Architect Dhiru Thadani worked on the original master plan for Seaside in the early 1980s and today, he is part of bringing the next phase of that plan to fruition.
Thadani was teaching at Catholic University when he met Andres Duany, who was Seaside's original town architect and town planner.
"I was fascinated by what they were trying to do here," said Thadani recently as he sat outside Modica Market. "We built a full-scale model in 1983 and had 18-year-old college freshmen and sophomores design every building in Seaside using form-based code to see if it was viable."
These days, Thadani is based in Washington D.C. and travels the world promoting New Urbanism and the notion of walkable communities that he was introduced to at Seaside. About eight times a year he comes down with a crew of interns to work with Seaside Town Founder Robert Davis on various projects and tests ideas Davis might have in moving forward in building the next phase of Seaside.
"What's wonderful about having Robert as a client is he wants to explore every idea before moving forward," said Thadani. "A lot of professionals want to be part of Seaside and they propose things constantly. He will entertain it. We help him with that."
Currently, the projects being worked on toward that end is the moving of Seaside's iconic Post Office from County Highway 30A to the back of Central Square where the ATM machine is. What will take the Post Office's place on 30A will be a 100-foot tower.
The tower was designed by renowned architect Leon Krier, who Thadani describes as the father of New Urbanism, and a major architectural influence in Seaside as well as Prince Charles' Poundbury.
"The tower was always in the plan," said Thadani. "Everything on 30A is measured in relationship to Seaside. Seaside has become the center. The Tower will be the visual center of importance."
In deciding where to place the Post Office, Thadani said several locations were tested. In the original model, the plan was to place it where the gateway arch is now.
Placing the Post Office at the ATM location will close off access to Seaside Avenue from Central Square, preventing visitors from driving back to the residential streets looking for parking.
The Post Office's new location will be the Post Office Plaza and plans are to add seven bathrooms behind the building, plus bike storage.
"There will still be pedestrian access to Seaside Avenue, but no cars," said Thadani.
That change is in the permitting process now.
While the tower is being constructed, the new entertainment venue will be in the Lyceum, where a stage is being built. This change will allow for more ticketed events as access can be better controlled.
Part of tower plan is to create a pavilion with more bike parking. The Shrimp Shack may be moved there as well.
The popular air stream trailers will move temporarily during construction, but they will come back to either side of the tower following construction.
"They are part of the charm of Seaside," said Thadani.
Next on the list of changes, is expanding Seaside Neighborhood School, which is adding a fourth building on the south side of the Lyceum to accommodate an expansion to include grades K-8.
"That also was always in the original plan," said Thadani.
This visit, Thadani was in Seaside to work on changes coming to Bud & Alley's restaurant. Those changes are plans to consolidate all of Dave Rauschkolb's Seaside businesses into one building, which includes The Taco Bar and Pizza Bar. To house them all, an addition will be built so his business will front 30A, expanding the rooftop bar, and being set back from the beach at bit.
"Operationally, it will be better," said Thadani.
The original building will remain the same, but the outdoor stairs will be replaced by indoor stairs and an elevator.
South of Bud & Alley's, a boardwalk will be built with direct connection to the beach, as well as a walkway at the obelisk ramp designed to accommodate wheelchairs.
"We're pushing traffic south of Bud & Alley's so people can experience the water while walking and can choose the urban walkway with shops or the romantic water side. All businesses on the south side will face the boardwalk.
"There is a vision for Seaside to grow up," he continued. "When you think about how expensive it is to stay here for a week, you have to raise the game so people feel they are getting their money's worth. These improvements will make the experience better."
In light of all the people who come to this area, Thadani spoke of the traffic that Seaside's popularity has brought, which he said is nothing compared to circling blocks in Atlanta or D.C. looking for a parking spot.
"There are several options," said Thadani. "We have studied mechanical parking, building affordable housing in Freeport, or bringing U.S. Highway 331 down all the way to 30A. It's about developing a network and giving people choices. Right now we don't have one. We want to alleviate people using 30A for the whole way. Each option will help."
As for the proposed connector road the County Commissioners are considering, Thadani believes a direct alignment from Eastern Lake to 98 is the better idea.
"Animal trails can be bridged over. That's the way they do it in Europe," he said.
But if commissioners go forward with the engineer study recommending a connector entering at County Road 395S and exiting in the Eastern Lake vicinity, he said for it to work, CR 395 would need to be four-laned from the point the connector empties out up to U.S. 98.
"Or adding both connector roads could be used," he said.
And, as part of the ongoing mobility study Seaside is initiating, they are looking at more bike paths. Thadani believes that bikes on the road make people slow down, as does parallel parking.
"Those make for a safer pedestrian environment and slows traffic," Thadani said. "If the goal is to make a safe pedestrian environment, the end goal is 30A should not be the corridor of movement. If you need speed you should be on 98. To make a safe environment, increase conflict. It makes you slow down and pay attention. We have had no fatalities along this corridor. That is rare. Decide what is the ultimate goal. If it's a safe beach environment, you must slow people down."
Thadani points out that studies show the average car starts 7-11 times a day.
"For New Urbanists, we say 'come live in Seaside for a week and see what it's like.' I lived here for a month without a car, as have more than a million people in the town's 35 years. It's possible to do without them, or not use them as much," he said.
Thadani is a native of India and came to the United States to study.
"My meeting Andres Duany in 1981 absolutely changed my life. He is a most generous person when it comes to sharing knowledge," he said, praising his mentor.
Thadani has equally high praise for Davis, who he described as not only a developer, but a person who cares.
"All my town planning work has been based on the New Urbanism I learned here. It set the direction for my life work," he said.
Thadani has planned seven new townships in India and several college towns in America, including in Atlanta, Chapel Hill, Kentucky and South Bend to name a few.
"A college town is the only place you can use the term 'density' without people freaking out," he said.
His most recent large project was in China and based on walkability.
Thadani has published three books through publishing companies and another four he self published, all dealing with urbanism and town planning. He also has published a book on urbanism principles for schools in an attempt to "show a pathway."
The Academic Cottages at Seaside, which are recycled Katrina cottages, were his project. He has also worked on affordable housing projects in Atlanta.
"Robert really embraces those projects," he said. "The principles are the same. He is equally interested in what I am doing there as here."
Thadani was the 2011 recipient of The Seaside Prize awarded by Seaside Institute.
For more information on Thadani, visit www.dthadani.com.