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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ideas for South Parkway

I think we can all agree that South Parkway looks a little rough. The largest shopping center along the corridor sits two-thirds empty, and while the rest are mostly occupied, their tenants/landlords don't do well in upkeep. But why does it have to be this way? The corridor has big-box retailers like Home Depot, Lowe's, Kroger, Sam's Club, and Walmart, and the population is stable, highly-educated and fairly wealthy. A multitude of events could have brought the corridor to its current state, from long, drawn out construction projects that hinder access to the nation's economy (Goody's and Hollywood Video closed all of their stores nationwide in the past two years).

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.


Anonymous said...

A perfect anchor for your short term option A would be Academy Sports.

Rons said...

Would like to see a Best Buy on this side of town. They also need to tear down those old sheet metal "shops". A Starbucks at the end of the South Parkway near Walmart.

Anonymous said...

How about a Kohl's or even better Macy's?

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of a Best Buy and a Starbucks. Some nicer restaurants would be great also. Better visibility is an issue also. Most of the existing or closed retail can/could barely be seen from the Parkway.

Andy Somers said...

I think the bigger question should be raised - what is the impact on properties along the frontage roads, once a section of the Parkway is widened? I think there's a reason we're seeing commercial migrating away from the Parkway - once that section becomes an expressway. If there was good perceived value to redevelopment of that parcel, I think it would happen - my perception is access is killing it, not neglect.

I can't put my finger on the phenomenon, but look up and down the corridor. How long has the Bruno's at Oakwood been vacant on what should be a nice corner commercial lot? Compare the realtive vitality of the Main Street South - Rosie's area to the old Copeland's/Mr. Steak corridor just to the north on a frontage Road section. Compare the Wal-Mart area near Hobbs Road with the Old Haysland Square area you discuss here. The frontage roads, I think, tend to kill a lot of the commercial, first from the inconvenience of construction, and from the ultimate removal of better than half your pass-by traffic. This cannot be a coincidence, as it's seen up and down the Parkway corridor.

I am interested to see if Sam's on National can survive with the poor placement of the off-ramp from the Parkway. It's a very inconvenient Sam's store to reach. It's the next canary-in-the-coal-mine that I am looking at. I'd love to see before and after revenues from the construction and opening of the Whitesburg/Weatherly overpass.

Anonymous said...

What wonderful ideas. We are desperate for some revitalization in the Hamilton/Haysland Sq shopping centers which are less than a block from our home. We do not feel that the new construction, which is finished by the way, has been a killer for the stores in this area. Actually, the access road comes right off by Staples and you can easily go under the overpass at Weatherly to go back North or jump back on the access road to go South. Those on Bailey Cove can come right up Weatherly and they are in the shopping center. From the South, they can turn on Meadowbrook and go directly behind Sam's and access Lowe's, Home Depot or Staples. In my opinion, for anyone in South Huntsville, accessing the Sam's on National is much easier than fighting the University Drive traffic. As you have pointed out, the stores that have failed have largely been due to national failures rather than local economy. The craze to move everything to Madison and Hampton Cove has also been responsible for many of our problems. But as you have also said, there are plenty of us who live along this corridor who are relatively affluent who frequent these areas and would definitely shop at Best Buy's, Kohl's, Michael's or any number of other stores that we now avoid due to having to make the long, arduous, traffic snarled journey to University Drive. I hope that people who currently live along South Parkway will make an effort to shop the existing stores to insure their survival and encourage other retailers to join them in the future.

Sharp said...

I'm with Andy Somers on this one. North Parkway business was practically exterminated by the widening in anticipation of overpass construction (which took 15 years to actually begin). Nothing has flourished since, except the Sparkman Wal-Mart - but Wal-Marts in a lower-to-moderate income neighborhood are hardy anyway. We'll see how a finalized overpass system ultimately effects the service road business both north and south. But I suspect it won't improve much.

Anonymous said...

What abt some ideas for zierdt too soon.....:)

Anonymous said...

Well, I grew up in S. Huntsville, graduated from Grissom in 1995. My first job was at the Burger King at Weatherly and Parkway. I helped open the Staples store in May 2000 while I was going to college at UAH.

I remember way back there was a Walmart where the Home Depot is. My first 10 speed bike came from there. Then Walmart built their new store further south (now Hobby Lobby). The former Walmart got razed and Kmart came in and built a store. Around this same time, the face lifted the entire strip mall, giving it the fake stucco look.

Originally in 1988, when my family moved to S. Huntsville, besides the Walmart, Food World was there, a Harco drug store, Radio Shack was always there. At the other end, there was a Otasco (auto parts store with a shop, like Pep Boys) where Burkes outlet is, where Big Lots was used to be a Sears catalog store, Goody's was a JC Penney, there was a Pier one where Staples is.

Anyways, in 1988, that is the last time I remember that area doing "well", with first rate stores, etc. In the early 90's, the strip malls emptied out and remained that way for much of the 90's. When Hollywood 16 opened, the movie theatre (Mike Merchandise now) became a dollar movie for a short time before closing altogether. The overpass construction claimed the Checkers and Burger King, the Taco Bell moved to a newer building further south on the parkway.

Seemed like in the early 2000's that it was making a comeback, with Goody's, Big Lots, etc, but now it's back to being empty.

The Staples end, the building is in really poor shape. When I worked at Staples, the city was going to comdemn the entire place (water was pouring in the roof in some of the empty stores), but the owner did some last minute repairs.

I think the decline of this area is a combination of poor management by the property owner, changing demographics of the area, newer retail being built elsewhere, the economy, road construction, etc.

Anonymous said...

As someone who moved here a few years ago, I think these ideas are great, but none of the devopment in this town appears sustainable.

Memorial parkway itself is a horrible design. It's as if the unchecked growth of flash retail for profit expoded there and some folks kind of build some overpasses. The other spot in town with the same problem is University Drive on the western side.

Can it be done better? Yes. For a town that touts it's engineering base, there is no excuse for such poor design and clutter. It's going to get worse. The negligible taxes and hands off government will just allow these eyesores and traffic jams to be abandoned. Eventually everything will move to the last undeveloped side of town and ruin it too.

Visit Detriot for a larger version of your future. Or visit Columbia MD for a view of what can be done with a little smart growth (not perfect, just smarter).