BY HANS IBOLD
Watch out for Matt Press on the B-Line Trail. The Bloomington developer could be standing still, obstructing traffic. He’s not assessing property value or imagining a new project. He’s just listening. “I stand in front of the land and let it talk to me,” Press says.
Press, whose Neighborhood Solutions firm developed the multihued South Dunn Street Project near Bryan Park, says he often discovers opportunities by listening to urban spaces.
“Context is everything,” Press says of his approach, and for him that context is determinedly urban Bloomington. His new development, called B-Line Station, plays off the urban recreational vibe of the B-Line Trail. A mix of eco-friendly, single-family homes, condos, apartments, and retail space, B-Line Station is under construction at South Morton and West Dodds streets.
Press, 46, grew up in South Bend and lived in Bloomington through the 1990s while earning a master’s in public administration and working for IU. During a stint as a consultant to nonprofits in Denver in early 2000, Press explored “new urbanism.” A design philosophy that celebrates urban living, new urbanism advocates close-knit neighborhoods, diversity in home price, pedestrian-centric features, and a mix of civic and commercial spaces. Press returned to Bloomington in 2001, his ears tuned for ways to apply the design philosophy.
“New urbanists don’t build first,” Press says. “They charrette first.”
Charrette translates from French as cart or chariot. Evolution of the term’s meaning is sketchy, but today architects use charrette to refer to structured, early collaboration among developers, designers, and any stakeholder in a project. New urbanists also include nearby and potential residents. Charrettes with Bryan Park neighbors helped bring the South Dunn Street Project to fruition, according to Press, and interactions with B-Line Trail users and nearby residents revealed ideas for B-Line Station.
Press lives in the McDoel Gardens neighborhood a few blocks from the B-Line in a restored 1920s bungalow, his first new urbanist project.
“Every time I leave my house, it’s almost impossible to navigate out of the neighborhood without being drawn into conversation,” Press says. “That’s a wonderful problem to have.”
Call it a charrette thing.