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Thread: Why town centers and not downtown?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    Why town centers and not downtown?

    Last weekend I went to an Irish Pub at the Eastwood Towne Centre In Lansing MI, and all of the parking lots where full, people where walking from shop to shop, stopping to eat at the restaurants, and even catching a movie. I also noticed that almost all of those businesses would also fit into a downtown area, but here it was a newer plaza.

    Does anyone know of any downtowns that have had significant redevelopment and been able to bring in businesses that have been traditionally located in malls such as Gap, Old Navy, Victoria Secret, and Johnny Rockets?

    I am not so much thinking of major cities as much as 50,000 to 200,000 residents.
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  2. #2
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    for the most part, these metro areas (50,000-400,000) with a central city with a population in the 50,000-200,000 range don't have the political will to make a concerted effort to revitalize the downtown with retail. I often hear of talk to save downtown, get more retail, etc. But in the end, they end up allowing whomever develop on greenfields on the edge of town. The downtown is forgotton...at least for that project. This is not always the case, I'm sure there are some that have done a much better job.
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  3. #3

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    Burlington, VT (pop 40k) has those stores downtown. Also, Walnut Creek, CA (pop 70k), which even has a Target that is not exactly in downtown, but is within easy walking distance. A lot of of it depends on how you conceive of and market the old central business district, but if the market is there (key), a CBD can attract those types of stores.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian dogandpony's avatar
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    can't offer any examples of how to do it, but not too far from you, my hometown, Muskegon, Michigan offers a great example of what not to do.

    I don't want to hijack your thread, if this should be a separate thread I'll defer to others...

    In the 70's, downtown properties were assembled and collectively enclosed into a mall. Of course, they had to take it a step further, enclosing it, and knocking down several buildings so that it could be surrounded by acres of parking, just like the burbs. And, of course, any building with character that had the misfortune of being within "the mall" that wasn't demolished for peripheral parking was quickly dolled up to look like a "storefront" within a mall (i.e., stripped of any character).

    It struggled through lots of changeover in tenants, and some good did come of it in that there was some adjacent development as a result (improvements to an already existing sports arena, hotel development, some restaurants).

    But the mall couldn't compete with the Bed Bath and Beyond type of development taking form in the outlying burbs, and it's anchor stores, which were already struggling, were all to eager to move out to the former blueberry fields in what is now strip mall heaven.

    Those businesses which did move downtown to be near the mall are now lying next to more than ample parking (empty lots), and the stores have largely been demolished, replaced by piles of sand. Now Muskegon stands planning it's next move, trying to find out how to replace the downtown which was systematically demolished. Not a pretty sight. Anyone going north into Michigan on US 31 is encouraged to stop and take a look at how bad things can become.
    Mall site, circa 1950

    . The link below takes you to a gallery of recent images. Truly depressing.


    Muskegon MI recent photo gallery

  5. #5

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    Madison, Wisconsin has some national retailers on state street, the main downtown shopping thouroughfare. Gap, Urban Outfitters, etc. State Street is an anomoly though, due to the pull of the University of Wisconsin. A built in generator of foot traffic.

  6. #6
    I agree with Lee: having a strong and diversified residential component in or very near downtown is essential to attracting commercial redevelopment to the CBD and making it a vibrant, fun place. Although Louisville is much larger than 200,000 a number of upscale residential development projects have opened recently (or will very soon) leading to the hugely successful Fourth Street Live! redevelopment project which has actually brought suburbanites back to downtown after dark.
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  7. #7
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    As to why town centers and not downtown, free off-street parking is probably a big factor. Smaller cities aren't going to have to constant foot traffic that offsets the lack of painless automobile access.

    Providence, RI along with other cities, has attracted large chains to its new downtown mall. Its not ideal, but its getting suburban shoppers to come downtown. Hopefully, it can soak up the chains and allow local businesses to thrive on the traditional downtown streets. Smaller chains (Gap, Johnny Rockets) are starting to take over the main Brown U. drag, Thayer Street, which is about a half mile from downtown.

