Beyond Retail

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Is Westwood the future of redevelopment?

Over in Westwood, developers Cabot, Cabot and Forbes and New England Development are planning an interesting, $1.5 billion dollar complex on 130 acres. "Westwood Station", as the facility will be dubbed, will contain housing for 1,000 families, along with offices and prime commuter rail access. For retail, the facility will contain mostly smaller stores, but larger retail stores like Target would fit in fine, creating a lifestyle center.

It's not as if these 130 acres lie vacant; rather, they house a mostly abandoned industrial park and around 20 buildings, making up about 1 million square feet will be torn down to create Westwood Station.

Why is this project worth hearing about? In many aspects, it mirrors the Natick Mall expansion strategy of combining retail and residential components together. Just as the Natick Mall expansion is expected to contain a link between LIFT and Natick Neighborhood Bus services, the Westwood project is based around the presence of MBTA access. Yet as General Growth is eyeing residents interested in "luxurious living", Westwood Station is targetting to a middle-class family with a breadwinner who works in downtown Boston.

There is are differences between the Natick and Westwood projects, but their success will likely determine the future of combined residential/retail projects in suburban portions of the region. Successful redevelopments have already been constructed in other parts of the country, including as The Glen in Glenview, IL; and Stapleton in Denver, CO; but not until now has the concept been incorporated into New England.

Redeveloping blighted areas of the state is only set to spread. Plans range from government controlled areas including the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station in Weymouth, Abington, and Rockland; to urban areas such as the Worcester Common Outlets (to become "City Square") in Worcester and the Assembly Square area of Somerville. The expected success of Natick and Westwood could only be the catalyst to future projects.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

What is happening to New England culture?

With the upcoming demise of Filene's, it's hard to say that New England's cultural icons are in a state of stability. Friendly's seems to be closing locations left and right. Bickford's has also done the same to many locations. And with new information that the population of Massachusetts has actually decreased in the last year, will this trend ever end?

In the retail world, the 1990's were devestating to area chains. Following problems with it's central chain, Montgomery Ward proceeded to shutter all Lechmere stores, and for that matter, there were no Montgomery Wards in New England by the end of the decade. Another area electronics store, Fretter, was out by the mid-90's. Grossman's, the local equivalent of Home Depot, saw it's demise in the decade, though it's presence remains today in the "Grossman's Bargain Outlet" chain. And HQ, although a national chain, had given in to Home Depot and closed all locations. There's plenty of other chains to mention, especially the rebranding of Jordan Marsh to Macy's in 1996.

With all of these changes, what will be left of local society by 2020? Following the demise of Jordan Marsh, Filene's still served that role of being a New England department store. When Filene's and Kaufmann's consolidated offices in Boston a few years ago, the role of Filene's seemed even more solidified. Yet this recent merger has changed everything, and now even the fate of a national chain (Lord and Taylor) is in doubt.

In the past, New England has brought Howard Johnsons, Friendly's, and so many other icons to the national front. But what's left? TJX, Staples, and Dunkin Donuts are the main standouts, but at this rate, how much longer will any of these last?

My point: As the country emerges into more of a homogenized society, New England institutions will give way to national icons run from large metropolises; Boston not being one of them.