Beyond Retail

Monday, January 31, 2005

Deep Thoughts from Justin

I've been thinking a lot about local retail buildings with the possible Lowe's approval as of late, and I've come to a conclusion: Local retail is ugly because of Shopper's World.

The old Shopper's World was great in it's heyday, a plethora of flying saucers and the first theater in a mall ever. But when it came time to tear it down, it was replaced with the amazingly boring New Shopper's World. And it's all because of the Framingham Planning Board. The developers were throwing everything at the Board back in the mid-90's, yet all they would approve was the bland look of today's Shopper's World. If the developers had instead told the Board to "take it or leave it", you can bet that we've have a much better looking Shopping Mall. Ever seen the Best Buy in Worcester, or Nashua NH, or Portland ME? They all look like a Best Buy should: A cool looking blue box with a diagonal line going across. Ever seen the Linen's N' Things in Millbury, or Marlboro, or Portland ME? These stores use the corporate design as well: somewhat of a colonial styled house, but decent looking, not like a Stop and Shop. Think about it: if all of the stores looked like the corporate prototypes, then we'd have one cool looking Shopper's World, with each storefront renovated when new stores go in, as other plazas work.

Unfortunately, when a new tenant goes into Shopper's World, all they do is change the letters on the outside. That's it. Ever since then, with the sole exception of Kohl's, the Board hasn't approved a single corporate styling for use in the Golden Triangle.

If Shopper's World would use the corporate looks, then Target would have been free to use it on their store at the Framingham Mall. And we'd also be getting a generic Lowe's store. And for some reason things would look one heck of a lot more innovative. The Framingham Planning Board today would never have approved the dome at Shopper's World, or anything that made the area what it was in the day.

This isn't Albuquerque N.M., where even Walgreens Pharmacies are made out of adobe. This is the Golden Triangle, which doesn't have a style and shouldn't. Letting the retailers show who they are makes it easier for customers to distinguish stores from each other, lets retailers express themselves, and creates a more pleasant shopping area. As a reference, the new Shoppers at Blackstone Valley in Millbury does a great job at it, with big-box stores having their own style, while smaller stores that don't have a corporate style are clustered together with a New England-ish style that is surprisingly appealing.

Here's a joke: If the Framingham Planning Board was approached with an IKEA, what would it look like?

Thursday, January 13, 2005

New McAuliffe Branch Shot Down

I'm fairly upset by the failure of the Town Meeting in Framingham to approve a new Christa McAuliffe branch library in Saxonville. The project failed passing by 3 votes, and only because of a 2/3 vote was required to pass the article. There was far more than 50% of the vote supporting the project.

One of the many reasons this is unfortunate is because the new library would anchor the Saxonville neighborhood. Unlike the Golden Triangle that the site focuses on, Saxonville is a small, but developed neighborhood with a giant, old mill and a small shopping plaza. The library would support the area becoming more defined, and with it's meeting room would support neighborhood activities. The library proposed was not perfect, it had a very high cost per square foot that was much higher than the benchmark of the under-construction high school and would likely cause increased traffic to Saxonville. But with an Arts Center similar to TCAN under construction, it would have made sense to approve it and support the local area. Many Town Meeting members stated that it would be much more than just a library, it would be a neighborhood anchor, which is something that the current McAuliffe Library cannot claim due to it's cramped layout, lack of meeting space, and lack of technology.

Many compared the library to an emphasis on the divide between North Framingham and South Framingham. But it's more than that. I normally never agree with the Planning Livable Communities, but this time she hit the nail on the head. Why are all of the public buildings in South Framingham? Sure, we've got a couple schools, one of them closed due to budget constraints, and the School Dept. headquarters, but we've got nothing else. It's ridiculous to assume that North Siders can simply walk over to the main library to get books, it's incredibly unsafe to walk due to traffic, and let's face it, walking down Concord St. is not exactly scenic.

Which gets to another point. Critics have continually stated how wonderful the main library is. Sure it's got a better selection than McAuliffe, but it's not like that library is state of the art either. How many libraries can you not get from the Children's section to the main section without having to walk around the entire section. Plus, the parking garage at the library has been condemned in the past, so I tend to wonder how great a condition that library is. Natick and Wellesley both have great new libraries, but why not Framingham. One Town Meeting member stated that Natick and Wellesley's libraries are main, not branches, so they naturally deserve special attention. The amount of the population of Framingham with library cards living within the areas that are going to use the McAuliffe branch is more than how many live in the entire town of Wellesley.

The way that voting was set up was somewhat mediocre, given that the town is now buying the land that the library was to be built on, but not approve the construction. I'm wondering exactly what the town is going to do with half a parking lot. The town owns too much useless land as it is, why are we buying land that will never be used due to the library's disaproval. Now the town will probably have to pay to sand and plow this useless parking lot too. It was a good idea to lock in the lower price on the land, but unless the library gets built it will just be an asset sold again sometime in the future.

Framingham lost big time on this move, and a big disappointment to me was the 2/3 majority vote. If the country had a 2/3 majority vote then I don't think we'd have a president-elect right now. But there is still a chance, according to the MetroWest Daily News, just not a very good one. I'd suggest to the libraries, if you can without losing the state grant (another great reason for the project), cut off half of the library, and built that half later. Anything to get this project through would be a miracle.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Lowe's and the LIFT bus

I'll start the site with this. At the last meeting of the Framingham Planning Board, the town noted that the LIFT bus service, which connects the towns in MetroWest, get a share of money from the Lowe's project. However, it must be asked, is LIFT trying to provide a service to Lowe's or do they just want a share of the money.

Let's face it, if you're planning to buy some cabinets, plywood, or building supplies, taking it home on the LIFT is obviously not that convenient. LIFT would likely serve the store on Routes #2 and #3, which after leaving the retail area, stop at MassBay Community College, Rose Kennedy Lane, the Callahan Senior Center, Concord and Howard Streets, and finally the Downtown Common, along with a few stops in the Framingham Centre, Saxonville, and Nobscot area.

These stops really wouldn't be worth the $20,000 a year that LIFT was requesting. Rose Kennedy Lane is a public housing complex, so it's not as if passengers from there would be purchasing cabinets or windows. The only thing in Framingham Centre of interest is the State College, where Lowe's would profit from maybe a few cans of paint. All of the others along the rest of the North Framingham part of the route are mostly single-family housing, and most people with a home also have a car. Certainly there are exceptions, but should Lowe's really be forced to pay $20,000 for something with little use for them. It's different than something like Target or Stop & Shop where consumables are purchased, and this where the bus system is a good fit, serving the stores with consumers. I tend to think there's relatively no benefit for Lowe's in this scenario.

Welcome to Beyond Retail

Welcome to Beyond Retail. While the site still, and always will, cover area retail developments, there is something that has not been covered yet on this website. The posts that will be seen here may possibly speak about new area developments, but more on how they tie into the towns of Framingham and Natick, and more so, how these towns are being run. Should Lowe's have to pay for LIFT bus service to their store? Should an 86 million dollar override be passed in Framingham? My opinion to these questions will be found on Beyond Retail, a new part of Framingham/Natick Retail.