One way we can get things going in the right direction would be to start with a major revitalization of South Huntsville Square, which at 32 acres and 360,000 sq. ft. is the largest shopping center on the corridor. And I'm not talking just another "plant some shrubs in the parking lot" type of project. This one would take several years and ultimately make the center into a walkable "town center" type development.
Reminder: These layouts are not official plans; I have created them to give everyone an idea of what could happen here.
Short-Term Alternate A would leave the existing center, and its retail-only makeup, mostly intact. A serious investment would be made in making storefronts more attractive to prospective retailers. It would combine the former Big Lots, Auto Zone, and smaller shops in between to create a larger (up to 50,000 sq. ft.) anchor. The covered walkway in the middle of the north center would be opened, creating a pedestrian plaza with small shop space along it allowing room for landscaping, benches, and even outdoor dining. A group of vacant, overgrown lots to the north of the center between Staples and a residential neighborhood, which would otherwise be impossible to develop commercially without a zoning change, could be used for a park that would connect the center with the neighborhood and create an attractive buffer between the two.
Short-Term Alternate B is similar to Alternate A, but some of the existing center-- such as the former Big Lots-- would be converted into ~30,000 square feet of flexible office space. This would be ideal if the retail market goes sour, or (being the optimist here) there is a high demand for office space due to BRAC (this center is less than four miles from Redstone Arsenal Gate 1).
The Long-Term Improvements are pipe dreams that would build on the short-term improvements and finally make the center walkable and more mixed-use. The development would revolve around a traffic circle built in front of the pedestrian plaza, and more small shops and restaurants would be built around it. Each of the new buildings would be no more than three stories to comply with current zoning regulations, with ground-floor retail and upper-floor offices. At least one of the new buildings could house a new anchor tenant, such as a major department store.
What do you think needs to be done on South Parkway? What kind of retail do you think would work there? Comment below, or use Facebook, Twitter, or email to share your thoughts. And if you're disappointed that I didn't highlight your part of town, be patient. I'll be there soon.