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally posted by dogandpony
    can't offer any examples of how to do it, but not too far from you, my hometown, Muskegon, Michigan offers a great example of what not to do.

    I don't want to hijack your thread, if this should be a separate thread I'll defer to others...

    In the 70's, downtown properties were assembled and collectively enclosed into a mall. Of course, they had to take it a step further, enclosing it, and knocking down several buildings so that it could be surrounded by acres of parking, just like the burbs. And, of course, any building with character that had the misfortune of being within "the mall" that wasn't demolished for peripheral parking was quickly dolled up to look like a "storefront" within a mall (i.e., stripped of any character).

    It struggled through lots of changeover in tenants, and some good did come of it in that there was some adjacent development as a result (improvements to an already existing sports arena, hotel development, some restaurants).

    But the mall couldn't compete with the Bed Bath and Beyond type of development taking form in the outlying burbs, and it's anchor stores, which were already struggling, were all to eager to move out to the former blueberry fields in what is now strip mall heaven.

    Those businesses which did move downtown to be near the mall are now lying next to more than ample parking (empty lots), and the stores have largely been demolished, replaced by piles of sand. Now Muskegon stands planning it's next move, trying to find out how to replace the downtown which was systematically demolished. Not a pretty sight. Anyone going north into Michigan on US 31 is encouraged to stop and take a look at how bad things can become.
    Mall site, circa 1950

    . The link below takes you to a gallery of recent images. Truly depressing.


    Muskegon MI recent photo gallery
    This sounds a lot like my impressions of what Redding, California did. In some cases, the bastardized (i.e., modernized Victorians converted to look like 1957) storefronts of the original downtown buildings were enclosed intact into the new (failing) mall.


    I'll add kudos to Walnut Creek, a very affluent edge city in the Bay Area. It helps that the land values and economics support extensive structured parking, so you don't have a sea of surface lots. The old Main Street is still quite pleasant, evolving towards a mix of higher end, often non-chain restaurants, furniture and art galleries, and a few clothing stores of various levels.

  9. #9
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    Saint Paul had done a great job of pulling in retail during the 1980s. But then the Mall of America was built which was the true killer of all the late great Saint Paul shopping venues (i.e. Galtier Plaza, Minnesota World Trade Center, Town Square, etc).

    I posted more about this in another thread entitled "Too Much Retail".

  10. #10
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  11. #11
    Cyburbian jsk1983's avatar
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    Westchester County, NY seemed to have alot of active downtowns in all the suburban villages there. I remember finding it surprising to see a GAP outside a mall.

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    Alot of affluent villages in southern CT: Westport, Darien, etc. Norwalk looks like it's trying too.

  13. #13
    King Street in Downtown Charleston, South Carolina has slowly morphed into an open air shopping mall, where local business have slowly but surely been replaced by the national franchises mentioned above, to the extent that thaey are side by side all the way up the street, with few, if any, local retailers remaining. (Comes off like Disney "Main Street USA.")

    On the flip side, Asheville, North Carolina has also experienced a resurgence in downtown retail and residential development, though only a very few national franchises (3 or 4?) have chosen to locate downtown. Most of them seem to prefer to locate a few miles away at Tunnel Road where the Asheville Mall and a hoarde of Big box stores are located. (Fine with me, let them have it.)

  14. #14
    Cyburbian dogandpony's avatar
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    Building square footage a problem too?

    I agree that parking, or the perceived lack thereof, is a big factor in the big retailers not being interested in traditional downtown.

    But another factor making it difficult is the fact that the big retailers tend to have space needs which are tough to put together in traditional downtowns (mine has 30 to 40-foot wide traditional storefronts, which simply aren't large enough by themselves to house the bigger tenants, wanting 5,000 s.f.

    It takes several vacancies in a row to assemble a large enough space for any retailer with a national presence, and if you have that many vacancies, they probably don't want to be there!

