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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bridge Street's Newest Expansion Plan: Does It Hold Water?

O&S Holdings has come out with yet another expansion plan for Bridge Street. This one involves possibly filling in the 10-acre "Lake Leaky" to add 75,000 square feet of retail space along with a "high-end" department store. Not to mention an expensive underground parking garage. What is their plan to fund this $50 million expansion during the recession? By using part of the current city sales tax generated from the new department store.

Let's say that the developers decide to fill in the lake for the expansion. How Huntsville of us to think that the solution to a problem is to pave over it. From the words of President Obama, "plug the damn hole!" You'd think with the workforce here, they could find legitimate, competent engineers to build/fix a proper lake.

After fixing the lake, a new expansion location would have to be found. There are plenty of surface lots that could be used, and instead of building an underground garage, why not construct an above-ground deck to compensate for the lost/needed parking. And to pay for it, have people pay a fee for the convenience of parking in the garage. If the department store is as good as the developers say it will be, people will be willing to pay to park.

Last, but not least, is the retail portion of the expansion. A 75,000 sq. ft. addition to the center, along with a 100-150,000 sq. ft. department store, will make Bridge Street the second-largest retail development in the city, surpassing Parkway Place but below Madison Square's 1 million sq. ft. But how will the developers attract new stores to the expansion when there are empty storefronts in the existing center?

Enough ranting. Let's speculate on the the three most probable department store chains, which I've nicknamed The Obvious, The Long Shot, and The Wild Card:

The Obvious: Macy's. This may seem like the most logical choice because of their widespread presence in other cities, but not in Huntsville. However, with their nationwide expansion, their "high-end"-ness has been questioned recently, with many of their non-flagship stores carrying brands seen in more mid-range stores like Kohl's and JCPenney. But they have made the move to lifestyle centers, creating a new concept store for developments such as Bridge Street.

The Long Shot: Nordstrom. The Seattle-based high-end chain almost exclusively locates in metro areas with more than 1.5 million people. Also, a Nashville store will open in September 2011. That said, I don't think we'll see a full-scale Nordstrom in Huntsville for a couple of decades... at least. But there are two possible exceptions: a Nordstrom Rack (outlet store) or a smaller-scale store concept geared towards smaller cities.

The Wild Card: Von Maur. Many of you have probably never heard of this small Midwestern chain; I hadn't until about a year ago, when someone suggested it as a possible Bridge Street anchor (it was the planned anchor for another Bridge Street development in Chicago). I was skeptical at first, but the chain has slowly moved south, opening stores in Kentucky and Missouri. It's high-end, not currently in "the region," and it has stores in Huntsville-sized cities. I say Von Maur's got a good chance.


Anonymous said...

Bridgestreet is a boondoggle. Should have never been built. Madison Square should have been given incentives to redevelop into a modern town center development instead of using tax payer dollars to build a faux town in a cotton field.

Now after spending countless millions on a leaky lake, they want to just fill it in? At least Mayor Loretta Spencer oil is out of the picture finally. Huntsville is the epitome of poorly planned sprawl, subsidized with tax dollars. When will Huntsville join the 21st century?

Anonymous said...

You people act like this is not a common occurrence in other cities such as Birmingham. How many "Malls" in Bham, struggled or closed after the Summit was built. If Madison Squares developers had the initiative to do something similar to their mall like Bridgestreet and start a new then that would have been great but they didn't. So now they are struggling and Bridgestreet is splurging. Their fault.

Anonymous said...

Do you think we could get both Macy's and Von Maur? One at BS and the other at Parkway Place.

James said...

@Anonymous 1 & 2: I would like to see the private developers take the initiative, not the government, especially when it takes away potential revenue from already-strained tax coffers. CBL (Madison Square's developers) will have to make some tough choices in the next decade or so if it wants the mall to survive. When they lose their anchor stores, that mall is dead. I discussed some ideas for Madison Square last year: http://huntsvilledevelopment.blogspot.com/2009/09/madison-square.html

@Anonymous 3: I don't see why not. Parkway Place also has the space to build a third anchor store, though there's a better chance of a Macy's going there. I could also see two Macy's stores here eventually.

Anonymous said...

I think it is a very bad idea to fill in the lake. It was suppose to be the center piece and the reason for naming the complex Bridge Street. Why not just cement in the bottom of the lake. that would resolve the leak situation. they could even cover it with a layer of dirt if they are concerned about an unnatural look about it. It would cost a whole lot less then trying got repair it every 6 months to a year. Plus the water helps lessen the heat impact on the center during the summer months. Which are getting longer and longer each year. Just my 2 cents.

Anonymous said...

The problem with sprawl is that the government builds roads and infrastructure for developments like Bridge Street, and provides TIFs to help get them built. Therefore, the taxpayer ends up subsidising private development.

Instead of using taxpayer money to subsidise the construction of developments like Bridge St, it should be used instead to provide tax breaks and other incentives to redevelop existing areas. By redeveloping instead of sprawling, many problems are solved all at once: traffic, pollution, blight, infrastructure, etc.

Other cities have wised up to this and have halted the exodus of people to the suburbs (see NYC, DC, Boston, Philly) and are now growning again. Huntsville would be wise to learn this lesson, or pretty soon Huntsville will be bleeding population to Madison, Decatur, Athens, and beyond to the point that Huntsville population is shrinking. Urban decline is an ugly disease. Just take a look at Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, etc. for examples.