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Monday, June 1, 2009

Huntsville West

So Huntsville West, the shopping center at University and Sparkman, is getting some new tenants that I've never heard of. It wasn't long ago that the center had stores like Office Depot and Goody's. Despite several attempts to revitalize the center-- the Times has a good history of the center in the article linked above-- stores just can't seem to stick around there (with the exception of the thrift store and Hibbett's). Sometimes it was because the company went out of business (anyone remember Compo?), but most of the time the stores moved to new shopping centers-- Office Depot moved farther west next to Best Buy, and Goody's moved next to SuperTarget, where it remained until the company's demise earlier this year. These newer centers make it hard for Huntsville West to compete in its current form. So, if true revitalization is to be done, some radical and unique measures (at least for Huntsville) will have to be taken.

Time to meet the bulldozer...

If Huntsville West really wants to compete with the newer centers along University, it's going to have to be something new. It has the advantages of being at a relatively major intersection and in between two universities, but it has the disadvantages of being a waste of land (look at all that asphalt!) and being too old to attract better tenants. So bulldoze the center, and in its place, put in a "college town center" type development, or a Constellation for inner West Huntsville. Coming off University on the "Main Street," put in tenants that fit into the needs/wants of the demographics of the area-- a legit grocery store, college bookstore, some bars and restaurants (sit-down/quick service/fast-food), and a live music venue or two would be a good start. Elsewhere, build some 4-5 story loft-style apartment buildings. If parking's a problem, put in a parking garage. The city will probably need to improve pedestrian/bike access along Sparkman between the center and the universities-- this should be done anyway regardless.

Like I said, radical and unique. But there's not too much you can do with a 35-year-old shopping center that's within a mile of newer, more visible centers with vacant space. And bringing in retail that no one's ever heard of won't keep it alive for long.


codelemur said...

I used to live in the apartments behind that center. It's not exactly a nice area of town, so I'm not surprised stores have been moving out. You know it's bad news when even Big Lots is moving out. Frankly, I'm surprised anything is still left there. The whole place is kind of junky.

The best move would be to build something else on that land, as I can only imagine it would cost more to modernize the center rather than tear it down and start again. But in order for anything to succeed there, the area around it is going to have to improve. Otherwise, there's just no incentive to redevelop.

Anonymous said...

I agree some aesthetic improvements are in order. As is the Wal Mart near near Memorial Parkway and Drake there are several shopping centers with nothing but concrete, power lines, chain link fences, asphalt, and ugly billboards surrounding it. Compare these ugly shopping centers to the Jones Valley Target shopping Center on CTJ and 4MP. There you will find trees, shrubs, flowered medians, homogeneous architecture, indirect and splash lighting, outdoor sitting areas, and hidden utilities like air conditioners and trash can storage areas. A lot of Huntsville is a real turn off to newcomers and visitors due to the uglyness throughout much of the city; Nothing detroys the appearance of a cityscape more than powerlines. The poorest neighborhood with no powerlines looks better than the classiest neighborhood with powerlines. Finally, the drive along 431 from Big Cove to Monte Sano is loaded with billboards and ugly advertisements. There is something about the culture in this town that permits these things. So, it isn't surprising that the shopping centered featured in this blog article is loaded with asphalt and dullness.

Lee K. Seitz said...

Current city regulations require a certain amount of landscaping based on the size of the parking lot. I'm willing to bet that they didn't have this requirement back when Huntsville West was built and are therefore grandfathered in.

As far as a grocery store, nothing seems to be able to compete in the area since the Super Wal-Mart on University went in. Both Winn Dixie and Food World in its immediate vicinity have closed since then. (Although I will admit those entire chains were having money problems.) Only Target has managed to compete. John's Big Brother closed, but reopened.

Apollo said...

I agree. They totally need to tear that place to the ground. "Value-oriented" retailers just means that they don't need a large customer-base to survive pretty much guaranteeing that they will be in that spot forever. They need more green space in that area.

Anonymous said...

It's just a sad part of urban sprawl. University Drive in that area is quickly becoming a has-been. I listen to the police scanner often, and most of the activity on Friday and Saturday nights is in that general vicinity. I see University Drive ending up being a strip of restaurants with bars and lots of parties and people fearing for their lives and staying in upcoming areas such as in Madison, Bridge Street (which is a suprise because that area was going downhill quickly, and a lot of the apartment complexes in that area are full of crime). Huntsville police are too lazy to bother with paperwork for a lot of dui's and pot busts, heck, 2 Fridays ago, they let a car go that had a small amount of crystal methamphetamine in it in Research Park. Heck, unless you're driving faster than 100 on 565 you don't get pulled over, and they wonder why crime is so high in this area? Huntsville police need to use Madison as an example of how when you crack down on everything, you have a lot less crime. Its sad to say that Madison police are starting to join the ranks of Huntsville, although one did recently pull me over and give me a warning citation when my headlight burnt out minutes before. He was kind, courteous, I told him I knew what he pulled me over for before he had the chance to tell me - If it would have been Huntsville police, they most likely wouldn't have bothered to pull me over to let me know it was out, and if they did they would have been major jerks - The time I had a ticket in Huntsville the officer ripped me out of my car, searched it, made me do a full sobriety test out in public in front of people (big embarrassment and I don't have a dirty image and don't drink except on rare occasions), after I passed all of his stupid tests, he then had the nerve to make me blow a breathalyzer and when I said "should read nothing since I haven't drank" he said I'm not letting you get away with nothing and gave me a ticket for running a stop sign or light cant remember which but I hadn't even been through a redlight to run, then had the nerve to fight me in court over it and I had to attend driving school. I feel sorry for any black people that get pulled over in this town, because I hear from some that it is average treatment for them. I once had to testify in court for a guy I worked with that sued the city to have them stop harassing him just because he was black and drove a new mercedes - he was clean cut, wore suits to work and when out and about, didn't act like a thug at all, heck, the only thing black about him was his skin, he speaks more proper grammar than I do. They settled the lawsuit but continued to harass him even though he had papers in the system saying to leave him alone, he had to transfer to our California facility to get away from the harassment. I don't know that its still like that but that was just a few years ago, right here in Huntsville.