Preliminary plans for RH presented, reviewed
By Kevin Elliott
Preliminary plans for a four-story Restoration Hardware, known as RH, building at S. Old Woodward and Brown streets, will be discussed by the Birmingham Planning Board on Wednesday, April 28, after planning board members on Wednesday, March 22, began the preliminary site plan review for a proposed 49,624-square-foot building.
The plan, designed by Birmingham architect Victor Saroki, calls for reconstructing the 1.2 acre area where the current Capital Tiitle/Lutz building, Frank’s Shoe Service/Roche Bobois, and Coldwell Banker Weir Manual parking lot are located. In place of the three existing buildings would be the four-story RH gallery with a fourth-floor restaurant that would incorporate RH indoor/outdoor furnishings.
“The restaurant and liquor license are extremely important. This is a formula and model we have followed,” said RH President and Chief Real Estate and Development Officer Dave Stanchak. “We believe it’s emotional value. It’s such a romantic atmosphere – it’s a brand builder. Could we have done it without a restaurant? Sure, we could have, but we probably wouldn’t do the project. If that’s the thing we have to consider, what works for us. About 80 percent of our customers are female at the restaurant, and the combination of food and a wine vault, that atmosphere creates our brand and is really important to us.”
The proposed restaurant would incorporate RH furnishings and other offerings into its decor, serving both as an extension of the retail gallery and a service to customers. RH will be seeking an economic development license from the city, which is a liquor license offered by the municipality to businesses putting $10 million or more of investment in the city, or improving property value by 500 percent.
Stanchak, who was raised in Birmingham, said the interior of the building will incorporate a vertical design, similar to that of its gallery in New York City. Overall, he said the goal is “to create an architecturally inspiring gallery with artistic installations of home furnishings in a gallery setting and a rooftop restaurant and wine vault that blurs the lines between residential and retail, indoors and outdoors, home and hospitality. One that activates all of our senses and attracts luxury customers to our home furnishing and design business.”
The proposed building would include underground parking to house 24 vehicles. No additional parking is required, as the proposed project is within the city’s parking assessment district.
While additional parking isn’t required, Birmingham resident Paul Reagan said the project should require additional parking because the city is facing a shortage of parking in downtown.
In May 2019, RH signed a letter of intent to anchor a building on Old Woodward Avenue in front of a new parking structure for the proposed Woodward Bates project in downtown Birmingham. The project was to include a 55,000-square-foot building with a rooftop restaurant. RH has similar stores in West Palm Beach, New York City, Chicago, Denver and Seattle.
In August 2019, Birmingham voters rejected the parking structure bond proposal in the amount of $57.4 million in order to secure financing for demolition and rebuilding of a new parking structure to replace the N. Old Woodward structure and an extension of Bates Street, which would have included the RH Gallery store proposal.
Birmingham Planning Director Jana Ecker said the current proposal won’t require any vote of the people, as all of the proposed development is on private property and being done with private funds.
The new project does face a series of additional requirements before moving forward. The site currently consists of three different parcels, which RH is proposing to change by splitting and combining in order to create one usable parcel. The site also requires rezoning of the overlay district from D3 to D4 in order to accommodate the fourth-floor restaurant and additional height. Further, RH is requesting the project be placed in an economic development zone in order to qualify for an economic development liquor license.
The proposed building would be directly across Brown Street from the new Daxton Hotel, which is slated to open at the beginning of April.
Ecker said four-story building will provide a good transition from the five-story Daxton, with streetscape components such as benches, trees and lighting to encourage activity in the area. The proposed development also would serve as an anchor for new development in the area along S. Old Woodward, as prescribed by the 2016 Master Plan.
“The proposed retail, gallery, design services and restaurant uses all work together to provide a significant retail anchor at this location, activating this area,” she said.
Despite positive feedback, board members did question some of the information provided by RH in its traffic study, conducted by Flies & Vanderbrink. As such, board members tabled any action on the preliminary plan until its April 28 meeting. Additionally, board members also tabled until its April 28 meeting a community impact study presented to the planning board.
A community impact study looks at both architectural factors, as well as how the development will impact local businesses, residents and the city overall. The study takes into account traffic studies, utility uses and other factors.
In addition to the preliminary site plan and community impact study, planning board members on April 28 will consider whether to amend the city’s economic development map to allow the project to qualify for an economic development license. The board will also consider whether to rezone the area from D3 to D4 to allow for a fourth-floor restaurant.