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Urban Walgreens of Seattle

March 10, 2009 Big Box, Travel 18 Comments

Walgreens stores in the St. Louis area are no different than ones in Dallas or Tulsa. Big & boring. Their designs are the same pretty much everywhere. Except in cities where the typical auto-centric doesn’t cut it.

In October 2005 I did two posts about interesting Walgreens stores in suburban Seattle. One in the South suburbs was very standard except for the coffee shop that was built out at the street corner of the property (view post) . That Walgreens I first spotted on a 2002 visit. In 2005 I spotted another I liked built up to the public sidewalk (view post).

Jump forward 3-1/2 years to yesterday and I’ve found two more interesting atypical Walgreens stores. First up is the Walgreens going into a vacant 1950 modern bank building. When I was here in ’05 we walked around this tasteful modern building, appreciating its massing and detailing. The branch, originally a SeaFirst and later a Bank of America, closed in 2006.

The area around this mid-century modern gem is rapidly developing. The developer of adjacent apartments had bought the building a secured a local historic designation for the structure. It is nice to see Walgreens reuse an existing structure. See story from the Seattle Weekly.

In the Capital Hill neighborhood another Walgreens is already open at the corner of Broadway and Pine (map). This time the Walgreens is in the base of a new multi-story building. No huge parking lot, no drive-thru.

Corner pedestrian entrance, street trees, and bike parking distinguish this Walgreens.

This new building is across the street from a community college.

The overhead wires are for the electrified bus system.

I’ve been visiting Seattle now for 15 years. I’ve seen many areas urbanize in that time. It just doesn’t happen . Seattle has deliberately changed zoning on certain corridors to allow and encourage dense mixed use properties such as the above. Developers can begin to see how building more building on a small site can give them a greater overall return. The first step is on the city to change the zoning for an entire street rather than waiting for a developer to possibly ask for a zoning change to do something more urban. As a city we must be proactive to get more urban development.


Town & Country Crossing A Marked Improvement Over The Typical Strip Center in Our Region

Last week, after a meeting, I took a drive out West along Clayton Road with the destination being the new Town & Country Crossing shopping center at Clayton & Woods Mill (map).

The municipality of Town & Country is home to many well to do types. Their city, however, is neither town nor country. It is a collection of big homes on streets with pretentious names yet lacking of sidewalks. The closest they get to country is having deer and that is something they’ve been trying to get rid of. A little too country I suppose?

A few years ago Lucent Technologies left a large building and site vacant at the SW corner of Woods Mill and Clayton:

While the existing uninspiring building could have been remodeled for new tenants a developer saw an opportunity for more suburban development. In particular a more upscale development anchored by a Target and Whole Foods.

In the site plan above you get the Target in the bottom left of the development while the Whole Foods is the letter “E” on the right. A large pond/lake is in the upper right near the intersection. A large section of the total site (left) is designated for residential development.

Nothing says upscale like stone and the entry marker has plenty. I actually like the way the signage for the stores is worked into this wall. The above is the Clayton Rd entrance. Note the presence of sidewalks, an unusual sight along Clayton Rd.

Many might think who needs sidewalks because nobody walks out here. The counter argument, of course, is that nobody walks because they have no sidewalks. However, they do have sidewalks in places.

Above is looking North along Woods Mill from the entrance to the residential area to the South of the new Town & Country Crossings. Clearly when this was built some 20 or so years ago they had walking in mind. However the other commercial developments at this intersection are hostile to pedestrians by their design. The center with a Schnuck’s just to the East of this new development is not easily accessible by foot. They claim to be the “friendliest stores in town” but not if you are a pedestrian. OK, enough about them let’s get back to Town & Country Crossing.

Above is the sidewalk coming from Woods Mill. The entrance from Clayton also has a proper sidewalk.

Walking around the lake is also encouraged. The above view is looking East from the Whole Foods outdoor patio. This sidewalk provides another pedestrian access point into the development off of Woods Mill.

So far they’ve done a decent job of connecting various buildings on the site via sidewalks (thus complying with the ADA Access Route requirement). Above is the sidewalk from in front of the Whole Foods turning the corner to the left and eventually connecting to a couple of buildings that will have smaller stores.

Above is looking back the other direction at the entrance to Whole Foods (the only store completed & open on the day I visited). From this vantage point the center looks pretty typical of suburban strip centers.

Out in the middle of the parking area we see another departure from typical centers — an access route dead center. At the other end of the above sidewalk is the main entry to the new target.

Turning around we see that the previous sidewalk connects to a sidewalk that takes you to the strip buildings along the North (Clayton Rd) side if the development. It remains to be seen just how connected the entire site will be once completed.

