Carrie Rengers

When an autopark isn’t just for cars

Instead of thinking outside the box for their latest downtown redevelopment project, Michael Ramsey and Robert Eyster are thinking within it.

That means the Bokeh Development team is getting creative with the reuse of an existing structure, which is Ramsey’s mantra.

“He eats it, he drinks it, he preaches it to us,” says architect Stan Shelden.

“What can we find that was there originally … in the design that we celebrate?”

He says there’s a lot to find in the conversion of the former Broadway Autopark – a 1949 parking garage at Broadway and English – into the 44-unit Broadway Autopark Apartments. The shotgun units, mostly around 600 square feet, will rent from $800 to $1,200 a month and feature covered parking at renters’ doorsteps and covered patios on the opposite ends.

The 101,000-square-foot, five-story building also will have commercial space on its first floor where strategic branding agency Apples & Arrows has already signed a lease. There also will be public parking on the first floor.

Ramsey says the design is early mid-century modern, “just at kind of the break-over point.”

“The architectural elements in this building are just absolutely tremendous.”

He’s working to get it listed on historic registers, in part for the tax credits and, he says, in part to preserve the building.

Once that’s attained, construction will start. That likely will be in September and will take about a year.

Though regulations due to historic designations create constraints, Shelden Architecture architect Daniel Gensch says they also offer direction.

“You’re kind of discovering what the building has to offer.”

A big part of what the building offers is, not surprisingly, parking.

“It’s urban living, but … it’s really kind of embracing – and I hate to say this – but it’s embracing cars,” Ramsey says.

The building is two blocks from Kellogg, which he says makes it easy to get to or from either side of the city.

Front-door parking offers a secure feeling, Ramsey says.

“I think downtown as a whole is extremely safe, but there’s still a lot of people that aren’t used to kind of the urban living.”

Another key feature will be large patios at each unit.

Tenants will “have the ability to have some significant outdoor living,” Ramsey says.

Some units will utilize the distinctive curved parking ramps – Ramsey calls them silos – that the building is known for.

“That’s one of the examples of actually being forced to kind of embrace part of the floor plan that the building already had,” Gensch says. “You end up with an apartment that no architect would probably ever lay out on new construction unless you were doing a curvy, unrealistic building that nobody would build.”

Ramsey says he began “dreaming” about the potential for the building four years ago.

“It’s one of the most iconic buildings that’s downtown,” he says.

The silos have what Ramsey calls “portholes.”

There are other quirky features that the developers are incorporating into the complex, such as a man lift that valets at the garage used to hop on to take them up the floors quickly.

“I didn’t even know what it was,” Gensch says.

There’s also a large safe in the building where valets used to store shoppers’ packages while they went to other stores.

“You can see the history of the building,” Gensch says.

Unlike a lot of claustrophobic garages where drivers are “just barely getting underneath the beams,” Shelden says the ceilings at the Autopark are especially high at almost 10 feet.

Oilman John Knightley built the building, and he built it to last, Shelden says.

Apples & Arrows is taking Knightley’s former office, and Ramsey and Eyster plan to convert the old safe into a library for the firm.

Owner Todd Ramsey, who is no relation to Michael Ramsey, has seen other Bokeh projects that Ramsey and Eyster have done, such as the Lux, the Renfro and Zelman Lofts downtown, which he says gives him confidence in their ability to transform the Autopark.

“Though it is kind of rough, and rough is kind of an understatement … we had little doubt they were going to be able to transform this space into something stellar,” he says. “They just have great vision for what spaces can be.”

Along with exposing a lot of concrete, there will be other reminders of the building’s history, such as kitchen cabinets that feel like they came out of a high-end garage.

Without those touches, Gensch says, “you lose what makes this building special.”

Ramsey says contractor Farha Construction and even city officials are part of the team tackling problem-solving in the space.

“The city has been … more of an advocate than … a stonewall,” he says.

The developers will keep 85 percent of the existing structure, walls and layout of the building.

“We end up with the unique thing that could have just gotten covered up,” Shelden says. He says there was a period – the 1960s all the way into the 1990s – when whole parts of buildings were covered up to “look prettier.”

“They screwed them up.”

When it comes to “these iconic buildings that we seem to collect,” Ramsey says, “The reason why they’re iconic is, I think, they were originally built by architects that truly … were great architects.”

He says he doesn’t want to question their decisions.

“Let’s not think that we were better than the architects or engineers of 50 years ago,” Ramsey says. “We always need to give that homage that these people really knew … what they were doing.”

Carrie Rengers: 316-268-6340, @CarrieRengers