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Better Big Box Development

September 16, 2013 Big Box, Featured, Planning & Design, Retail, Walkability 6 Comments

Recently I was critical of a proposed big box development along Forest Park Ave, adjacent to the main Saint Louis University campus. My issue isn’t with big box retail stores themselves, my issue is with how big box developments are typically laid out: massive surface parking lots, large blank walls facing public sidewalks, too few pedestrian connections to the outside & internally.

From page 12 of a 2010 Brookings report:

Considering the economic benefits, walkability should be a critical part of all strategic growth plans. The implications of this study cut across the federal and state, metropolitan, and place levels.

Public policy should become more favorable toward walkable placemaking. Currently, many federal and state subsidies substantially favor low-density development and tip the scales against walkable development. Further, many local zoning codes make walkable development illegal, necessitating costly and time-consuming zoning changes with no guarantee of success. Federal, state, and local policy makers should conduct a systematic review of existing public policies that are biased against walkable development, and adopt new measures aimed at facilitating (or at least removing roadblocks to) this type of development.

For their part, local and regional planning agencies should incorporate assessments of walkability into their strategic economic development plans. Planning entities should identify where regional- serving and local-serving walkable urban places exist within a metropolitan area, seek out those places that are positioned to become more walkable, and determine potential locations of future walkable places. This type of assessment will help determine where infrastructure and other built environment improvements are needed. Since high-density walkable urban places seem to account for a small amount of a metropolitan area’s existing land mass, it is probable that the infrastructure cost per dwelling unit or commercial square foot will be a fraction of that of existing low-density drivable suburban infrastructure costs.

At the same time, the apparent supply-demand mismatch for walkable places may be contributing significantly to the price premium these places demand. To the extent that this is the case, the short- and medium-term shortage of walkable places makes them inaccessible (unaffordable) to many people who desire to live in such places. As such, it is important to have an affordable housing strategy in place while those improvements are being implemented. (Walk this Way: The Economic Promise of Walkable Places in Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Christopher B. Leinberger and Mariela Alfonzo)

The proposed “Midtown Station” project would turn its back on both Vandeventer & Forest Park Avenues, which is only marginally acceptable pattern out in suburbia, but unacceptable in an urban context — especially adjacent to a major university.

In searching for alternatives I remembered a project I visited about a decade ago and blogged about in 2005. This development has multiple big box stores including a 2-level Target, a Best Buy, a Sport’s Authority, and a Ross. Smaller size spaces front the sidewalk.

Urban big box development on Northgate in Seattle
Urban big box development on Northgate in Seattle
A Quiznos faces Northgate Way
A Quizno’s fronts onto the Northgate Way sidewalk

This project isn’t located in downtown Seattle either, it’s nearly 8 miles up I-5 (map). The main mode in this part of Seattle is private automobile, but thankfully newer development isn’t geared solely to motorists.

The best local example of rethinking big box development the Market at McKnight in Rock Hill, with a 36,000sf Stein Mart that opened in October 2007.  Ok, not exactly a big box, but a big portion of the 130,000sf development.

The Market at McKnight project in Rock Hill is the best local example of providing a more pleasant front along the roadway with big box behind
The Market at McKnight project in Rock Hill is the best local example of providing a more pleasant front along the roadway with big box behind
One story buildings along Manchester Rd give a more urban feel, windows give something for pedestrians to look into as they walk by
One story buildings along Manchester Rd give a more urban feel, windows give something for pedestrians to look into as they walk by
No business has a door onto the Manchester sidewalk, but it is pleasant as a pedestrian and motorists can see businesses as they drive by.
No business has a door onto the Manchester sidewalk, but it is pleasant as a pedestrian and motorists can see businesses as they drive by.
The businesses front the surface parking lot
The businesses actually front the surface parking lot
Pedestrians have a clear path to reach the Stein Mart on the far side of the development.
Pedestrians have a clear path to reach the Stein Mart on the far side of the development.
My window view from The Original Mongolian Grill
My window view from The Original Mongolian Grill

The view isn’t great, but the point is there’s a relationship with the sidewalk & street. From inside I could see others going by and they could see me. Instead of creating something active along Forest Park Ave. Midtown Station wants to create something like this:

Back side of the Hampton & Chippewa Target location.
Back (Clifton Ave) side of the Hampton & Chippewa Target location.

Dreadful anywhere, but especially so close to a college campus and near public transit. Developers have shown there are alternatives to the standard big box project of the last 15-20 years.

— Steve Patterson

 

Currently there are "6 comments" on this Article:

  1. EcoAdvocate says:

    >Living wage for all employees for all proposed “big box” type retail stores, to support the workers as well as other local small businesses
    >Business front to be friendly to pedestrians, people on bicycle and those using public transit shall be close to the street, with the reduced-size parking lot on the side or back of the building
    >Pay a parking cash-out to all employees who do not drive to work. ( employee) parking is expensive!

     
  2. ScottF says:

    Town and Country Crossing and Woods Mill and Clayton is similar in design to the Market at McKnight. I wonder if it was the same developer?

    According to their website: “Town & Country Crossing is a unique pedestrian friendly shopping center located in one of St. Louis’ most prominent communities.”

    http://www.townandcountrycrossing.com/about/

     
  3. John McDermott says:

    The Market at Mcnight seems to be a flop, There is a large portion of that center that is vacant. Same with the Town and Country Crossing. Maybe this model does not work well for retailers?

     
  4. Ron Fagerstrom says:

    Place big box stores along Forest Park, with entrances on FP. Integrate offices and apartments/condos in the development. Include a piazza area.

    Big box stores that integrate with urban areas is done, e.g. near northside of Chicago or the building housing Target and multiple small retailers at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues in Brooklyn. Let’s go urban!
    Ron Fagerstrom

     

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