Beyond Retail

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Top 10 Problems with Downtown

I have a good feeling about the Arcade project. I feel that it is going to happen, that it's going to be built, but it is the result of the Arcade that will tell if the project works. If the developer is unable to find appealing tenants, and the same tenants that are in the old Arcade move to the new Arcade, then there will be relatively no reason for any Northsiders, or people from Natick, or anyone who isn't already there to go there. Will SMOC take over the new Arcade's apartments, and will the street level house ethnic grocery stores? Most certainly, the new Arcade will look spiffy, but if the project doesn't provide reason for others to utilize it, then the project will bring relatively little gain to the downtown.

So, I've got a list of what I think are the top 10 problems with Downtown Framingham. Hopefully the Arcade people will be able to fix these problems, and create a new shopping oasis for the people of the Town of Framingham and the region of MetroWest.
  1. Lousy Buildings. While many of these are being fixed with the project. However, there is a general bad perception of the downtown area because of the dated buildings that surround the area.
  2. Abundance of Shopping Centers. It's unlikely that Arcade management will be able to get any luxury boutiques or upscale restaurants, as they are all headed to the Natick Mall Expansion. Regardless of what the tenants will be, there will now be a new location for people to shop, which is likely to reduce potential shoppers from other towns.
  3. Local Residents/Buildings. Remember the Framingham town planner who asked that Brazilian flags be taken down in order to make the neighborhood look better, and then got fired? That is far from the big problem with the downtown. With people like the "can lady" here, along with the official "can man" who roams the town, and a freakin' methadone clinic downtown, who the heck is going to shop there?
  4. Crime. Crime is also an problem, as it is a constant issue. Someone on (I believe) Frambors noted that a weapon was stolen from a store downtown as Town Meeting was going on, only a block away.
  5. Too Many Drunks. In a recent Framingham TAB poll, almost every shop in Downtown Framingham has problems with drunks walking in off of the streets
  6. Traffic. Lots of this is caused by the train tracks. However, this could be used to an advantage. If someone was on their way to Market Basket, got stuck in traffic, and saw something attractive in a window, there is a slight chance that they might look at the item further
  7. Neighborhood perception. Would anyone in MetroWest pick living in Downtown Framingham over living where they are now? I would highly doubt it. It's possible to change the perception, but a lot of work is needed to change people's minds. Additionally, they'd pretty much have to get the free methadone clinics and the like out of town.
  8. Sex offenders. Did you know that there are 15 sex offenders living near Downtown Framingham? Guess how many live in other parts of Framingham? It's 0. This just adds to the belief that Downtown Framingham is unsafe
  9. Parking. Parking isn't all that easy in Downtown, although I'll bet that the Arcade is going to fix this in some way or another. Yet it is another perception that needs to be changed.
  10. Existing Residents/Where Do They Go? It's a question that is presently unanswered. If Downtown is going to be upscale, then what part of the town becomes the dumping ground? Most of the area residents are priced out of the Northside, the Southwest side of town (Salem End Rd.) has relatively no apartments and is pricey as well. The current residents aren't going to disappear, and if the idea is to rid downtown of it's current residents, and shops, and methadone clinics, etc., then where does it all go?

These are just 10 things I thought of right now that are reasons that the Arcade won't succeed in the way it is intended. Yes, my views are controversial, but it just doesn't seem that this project will become a success. I liked what a Boston Globe article many years ago had to say about Framingham's Southside. The downtown used to be a place for people who were "up and coming", for different ethnic groups. All of European descent, they came to Southside Framingham, and went on to the Northside, then to Wayland, then Weston, whatever. But that cycle is over: people that are Downtown are stuck downtown, for whatever reason.

I'd love to tell others that I'm from Framingham with dignity and prowess, and not speak quietly as to subdue that I'm from the same place that has the shittiest downtown in the state, and an idiot who gets into dumpsters for cans. Maybe someday, this won't be the state of things, and I certainly hope that it isn't. But for now, this is what we're stuck with. Oh well. Two more years and I'm outta here.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Can GGP Manage Luxury Malls?

Regarding the Tysons Galleria and Northbrook Court mentioned below, I've got a new page up on Framingham/Natick Retail, comparing these two malls with the Natick Mall Expansion, in order to analyze whether the new Natick Mall will work.

The page is called "Can General Growth Manage Luxury Malls?".

Friday, June 17, 2005

Will Neiman Marcus' design, and the store itself, work in Natick?

As I'd said on the main page, Neiman Marcus' new store at the Natick Mall will look quite different than anything else in the area. The MWDN published opinions on what people thought of the new building, and many of the opinions were quite interesting.

Some people said that it was good for Natick. Others said that it was an eyesore. Others asked whether Neiman Marcus sells children's clothing. Another said that he likes to call Neiman Marcus "needless markup". Either way, it was a pretty crappy and unorganized piece of journalism. But on the issue at hand, the store's design. Well, maybe you'd like my $0.02.

I'd say that it's about time for something like this. As I've said in a previous article, retail in the triangle is undescript, consisting of big-boxes that all look like one another, seeing that both the Natick, but particularly Framingham, planning boards are not exactly in support of originality, and would rather have all buildings made of a tanish-brick mixture (see the Natick Mall's Sears).

As no two Neiman Marcus stores look alike, I think that they've made the right decision for Natick. It's something innovative that will make the adjacent Nordstrom, which looks somewhat like a smaller, red version of the mall's Filene's, pale in comparison. As many mall officials noted, the store will easily become the precedent for a Natick (and Framingham) designed for the future.

