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Art Deco comes to the capital

So you want to be a Rockefeller or a high-flying Lindbergh? It's all possible at the Hudson, an edgy entry in Ottawa's crowded condo market

Doug Casey shrugs his shoulders at what might have been and focuses instead on his revamped Art Deco condo, which he quietly launched last weekend with a flurry of sales.

The public gets a chance to buy into the $67-million Hudson starting today.

“It's different than the first plan, but it's a good building,” says Casey, the president of Charlesfort Development and winner of provincial and local design awards for thoughtful townhomes and condos on urban sites across Ottawa.

Casey is a leader in the city's condo market, introducing and then refining Arts and Craftsinspired buildings off Main Street and at the Glasgow and the Gardens on Bronson Avenue. Now he has taken a new design step, romancing Art Deco from major American cities to downtown Ottawa.

“It is a crowded market,” he says of Ottawa's condo scene. “You have to distinguish yourself, take care of the details and stay ahead of the pack.”

Initially, the accountant turned- developer proposed a pair of slender 18-storey towers with an Art Deco twist and a large garden for the site, at Kent and Nepean streets. Zoning for the site, which is home to a funeral parlour and parking lot, allows only 12-storey buildings.

"Doug Casey, inset, of Charlesfort Developments, was inspired by the United States Courthouse in Forth Worth, Texas, when he worked with his design team on the front entrance to the Hudson. The building will be stepped away from the street like layers of an elaborate birthday cake. Banding and brickwork will help minimize the building's mass.

His original idea was to go high and leave the site, which sits across from St. Patrick's Basilica, open to accommodate a street-level garden.

Great, said senior city planners, including deputy manager Ned Lathrop and Councillor Peter Hume, who also chairs the city's planning committee.

Not so fast, warned Councillor Diane Holmes, who strongly opposed Casey's efforts to break through the height restrictions by asking the city's committee of adjustment to change the site's zoning.

“This was all about height the first time around,” says Holmes, adding neighbouring residents want 12-storey buildings. “Charlesfort is a very good builder and I know the company takes pride in what they build.

“I am really pleased with the articulation of the building. It is not a solid wall or an overpowering mass. It will be a benefit to the streetscape.”

Casey accepted the zoning restriction, and the Hudson is now a 12-storey tribute to the Art Deco style popular in major buildings from New York to Miami. The L-shaped building fills the site, leaving room for a narrow edge of planting. There are some sexy plans for rooftop terraces, patios with lighting and barbecues for the residents. “It's a garden in the sky,” says company official Wendy Bennett.

Early buyers were captivated by the design promise of the Hudson, which will have 252 condos when its three phases are complete. Casey hopes construction will start on phases one and two in August and that the first buyers will move in by December.

They crowded into Charlesfort's Bank Street offices last weekend, with 22 handing over $10,000 deposits. Prices start at $160,000 for the 500-squarefoot Brandt layout, going up to $433,100 for the Rockefeller and $501,100 for the Chrysler condos on the top floor.

If the names sound familiar, they should. Each harkens back to a building, a wealthy entrepreneur or a personality from the 1920s and '30s, when Art Deco was the rage in architecture, fashion and entertainment. Charlesfort has capitalized on the connection, attaching mini-histories to each plan.

The lobby of the Hudson was inspired, in part, by New York's Cities Service Building.

There were buyers of all ages looking at the smaller and the larger condos, says Casey. Each unit comes with six appliances and a storage locker. A parking space costs $27,500 extra.

Casey, who delights in the finishing touches that will define the Hudson, takes his camera everywhere, and he snapped hundreds of pictures in New York and bought armloads of design books, including American Art Deco by Carla Breeze, to inspire him and the architectural team headed by Barry Hobin.

It was a full-page photograph of New York's Cities Service Building at 70 Pine St. in American Art Deco that inspired the railing and staircase planned for the Hudson's lobby, which will stretch up 16 feet.

Flip through the book, stop at a photograph of the United States Courthouse in Fort Worth, Texas, and you will find detailing that will likely end up in the Hudson's entrance.

Casey and the Charlesfort team worked with Hobin to incorporate the details that will nail down the look for the building, which will be stepped away from the street like layers of an elaborate birthday cake. Banding and brickwork have been incorporated to minimize the building's mass.

Developer and architect also worked to maximize light and use space creatively in each condo.

“It is all teamwork,” Casey says.

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