For example the above is taken from in front of the Whole Foods looking West. Way in the background is a small strip building near the Clayton Rd entrance. At this time I don’t see an obvious route to get from here to there. I’ll have to return in a few months when they are further along, when it is cooler outside, and I can walk farther.

This is not the project I would have placed on this site. I would have done a commercial street lined on both sides by shops. Like the Boulevard off Brentwood near the Galleria although not so cutsie. The lifestyle center I saw last Fall in West Palm Beach (see post) is a good example of the upscale level of urbanism that would have been ideal for this site. Such a plan would require costly structured parking but offered more lease able space in return. It would have given this section of Town & Country a bit of that missing town.

Still as a big box (Target) strip center it is probably the best in the region. I can think of no other on this scale that does such a nice job of bringing the outside pedestrian into the site and then giving then the option to walk internally.

From a March 2007 Post-Dispatch article:

The shopping-center plans drew opposition from some residents who worried that the local streets were not wide enough for the traffic, while others complained that Target seemed a bit lowbrow for the well-to-do community. Residents signed petitions to block the center in its earlier versions, and they sued TNC. The dispute was settled out of court.

Work was done on both Woods Mill and Clayton, widening and adding turn lanes.  Perhaps the resulting project is better as a result of objections from neighbors?  They probably wouldn’t have liked my quasi-urban lifestyle center either.  Hopefully they’ll start adding more sidewalks so that more people can walk to this shopping center.  Hopefully other developers will stop by to see how strip centers should be designed to meet minimum standards of connectivity.


Wal-Mart backs off the Shanks

A few days ago I did a post about Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer, suing a former employee to recoup medical expenses.  The woman was injured in 2000 and left brain damaged and living in a nursing home.  Wal-Mart sued three years after she received a settlement from the party at fault.  This story has been all over the news of late.  Today I received the following from WalMartWatch:

After years of hounding Debbie Shank and her family, Wal-Mart says it will finally do the right thing.

Today, Wal-Mart agreed to allow the Shank family to keep the money they won from the trucking company responsible for Debbie’s injuries.

Finally, the Shank family can put their fight with Wal-Mart behind them and focus on taking care of Debbie.

This was all possible thanks to the tremendous support from people like you.

Jim Shank released the following statement today thanking you and the rest of Debbie’s supporters:

“I am grateful that Wal-Mart has seen their error and decided to rectify it. I just wish it hadn’t taken them so long, this never should have happened. I sincerely hope no other family ever has to go through this.

“My thanks go first and foremost to my lord and savior Jesus Christ for the strength to bear up under all this. Thanks also to the citizens of the United States – it wasn’t me who made this happen, it was the outcry of the people, and if there’s a lesson in this story it’s that ‘we the people’ still means something.”

You showed Wal-Mart that we will not sit back while the retail giant takes advantage of a working family in need.

And Wal-Mart showed that it will never do the right thing unless we stand up, express our outrage, and force it to make the moral choice. That’s why we need to continue to pressure Wal-Mart to do right by its 1.3 million American employees on issues like health care, discrimination, and working conditions.

For the Shank family, this is a bittersweet victory. Debbie’s injuries will last a lifetime, and the emotional toll of this ordeal won’t go away easily. But now they have one less obstacle to overcome — and you helped make that happen.

On behalf of the Shank family and all of us at Wal-Mart Watch, thank you for your support.


More Sprawl Planned Adjacent to Soulard Neighborhood in 7th Ward

A Walgreen’s and attached strip center next to Bohemian Hill and across from City Hospital is not enough. Nor is the under construction strip center at 7th and Russell. The latest in Phyllis Young’s plan to surround Soulard with all the beauty of O’Fallon (Missouri or Illinois — they look the same) is on the former parking lot of Nooter, at Broadway and Park (map). Mere blocks from The Lasalle Park neighborhood, the rebirth of the Chouteau’s Landing area, Soulard Farmers’ Market and other establishments between this site and downtown.


Site is located to the right in the above image. On another day I’ll have to deal with the bike lane suddenly ending at Park with the Bike St. Louis sign pointing you to the left — like somehow you are supposed to get into the left turn lane, across two lanes of traffic, from the bike lane at the intersection.


Closer up you see the nearly four and a half acre parking lot which is to become this:
IMG_4088.JPG copy

Is this the future of St. Louis? Filling in every vacant area with generic strip malls fronted by a sea of asphalt parking lots? While I hope not I am afraid this is the best we can hope for given our politically crippled planning department and inept leadership at city hall. Of course the sketches are pretty honest, they never show an ADA-compliant access route for pedestrians from the main public sidewalk. Bike racks, who needs those? Plenty of “free” auto parking? You bet!!! While the above image is from the sign posted in front of the property it could be anywhere in the region. There is nothing about this that says it is blocks from the river in one of the oldest areas of town.

