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Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

For the first time, Skyland Town Center's revitalization might have a chance: creating a community focused retail destination

Although looking at the renderings, I would say the development ought to be denser as it needs more higher income residents to help support the retail.

I've written about this subject a fair amount, the more than 20 year process to revitalize the Skyland Town Center, the displacement of locally owned businesses in the process, and the likely problem that there probably isn't enough demand to support it, given existing retail options, which of course is why the project is taking so long.

-- "Blaming Walmart for Skyland's failure is misdirected: the culprits are DC's economic development and elected officials," 2016
-- "Maybe the last word on Skyland Center and redevelopment," 2006

But yesterday's reports ("Andy Shallal eyeing Skyland for new restaurant," Washington Business Journal) that Andy Shallal, proprietor of the successful Busboys and Poets chainlet of restaurant, bookstore and event spaces, is going to put an anchor restaurant there, Eatonville.   From the article:
“I have been talking to them, and I’m hoping it will happen, but it depends on the deal, and depends on the timing,” he said, adding that the lease is not yet finalized. If the deal were to close, the opening would likely be in 2020.

Skyland, which was supposed to be home to one of several locations of Wal-Mart in the District, has struggled to get off the ground since the national retailer pulled out of the project in January 2016. That’s about to change, though, as developers WC Smith and Rappaport secured financing for the project in late February.
Now, unlike the success Shallal has experienced with Busboys and Poets, which now has four locations, four in DC and one in Hyattsville, Maryland and one in the Shirlington section of Arlington County, Virginia, and one coming to Anacostia, he hasn't been successful with Eatonville or its successors, and that might be a mark against putting that establishment at Skyland.

But it will provide a destination anchor, which is key.  The problem with little outposts, such as the failed Ray's The Steaks or a Yes Market, was probably three-fold.

-- "In lower income neighborhoods, are businesses supposed to be "community organizations" first?," 2012
-- "Revitalization in impoverished neighborhoods can be very difficult because different "stakeholders" have different understandings of what's at stake," 2014
-- "Real estate financing is the crucial element in enabling difficult projects," 2014

First, they were misconceived.  Second, they weren't well located.  Third, they were all alone, outposts, with little in the way of supportive complementary retail alongside, and not big enough in themselves to change the trajectory of retail success more generally.

But with judicious choice of tenants and the creation of active places, Skyland does have a chance and can remake the retail landscape East of the River.

The low scale Arts District Hyattsville retail node.  Google Street View image.

Lifestyling 2.0.  The model may be the little Arts District Hyattsville retail center on Route 1, anchored by Busboys and Poets and Yes Market, and other retail and restaurants. It became a destination for the area in terms of there being a paucity of experience retail.

Not that the particular part of Prince George's County doesn't have retail or restaurants. It does. It mostly chain retail. It's experience retail. The little district there, especially with Busboys and Poets, added a new wrinkle, and for the most part is successful (the pet store Big Bad Woof closed its location there).

Note that landing Eatonville as an anchor is more in keeping with what I recommended in 2016, "Ground up commercial revitalization and the Skyland Town Center project," in terms of developing a workable revitalization plan, and how it could have been done differently, to show results much earlier.

HOWEVER, I am not thinking so much about Eatonville, but Busboys and Poets, because those locations come with an event space, often a coffeehouse section, and a small bookstore.

Taking the discussion yesterday about "lifestyling" centers as exemplied by the development of the Bryn Mawr Village center in Greater Philadelphia ("How Bryn Mawr Village found its Main Line shopping niche," Philadelphia Inquirer), how would you go about creating a tenant mix at Skyland that would increase the likelihood of success while simultaneously achieving other objectives?

Positioning Skyland as a hub for community-focused/social enterprise retail. I'd say, be very specific and focused about creating community focused retail that also helps to support community economic development. E.g., I'd aim for a local coffee shop combined with a "we work" space modeled after and/or run by The Hive, which is run by the ARCH community development corporation.  Alternatively, it could be a combo of a "Made in DC" coffee shop and retail operation ("This Cafe and Boutique Is The Most DC Thing To Happen To DC," Washingtonian) + The Hive.

Create a Portland Mercado type space to incubate retail, a fashion/design cooperative retail/incubator space, etc. 

And a small bookstore operation, either as part of Eatonville like how B&P have bookstores (although except at the 14th and U location, they aren't always that great) or separately, like Upshur Street Books in Petworth.

An event underway at Red Emma's

Another alternative, if Eatonville is to stay strictly a restaurant, would be a space like the Red Emma's business cooperative progressive bookstore, meeting space, and coffee shop, in Baltimore's Station North Arts District.

Definitely a community kitchen and food service incubator ought to be part of the mix. I discussed related ideas here, "Building a local economy vs. "economic development" in planning: Wizards practice facility," concerning the creation of a Wizards basketball practice center in Congress Heights and how to leverage concessions and retail for business development.

Later, I learned how in the Mercedes Benz football stadium in Atlanta, the West Nest food concession is in fact a social enterprise run by the culinary program of a local community economic development organization, Westside Works ("In The New Atlanta Falcons Stadium, One Restaurant Has A Mission," Fast Company).

Etc.

Another model would be the creation of the Midtown Global Exchange food market as part of a complex redevelopment in Minneapolis. The social enterprise oriented retail element was done by the St. Paul-based Neighborhood Development Corporation, which is led by Mihalio Temali, author of the Community Economic Development Handbook.

It will still be hard.  That being said, the relative failure of the Boulevard at Cap Centre development as a comparable example is something to be worried about ("Residents Say Boulevard is 'Failing'," Washington Afro-American).

That's why other consideration of models, like Leimert Village in Los Angeles ("Los Angeles's Black Pride: Taking In the Retro Vibe of Leimert Park," Washington Post), ArtsDistrict Hyattsville, and Bryn Mawr Village, with a social enterprise orientation, are in order.

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