Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Another Shopping Center Planned For Washtenaw & Huron Parkway

6. October 2004 • Brandon
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According to the Ann Arbor News, a developer is proposing a second large upscale suburban-style shopping center across the street from Huron Village, which houses large Whole Foods and Barnes and Noble stores. The new center would purportedly be designed along quasi-New Urbanist principles:

Ann Arbor-based McKinley Inc., which has been leasing out Huron Village, has been retained to try to gauge interest in a new center. Securing a number of retailers before the center is built would reduce the risk involved with the project and make it easier to borrow money.

Royal Caswell, a vice president at McKinley, said the company showed off plans at the International Council of Shopping Centers annual convention in Las Vegas in May.

“We’ve gotten a lot of good response” from potential tenants, Caswell said.

Without revealing details, he said McKinley is courting a few big box stores, but is focused mostly on higher-end retailers and chain restaurants found in the popular “lifestyle” centers – outdoor malls designed to be pedestrian-friendly and look similar to a Main Street shopping district.

These centers frequently have a contingent of clothing retailers like Banana Republic and Anne Taylor and ice cream parlors like Marble Slab Creamery.

The shoppers who frequent Huron Village, which houses the upscale Whole Foods grocery, are desirable for retailers because they tend to be wealthier.

Meanwhile City Councilwoman and Planning Commission member Jean Carlberg would like to see a truer approximation of New Urbanist design principles on an essentially auto-dependent site, including mixed-uses:

“It certainly is unattractive as it is,” she said.

But Carlberg said there likely would be discussions with the developer about the arrangement and design of the buildings, and whether it has components of New Urbanism design that includes mixed uses.

“My ideal development would be something that contains residential and retail,” she said.

  1. Editorializing now, I’m tired of people throwing the term “New Urbanism” around so loosely. Developers use it to sell projects to communities when their site designs feature only a few traits of the design philosophy. Open-air malls (“lifestyle centers”) are hardly Main Streets… they tend to be a few Starbucks, Banana Republics and Borders thrown together on the fringe of town. You may walk once you get there by driving, but they don’t function as a whole neighborhood nor part of one. I don’t think a lot of folks are going to take a neighborly stroll from their condo on Washtenaw to grab a gallon of artisnal milk at the corner high-end chain grocer. I’m glad Carlberg would put in some housing, but even then I’d be really hesitant to use the label “New Urbanism” unless the site design does in some way truly look and function like a neighborhood, not a caricature of one. Also, being such an auto-based site, I’m sure such a development would only increase congestion in an area that is already one of the most traffic-choked in town. Are we better-off leaving it as it is (mid-century strip-mall land)? I don’t know. But I also know we need to be cautious and wary of what the developer is trying to sell us. And really, how many upscale chain stores does this town need? My two cents.
       —Brandon    Oct. 6 '04 - 01:49PM    #
  2. Man, you think this is bad. I have an article I tore out of one of the free real estate circulators in Toronto discussing a new “New Urban” development. One sentence says something like: “the roads wind and bend, with cul-de-sacs, rather than a grid pattern” as an example of a “New Urbanist” feature. sigh I’m with you on this one though, B. “New Urbanism” isn’t exactly a panacea, but the term is so diluted by developers and the real estate industry that the term itself is becoming useless..

    My proposal: a row of 10 story buildings near the road with a WIDE sidewalk and street parking (perhaps separated by a narrow median from Washtenaw Ave.). Retail on the first floor, commercial on the next two, residential all the way up. Convince AATA to provide 24 hour service to the area. Won’t happen. Would be cool, though. And while we’re dreaming, a pedestrian bridge across Washtenaw Ave. and Huron Pkwy. and all under-ground parking…
       —Scott T.    Oct. 6 '04 - 03:46PM    #
  3. I’m with you, Scott—the Washtenaw corridor is really our best opportunity to demolish trash and put up a real, actual, usable cityscape. A much better opportunity than, say, North Main St.

    Unfortunately, the things that are prerequisite in order to keep such development from making things worse (good pedestrian facilities and transit service, for example) won’t be considered until after the area is built in a way to support them, meaning it won’t happen. Instead, we’ll just get completely isolated faux-new urbanist developments like Whole Foods (which is, in no conceivable way, “new urbanist” except for the developers labeled it as such) which just make things worse while giving NU a black eye.
       —Murph    Oct. 10 '04 - 12:34PM    #