Hopefully Neiman Marcus has success with this store, beyond the initial design. General Growth seems to be a "mixed-bag" when it comes to upscale malls. The company has continually trumped the success of one of their luxury malls; Tyson's Galleria, located in McLean, VA, outside of Washington, D.C. This mall is quite similar to Natick as there is a "normal" mall located next to it with Sears, etc, and the Galleria has a Neiman Marcus, much like Natick will.

However, the company also manages an upscale mall on Chicago's wealthy North Shore that has not been as lucky. Northbrook Court, located in Northbrook, IL, serves as one of General Growth's malls in the area, and exists as a luxury mall with no adjacent "normal" mall. Constructed in 1976, and remodeled in 1996, Northbrook Court has been having problems as of late because shoppers have come to visit the anchor stores (Neiman's, Marshall Field's, and Lord & Taylor) and then leave, with few venturing into the mall due to it's awkward blend of stores. GGP is trying to fix this by changing the mix of stores to target their target audience, 38-year old women, but for now, they are having many problems.

Yet with all of the coverage of the mall in local news, and with the condos adding speculation of onlookers to the mix, one must expect the new mall to succeed. MetroWest, and notably the communities of Wayland, Wellesley, and Weston, certainly have the demographics for the store to succeed. If the design brings the shoppers in, and GGP doesn't pull a Northbrook on the inside, then the mall should be a huge success.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Library turned down, again, and, oh yes, Framingham sucks

(WARNING: There is some very explicit language below. Natickites not need read.)

The Library people got one last shot at constructing the proposed McAuliffe library in Saxonville. And as I expected, it was turned down. The vote was 83-50 something, with 90 needed to pass. 7 votes short.

I know that this issue has absolutely nothing to do with retail, but it just shows the idiots who run this town. Yeah, we've got George King, who spends his time wasting town money and playing strip poker, but we've also got a bunch of lazy-asses in the Town Meeting who have apparently never seen a library. I loved how people claimed that the downtown library was "state-of-the-art". Red panelled walls, awful design that provides no link between the children's section and the rest of the library, a musty odor, and everything lousy other than MOST of the service and the literature available. Who the hell would call a library "state-of-the-art" when it was built in 1977?

Don't want to use the "state-of-the-art" library? You can use the almost-state-of-the-art McAuliffe Branch Library, in Saxonville. Built in the 50's and added on in the mid-80's, this place is a time warp. The McAuliffe branch is equipped with such features as 3 computers, a roof that badly needs to be replaced, and extensive overcrowding of books. There's no program room like the

The building is horrible when compared to other fabulous libraries such as the ones in Ashland, Natick, Sudbury and Wellesley. Turning down the Saxonville library would be just fine if the main library was recently constructed, or at least modern inside. Why does Framingham, the largest community in MetroWest, have the two worst libraries in MetroWest. I'd easily trade both libraries in Framingham that was any good.

Many think that this issue should have gone out to the voters, much like the Framingham High School renovation. I guarantee you, had this happened, the library would have passed overwhelmingly on the Northside and would have failed miserably on the Southside. And the problem is that more people live on the Southside (so many that nobody actually knows), so the library would not have a chance in hell of being built.

Ever remember this article? It was in the MWDN when the library was first going through Town Meeting. It was written by a person who cannot possibly live in Framingham, who does not have a clue what a library branch is, and has no idea of convenience. I mean, saying that relocating the branch library to the Callahan Senior Center would be " more convenient to more people than a northside branch". Who would it be more convenient to? People who live inside the Danforth Museum who find it too hard to cross a street? And laughing off the north vs. south "rivalry"? This person is either a confused devotee to the southside or has never been to Framingham.

If I said I lived in Framingham to any group of people living in an adjacent town, I'd get laughed off. This town has the worst reputation of any place I've ever been to. Check out the census data for the Northside and the Southside. The Northside is almost 90% white? And the Southside is almost 20% Hispanic? Now, even I did not know that, and I live here. So obviously, nobody lving anywhere else would suppose that these two communies not only border each other, but are in fact the same! It's two different towns smashed into one, and linked only by the means of the "Bra Bridge".

Additionally, Framingham does not have the slightest clue on how to manage town-owned buildings. The town blew it all on Framingham High School's much-needed-but-very-pricey renovation. But Framingham High School wouldn't have been as bad as it was if Framingham North High School and Framingham South High School were still separated, as it would not be as overcrowded as it is today. And although their merger was to bring the town closer together, then why is the school so separated on the inside? And why did the town close Cameron Middle School in the late 80's if they were going to open Fuller Middle School in the former Framingham South High School only a few years later? And why did the town close Juniper Hill Elementary School a few years ago when they are now experiencing overcrowding all over due to it's closure? AND WHY THE F**K IS THE TOWN NOT BUILDING A NEW SAXONVILLE LIBRARY?

As I had said, Framingham has a terrible reputation. But it wouldn't if we would start fixing up the crap that is here. Like, say, actually investing in the town for a change and building a new library, reopening Juniper Hill, fixing up all of the town's eyesores. Then, what the hell, let's just split the place in two, officially.

On a more positive note, the two libraries are so lousy here, I think I'll start going to the Wellesley library. I'm out there frequently, and I've heard pretty good things about it from others who go there. Perhaps scaring people out of the Framingham libraries will force the town to fix them. In fact, the Wellesley library looks kind of like the proposed Saxonville library. And when they tell me that they have never seen a Framingham library card before, I'll tell them how this town just plain sucks.