Big Pink Thing

By Dan Bertolet March 13, 2010

Of all the residential buildings that went up in Seattle during the last development cycle, the Mirabella senior housing project at Denny and Fairview (pictured above) easily takes the award for most bulky, stocky massing. The 12-story, 400-unit building is pure box, covering a full city block, with walls on on four sides going straight up for about 120 feet.

Now picture the Mirabella five stories taller, a little chunkier, and painted in two shades of pink. And if you don't have a vivid enough imagination to conjure that, no worries.  Just go to Clearwater Beach in Florida like I did, and see it for real:

This jaw-dropping heap is the Hyatt Aqualea, a 17-story, 268-unit luxury condo-hotel that opened in February, the last of the Clearwater Beach megaprojects to come on line over the past decade.

Though presales have been offered since 2006, so far, only 50 units have sold. That might have something to with the fact that unemployment in Florida, according to yesterday's St. Petersburg Times, that now ties the state's record high set in 1975.

Forgive me, but I seem to be a little obsessed with this building. Behold the magnificence of its 920,000 square feet (click on the images to enlarge):


As you can in the view above, with the exception of a wrap of units across the beach-facing side, the first seven floors of the project are parking decks. If it didn't have to accommodate those 750 parking stalls, the 300-foot-by-250-foot building could have been about 60 feet shorter.

Obviously, underground parking garages aren't feasible when the site is only a couple of feet above sea level. But the city of Clearwater is also partly to blame for the imposing height of the building, because it required the developer to provide a minimum 400 parking stalls for the public.

As in most beach resort towns, the economy of Clearwater Beach is almost completely dependent on visitors arriving by car. Thus, the dominant viewpoint is that there can never be enough parking, and urban design is easily sacrificed.

During the later half of the 20th century, the same mentality dominated in most American cities, including Seattle, and we're still recovering.

P.S: The title of the post bears no relation to this.
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