For years cities had massive change forced upon them in the way of urban renewal — interstate highways ripped through established neighborhoods and high-rise public housing projects wiped out more neighborhoods. These areas really stood no chance of survival with such a large scale approach. Today we cannot afford to come in and reconnect areas on such an equally large scale — nor would we want to. The bigger the scale the more watered down the solution. What we need is to methodically and incrementally piece our city back together again.

While this incremental construction would take place over many years, on many parcels and via many different builders/developers the planning must be done upfront and on the bigger scale. This does not mean we design every building. No, what is means is that we set out a community vision — what will we expect of the building types once built. Will they be multi-story and built up to the street with any parking below or behind the structure? Cities such as Seattle, Portland and Denver are seeing great success through the use of districts-scaled plans with the power of zoning. The goal is not to control uses but forms of new buildings, relationships to the street and the disposition of parking. Slowly but surly the vision will come together — getting increasingly urban and dense with each passing project. Biking and walking from place to place will become better and friendlier over time. This approach takes the long view on rebuilding a walkable city that also happens to accommodate motorists along the way.

I have no problems with generic chain stores in this location. What I do have a problem with is the form in which they are proposed. Even smart suburban areas in the US aren’t allowing this sort of lowest common denominator of development anymore. Yes, this is probably better than a vacant parking lot but when we have no standards at all we get development that is a reflection of that lack of vision.

If you share my perspective on this the people you need to talk to are long-time 7th Ward Alderman Phyllis Young, “Planning” and [Sub]Urban Design Director Rollin Stanley and Deputy Mayor Barb Geisman via Mayor Slay.


The Magic Continues at Loughborough Commons

It has been a while since I’ve written about Loughborough Commons, the big box retail center receiving something like $14 million in various tax incentives. They been busy building some more retail square footage and preparing for some new tenants to open soon. This is simply a teaser post to show you a couple of the things I’ve been watching for a while.

Above, a staircase leads you down to the parking lot for the multi-unit strip center from the public sidewalk along Loughborough. So we have an SSC — sunken strip center. Or is the center depressed rather than sunken? Or simply depressing? When this stair was announced in the Holly Hills neighborhood newsletter a while back, prior to construction, they made mention of a bike rack at the bottom of the stairs. And here it is — a bike rack at the bottom of stairs.

A bike rack at the bottom of stairs! Get it? Pretty convenient location if you are capable of biking down a set of stairs. So when you bike into the parking area from the complete opposite side you might decide to ride over here to lock up your bike — if you know it is there. And yes, the bike rack is the same width as the concrete pad so that on the off chance the front side is full and you need to use the back side you must push your bike through the grass and shrubs, assuming the sprinkler system is not on. I’m not sure how they expect you to bike back up the stairs.

Those that bike for transportation might have actually appreciated not having to lift their bike over the curb. Say you’ve got one of those handy kid holders on the back of your bike — suddenly the bike is a lot heavier and the kid is precious cargo. Those biking through the park with a kid trailer are simply out of luck as no place is big enough to park your bike & kid trailer. Well, unless you can pick up both over the curb and through the shrubs you can leave the trailer on the grass portion at the back.

I’m also really fond of the ADA ramp at the bottom of the stairs. That will actually come in quite handy for everyone taking their wheelchair up & down the stair. The red truncated domes serving as a “detectable warning” for those with visual impairments are meant to be felt under foot to alert someone when entering a road — not a parking area. That is communicating to someone the are entering a street situation. Clearly they should have consulted with someone with some actual knowledge about the ADA.
Speaking of ADA ramps.

Down the hillside closer to the Schnuck’s and Lowe’s some new stores are being built. In the foreground is a new sidewalk and ramps that to the right connect to the sidewalk along the edge of the main driveway (I say sidewalk but it is too steep to be considered a sidewalk per ADA). The original drawings for the center didn’t include this is the way to get to the Schnuck’s — they had pedestrians crossing the main drive earlier and then the side drive to where you see the back of the stop sign above. I think this could have been a better solution. OK, so you make your way down the hillside from the pubic street, you cross a drive that is just to the right, you make the 90 degree turn, you note the half buried fire hydrant, and you spot the ramp across the drive — they don’t line up.

This is entirely new construction and the ramps on each side of the main driveway do not align. This is all by the same people being built at the same time — am I being unreasonable expecting that they’d align ramps so the person in the mobility scooter, the child on their bike or the parent pushing a baby stroller can safely cross the main entrance to a busy shopping center? This is not complicated stuff here. Yeah yeah, they are not done yet. I don’t want to hear it —- they’ve poured the concrete so they are done with this portion.

I am waiting for a bit more to get done and I will bring you a more in depth review of the new areas and some changes in the old. It is clear to me they were making an effort to improve upon what they had previously done but from the looks of things they simply didn’t have the right people on the job.