    I'm also willing to bet that more than a few of you experience property owners who refuse to put any money into their buildings..

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally posted by dogandpony
    I agree that parking, or the perceived lack thereof, is a big factor in the big retailers not being interested in traditional downtown.

    But another factor making it difficult is the fact that the big retailers tend to have space needs which are tough to put together in traditional downtowns (mine has 30 to 40-foot wide traditional storefronts, which simply aren't large enough by themselves to house the bigger tenants, wanting 5,000 s.f.

    It takes several vacancies in a row to assemble a large enough space for any retailer with a national presence, and if you have that many vacancies, they probably don't want to be there!

    I'm also willing to bet that more than a few of you experience property owners who refuse to put any money into their buildings..
    It's interesting they think that though. Downtown areas would have a hard time sustaining them selves without parking.

    At least in the Twin Cities parking downtown doesn't seem to be a problem at all.

  16. #16

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    The lack of retail in traditional downtowns can be blamed in part on ownership. Shopping centers have covenants that require things like mandated opening and closing hours, security, maintenance, etc. The public wants to know that when they go to the mall (or "Towne Centre"...God, I hate that moniker!), their favorite store(s) will be open. Mom and pop retailers who keep different hours than the mega-chains will always fall short in the brave new world of sameness that is American retail.

    Places like Charleston have come through this due to single ownership for most all of King Street, the main drag downtown. When you sign the lease, you agree to be open at the required times. Tourists can count on the Banana, Gap, Pottery Barn and Talbot's all being open. After all, why visit a beautiful city like Charleston and purchase something that is unique to the South Carolina Lowcountry? That same sweater you saw at Tysons Corner might be gone when you get back to Washington...but I digress.

    Retailing can be successful in traditonal downtowns. The merchants simply need to be on the same page.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    You could add to this both sophistication and leverage in leasing. A company owning many properties has a great deal of influence to get a retailer into one of its lower-performing centers, as that retailer also wants to be in the strong ones. The professional leasing staff of these companies has much greater knowledge and more access to retailers than the person who owns one downtown building.
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    Cardinal, you hit the nail on the head. Mall barons like Simon and Taubman do this all the time using the "you open a store in space A at the Mountain Valley Ridge Glen Mall and I'll let you have space B in the Ridge Valley Dale Towne Centre".

  19. #19

    Downtown Nashville

    Downtown Nashville still primarily exists for tourists, but with the draw of a spectacular newish public library, several rehabbed residential buildings (for rent and for sale), a new symphony hall, and a residential tower with a full-service grocery store in the building, I think the city will have an actual urban core within a few years. For now, there is very little retail that doesn't serve the 9-5 crowd or the tourists, but that will change soon enough. There is also the much touted Plan of Nashville that will tear out the downtown interstates and make it much more accessible on foot.

    Downtown Franklin, a Nashville suburb, is thriving, and there is also a major shopping area, Cool Springs, about two miles from it. Downtown Franklin, though, is very upscale, much more so than the nearby mall and big box retailers, and it's this sort of exclusiveness that's making it work so well. The only chain store downtown is a Starbucks, the rest are upscale furniture/antique stores, expensive restaurants, and I think a few clothing stores, if I remember right. The exclusiveness doesn't sit well with me, but I guess it's nice to have a place where walking is the most popular form of transportation, unlike most of the Nashville area. There's no way I would live in Franklin, though; regional mass transit is more or less non-existent, and outside of the old center of town, it's pretty much the same low-density/giant highway junk as everywhere else.

    I don't understand the "Town Centre" shopping centers at all. To me it shows that there must be some people who still crave some type of community and urban life, albeit in a vague Disney faux-nostalgia kind of way. I wouldn't mind them so much if you didn't have to drive there.

  20. #20
    Anybody read the article on "Lifestyle Centers?" Main street USA reconstituted into a newer, 33% shinier package than the now defunct shopping "Mall."

