Eric Brunge

Eric Brunge of nArchitects speaks about the updated designs for the Auburn Cultural Heritage Center Tuesday night at Memorial City Hall. 

AUBURN — Updated plans to the Auburn downtown welcome center were unveiled at Tuesday night's Historic Resources Review Board meeting. 

The most significant change so far has been the overall concept of the building. The theme has shifted from a welcome center to a cultural heritage center, where visitors will be able to learn about Auburn's history, as well as history from all over the state, under one roof. 

"This is not a visitors' center in the traditional sense, it's a cultural visitors' center," said Julian Adams, the director of community preservation services with the State Historic Preservation Office. "One thing the building's looks should do is not only reflect the historic resources around it, but also respond to them."

The community was first introduced to the designs during a public meeting on May 16. Since then, the city received a slew of public comments regarding the project with the two biggest concerns being the modern design of the building and the lack of parking. 

Eric Bunge of nArchitects, the Brooklyn-based architecture firm hired to design the building, said designers have been studying surrounding historic buildings in order to incorporate more historical architectural elements into the modern structure.

The updated design takes into consideration the proportions of surrounding buildings, roof slopes, window design and alignment. The edges of the three-part building are now aligned parallel with Lincoln, William and South streets. 

The windows will be strategically positioned so surrounding historic buildings, such as the Seward House, will be visible from inside the welcome center. Mimi Hoang, also with nArchitects, said next to each window will be an exhibit about the building visible from the window. 

"The goal of the [welcome center] is to keep visitors looking out," Bunge said. 

Bunge said the design development is about 50 percent complete at this phase. The firm is looking at ways to incorporate more historic architectural elements into the next round of designs, such as brick design, a stone base and corners.

"It is a modern design and there's nothing wrong with that," Adams said, adding that at one point, all buildings were considered modern. 

The architects were able to incorporate 10 parking spots into the design and City Clerk Chuck Mason said the city is working to expand the Court Street parking lot, as well as add more on-street parking to Lincoln and William streets. Mason also mentioned improvements the city made to the Lincoln Street parking garage to make it a more attractive option for people to park in, such as free two-hour parking and improved lighting.  

"This is process," Mason said. "We were able to see a lot of progress that has been made so far in the process, but this is still a process."

Another change is the removal of a community room to make more space for additional bathrooms and office spaces. 

Overall, the board members were pleased with the direction the design is heading in and are looking forward to seeing the next round of designs. 

"We feel that your comments have made the design better," Bunge said. 

Staff writer Natalie Brophy can be reached at (315)282-2239 or natalie.brophy@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @brophy_natalie. 

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