Happy New Year! My infamous annual predictions and expectations in urban planning and retail development have returned for 2012. Here you go:
A new era in planning Huntsville. The City of Huntsville has a major decision to make in 2012-- who will be the city's new Urban Planner? The person chosen for the job will decide the city's direction when it comes to SmartCode, transportation planning (e.g. Complete Streets), the creation of a Comprehensive Plan, etc. Of course, the mayoral election in August will play a factor in this as well.
The end of food deserts. With retailers like Walmart, Save-A-Lot, and Walgreens expanding their presences and fresh-food options in "food deserts" (low-income areas without easy access to fresh groceries), don't be surprised if these chains add stores in areas like Southwest and Northwest Huntsville. The largest food deserts in the city of Huntsville in a few years will ironically be higher-income areas like Martin/Zierdt, where the low population density doesn't support a full-line grocery store.
Growth on the Central Parkway corridor. The 72 West corridor, with a new Walmart and Target under construction, may have been the hot retail area this year, but next year, much of the activity will shift closer to the city center. With the highest population density and median incomes in the region, the area I like to call "Central Parkway"-- between Downtown and Airport Road-- has a good chance to attract several major retailers in the next year and beyond. It's no secret that Walmart wants to build a larger store in the area to replace its existing Drake Avenue location. The John Hunt Park Master Plan calls for two tracts along the Parkway-- one at Airport Road, the other being Joe Davis Stadium-- to be sold for redevelopment, but this depends on the outcome of a public referendum to be held in the future.
Continued Downtown development. The Belk-Hudson Lofts will open this summer, more than doubling the number of residential units in the CBD. If everything works out, the Councill Court redevelopment anchored by a grocery (possibly Publix), a hotel, and a mid-rise office building along with 300-plus apartments, will get off the ground this year.
New Restaurants. As previously announced, Chipotle, Dunkin' Donuts, Panda Express, Texas Roadhouse, and Jimmy John's will all debut in Huntsville in 2012. Panera Bread is opening two new locations-- one in Madison, one at Bridge Street. And I predict that the frozen yogurt "bubble" will continue, but it will begin to subside by the end of the year due to market saturation.
South Parkway gets some love. Aldi has publicly expressed plans for a new store in South Huntsville whose location hasn't been decided yet, but I could definitely see it in Haysland Square. In addition, you could also see some "small stuff" in the area-- new pharmacies, restaurants, etc.
Patience on 72 East. While I could see "small stuff" popping up on 72 East at any time, big-box development isn't happening in 2012. Several factors have worked against that area. First off, Harris Hill, the development that was to set off retail expansion in this underserved corridor, was announced in 2007. For three years after that, new major retail development in this country did not exist-- financing was impossible to obtain for such projects. While the financial picture is a bit better now, the two most likely anchors, Target and Walmart, probably have their own reservations on building there at this moment. Target prefers areas with a 5-mile population of around 100,000-- the 72 East corridor has approximately 85,000 people within a 5-mile radius, according to the 2010 Census, compared to around 98,000 for the 72 West corridor, where a store is currently under construction. Walmart, which has shifted its focus to urban areas (see "The End of Food Deserts"), is planning very few new Supercenters in the US right now*, having saturated the suburban/rural market. With that said, I do see retail expansion coming to that area, but probably not for another 3-4 years, not bad for a major retail development if you consider that the earliest date it could have started was 2011.
*Walmart's 72 West store, currently under construction, was proposed about five years ago, and the land was bought before the recession hit, but construction was accelerated by the Madison Target. The potential replacement store for the Drake location is the one exception to the policy-- replacing regular stores with Supercenters.