Apartments proposed for Cowboy Slims site

Uptown’s wave of substantial redevelopment is poised to keep rippling into 2012, as plans for a six-floor, mixed-use building on the current site of Cowboy Slim’s were recently made public by property owner Clark Gassen.

Plans for the so-called Walkway project, which were presented to the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association’s (LHENA) Zoning & Planning Committee in mid-May, call for the demolition of Cowboy Slim’s and the surface parking lot to the bar’s north. A six-floor mid-rise building would stretch along Girard Avenue between Lagoon Avenue and Lake Street, with up to eight restaurant/retail tenants at street level and 87 apartment units above.

In addition, the east parking bay along Girard Avenue would be removed, creating a 22-foot-wide pedestrian walkway that would encourage foot traffic around the redeveloped site.

Space for apartment decks would be created by a significant step-back from the first to the second floor. Plans show a mix of apartment types, including an significant proportion of two and three bedroom units.

Gassen’s plan was received favorably by the LHENA committee. The proposed redevelopment will get a hearing before the full LHENA board this summer. If the neighborhood continues to be supportive and the project successfully navigates the city approval process, construction could begin next spring.

Gassen, a controversial developer who received national attention for all of the condo conversions he oversaw at the height of the area’s condo boom, didn’t respond to repeated phone calls seeking comment about the redevelopment plan.

The project’s architect, David Graham of ESG Architects, said it was too early to comment on specifics, as plans for The Walkway continue to evolve.

“It’s not soup yet,” he said.

Though plans haven’t been finalized, LHENA coordinator Caroline Griepentrog said roughly three-quarters of development projects presented to LHENA’s Zoning & Planning Committee end up being constructed.

It takes a lot of time and money for developers to work with an architect on site plans and renderings, so proposed projects don’t make it to LHENA unless a developer is serious about proceeding, Giepentrog explained.

However, this isn’t the first time in the last calendar year that plans for a substantial redevelopment of the Cowboy Slim’s site have come before LHENA.

Late last summer, Gassen presented plans calling for the construction of a three-level restaurant with a rooftop patio, plus a private, ground-level courtyard and movie screen on the Slim’s site.

That plan received a lukewarm at best reception from LHENA and never materialized.

Whether or not The Walkway is ever constructed, it appears to be only a matter of time before Cowboy Slim’s one-level building and surface parking lot it is demolished in favor of a more intensive, multi-floor project of some sort.

In December 2008, Gassen said he signed Slim’s to a short-term lease because he hoped to eventually redevelop the site.

At the time, Gassen said Slim’s could be a part of the redevelopment if the bar and restaurant proved to be successful, but when presenting plans for The Walkway he told LHENA he envisioned restaurant tenants at the redeveloped site placing more of an emphasis on food than Slim’s does.

Gassen’s plan to increase density on the Slim’s site is supported by LHENA board member Bill Casey.

This past winter, Casey emerged as an outspoken critic of plans for a six-floor apartment building along the Midtown Greenway at Bryant Avenue, arguing that the so-called Track 29 building would be out of scale with the area’s single family homes and shorter apartment and condo buildings.

Reached for comment after Gassen’s presentation, Casey said he is more comfortable with higher density developments in bustling areas like the one surrounding Lake & Girard. “The site is in the middle of Uptown, next to Drink and across the street from Calhoun Square — I think it’s the ideal place to have 87 units,” he said. “It’s a very attractive building, everything they showed was first class, and I think this project will improve the urban character of the area.”