity, art deco and streamline moderne architectural style, and its significance to a variety of groups, including fishermen, war veterans, Japanese-Americans and Italian immigrants.

After nearly two hours of testimony from both sides, the board granted a continuance on the decision to designate the building as a historic site until its next meeting in July.

Prior to the July 28 meeting, Fat City Lofts architect Jonathan Segal, developer GLJ Partners and SOHO’s executive director Bruce Coons worked to come up with a compromise to restore the historic frontage of the Top’s building while also incorporating Segal’s original plan for the property as an apartment complex — quelling concerns from both sides about the complete destruction of the building and the economic impacts of leaving the building in its current state.

The new Fat City Lofts design plan includes a 232-unit apartment complex and retail space that incorporates original and reconstructed portions of the Top’s building.

To move forward with the design plans, the parties involved urged the board to not designate the building as historic — yet.

“It has been agreed upon by all parties that we must not designate the building at this time. Instead, we have drafted an agreement between SOHO and the developer stating that designation will be sought after restoration and reconstruction are successfully executed,” Segal stated in a letter to chairman John Lemmo.

In the letter, Segal referred to a similar project, Paseo de Mission Hills, where the HRB staff and developer worked in conjunction to successfully save and restore existing buildings, thereby reinvigorating the neighborhood and winning multiple preservation and development awards for their efforts.

“Please recognize that both SOHO and the developer intend to save this building, and it is imperative that designation does not occur until after the complete restoration of the restaurant,” Segal wrote in the letter.

Although some board members were wary of the third-party agreement, the board voted to oppose designation of the site as requested by Coons, Segal and Daniels.

Prior to the vote, Lemmo made clear to the board that the city is not a party to the deal made between SOHO and the developers.

“If we choose not to designate this resource, it is no longer within the jurisdiction of this board, and it may never come back. That’s a deal between them, so what’s before us today is that property as it sits today,” he said. “SOHO and the many people who spoke at the last meeting have changed their position in favor of non-designation. That’s procedurally the difference between last meeting and today’s.”

Representatives of SOHO indicated their satisfaction with the resolution.

“We have great confidence in GLJ Partners that this will happen, that this building will be restored and remove any doubt from your board of whether it’s historic or not when it comes back.” Coons said. “I hope we can move forward in this manner.”

SOHO’s vice president Dan Soderberg said that after last month’s meeting, numerous community members joined his “Save Fat City/Top’s Nightclub” Facebook page showing their support for the building.

“People love that building. People want to see it remain part of the cityscape and our urban environment, and we should utilize this opportunity to restore that building and to really sing the praises of the willingness to negotiate and good faith effort to come to a consensus,” he said. “The circumstances have changed. Last time the board was on the fence about the integrity of the building. Having this project go forward will resolve all the issues of integrity because it will be completely restored.”

The revised project plans will be presented to the Centre City Development Corporation board in September. If approved, construction on the site could begin at the end of this year, and the parties will seek designation from the HRB upon completion of the project.
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