AUBURN — The city of Auburn has taken the next step toward building its new welcome center downtown.

On Tuesday evening, city officials and project architects gathered at the Hilton Garden Inn in Auburn to unveil the welcome center's preliminary design concepts and get feedback from the public. 

The design — which was primarily prepared by a team from nArchitects, a Brooklyn-based firm — explored both the exterior and interior of the welcome center and project site. 

The welcome center — which will be built with state funding at 25 South St. — will be a 7,000-square-foot, one-story building and will include an exhibition, community space and Taste NY shop as well as office space and public restrooms.

At this stage in the design, nArchitect Principal Eric Bunge said the team has carefully positioned windows throughout the building so visitors can see nearby historic sites, like the Seward House and City Hall. He also said the architects hope to use brick, "a durable material that relates to the history of Auburn."

Meanwhile, Bunge said the welcome center will be flanked by a lawn area and a plaza — one on each end — to encourage outdoor recreation. In addition, there will be changes to Loop Road (Lincoln Street), as the designers plan to narrow the road from four lanes to two and replace the current traffic islands at Lincoln and William streets with a standard three-way stop. 

"We want to make this a pedestrian-friendly site," Bunge said during a public presentation. "We have three goals here: to emphasize the rich cultural heritage of Auburn, to create a design that connects the city's past to its future and to strengthen pedestrian safety." 

Still, many residents voiced their concerns — first with the welcome center's contemporary design, and then with the loss of parking. 

"This (building) is going to stick out like a sore thumb," said Cayuga County Legislator Timothy Lattimore. "It's too modern. ... If we're going to do this, we need to do it right."

"There's pluses and minuses," said Larry Liberatore, an architect at Beardsley Architects and Engineers. "The site itself is really questionable as it impacts the YMCA to a large extent ... as well as the Seward House, Auburn Public Theater and Westminster Presbyterian Church." 

According to Bunge, there will be a loss of 80 parking spots in the current municipal parking lot where the welcome center is being built. However, Auburn City Manager Jeff Dygert said improvements are being made at the city parking garage — including new lighting, security and signage — and Auburn City Clerk Chuck Mason said officials are discussing an expansion of the parking lot on Court Street. 

"I think this is a very exciting time for Auburn," Auburn Mayor Michael Quill said. "We're looking forward to getting some input from the public and getting (the center) built." 

Tuesday's presentation will be posted on the city of Auburn's website, AuburnNY.gov/WelcomeCenter. In addition, the design panels and site model will be on display at Memorial City Hall. 

People may leave feedback on the design online or in person until May 23. 

Staff writer Megan Blarr can be reached at (315) 282-2282 or megan.blarr@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @CitizenBlarr. 

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Crime and Courts Reporter