    The days of yore are certainly gone, when small, independent local retailers shaped the mosaic of "Main street." Economies of scale now create mass produced town center/lifestyle centers in one homogenous package. Crap.

  21. #21
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    Downtown Portland, OR is main shopping area for the entire Portland metro region. Theres 3 department stores and 1 major shopping mall (which by-the-way fits in extremely well with downtown and ties into the street life). If its not downtown then its in a neighborhood 5 mins. from Downtown such as the Pearl, 23rd Ave. or the Lloyd District (including the Lloyd Center Mall). Gap, William Sonoma, Banana Republic, a very high-end local store called Mario's, Tiffany & Co., Office Depot, Kitchen Kaboodle, Columbia Sportswear, Brooks Brothers (opening soon), Nike Town, Border's Books & Music, Abercrombie are just a few of the stores downtown and with street entrances.

    Downtown Seattle is very similar too, but on a much larger scale.

  22. #22
    Member japrovo's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by pdxstreetcar
    Downtown Portland, OR is main shopping area for the entire Portland metro region.

    And great mass transit notwithstanding, Portland also made a great big (tif supported) investment in structured downtown parking garages just before the big retail renaisance. Not to dimish rail's impact just to say those SmartPark Garages went a long way towards reassuring the early retailers buying into downtown that led to the critical mass today that co-exists more or less happily with light rail and the streetcar.

    Interestingly in the 2040 Growth Concept http://www.metro-region.org/article.cfm?articleID=231 the Portland region has tried to encourage a network of outlying dense town centers (variously sized and purposed regional and town centers, station communities, main street communities etc) as a complement to downtown (getting back to the title of the thread???).

    Political support has waxed and waned for centers in some quarters as some have been more immediate successes than others. In some assesments of the mixed pace of development of other centers parking has been cited as major culprit---although time is key too. The dramatic expectations at the start of 2040 in terms of the perfromace of these centers were perhaps hard to live up to.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    There are several communities that I know of that several large parking lots, or other vacant areas. Many of these would be large enough to bring the needed sq footage for many of these medium size retailers. For example, every Old Navy, Gap, American Eagle, and similar type of store that I have been to have ranged in size from a small mall space to not too much bigger than a Rite Aid.

    I just find it crazy that developers will sped all sorts of money to build these new "Towne Centres" but they will ignore the existing buildings, infrastructure, and potential for development within a urban downtown. I know that Kalamazoo is looking at building a new 18 screen movie theater in the downtown that will have retail on the 1st floor, and there is talk about a new convention center being built across the street as well as a sports arena on the other side of the downtown core. These are going to be massive buildings, and if they can go into a place like Kalamazoo, why canít a national chain retailer?
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  24. #24
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Yes.....

    Quote Originally posted by Seabishop
    As to why town centers and not downtown, free off-street parking is probably a big factor. Smaller cities aren't going to have to constant foot traffic that offsets the lack of painless automobile access.

    Providence, RI along with other cities, has attracted large chains to its new downtown mall. Its not ideal, but its getting suburban shoppers to come downtown. Hopefully, it can soak up the chains and allow local businesses to thrive on the traditional downtown streets. Smaller chains (Gap, Johnny Rockets) are starting to take over the main Brown U. drag, Thayer Street, which is about a half mile from downtown.
    Seabishop Johnson is right.......(said in the way it was said on Blazing Sadles during the town meeting)
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    [QUOTE=Does anyone know of any downtowns that have had significant redevelopment and been able to bring in businesses that have been traditionally located in malls such as Gap, Old Navy, Victoria Secret, and Johnny Rockets?

    I am not so much thinking of major cities as much as 50,000 to 200,000 residents.[/QUOTE]

    I know Silver Spring in Maryland, a downtown which once was littered with marginal retail and vacant properties has had a significant turn around in the last 4 years, adding a lot retail such as barnes and noble, red lobster, and other mall-like retail. This had a lot to do with with the new location of Discovery to the downtown. Retail was attracted to the new demand from Discovery's employees

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