Thursday, February 23, 2006

Lifestyle Centers Hamper Region's Growth Management

From AIA Oregon Newsletter:

By George Crandall, Crandall Arambula PC in Portland, OR

Lifestyle centers are cropping up across the country. Communities everywhere are jumping on the lifestyle bandwagon without questioning how these new developments will ultimately impact the long-term livability and economic vitality of their downtowns.

My first experience visiting a lifestyle center was not a pleasant one. I realized quickly that lifestyle centers are privately owned and operated businesses – not the publicly-owned retail main streets they impersonate.

When taking a few photos of the street environment, I was immediately surrounded by three security guards threatening to remove me from the premises if I did not put away my camera. Picture taking was prohibited, but they were not able to provide a reason for this edict.

This experience underlined a simple truth: owners of these faux public places are accountable to no one and are able to impose their personal code of conduct on visitors and shoppers alike.

Lifestyle centers are simply the latest incarnation of shopping malls cleverly masquerading as public town centers or public main streets. In fact, many developers incorporate the name “town center” or “village” into the development’s name and brand. They offer visitors shopping, dining and entertainment opportunities that are often marketed as urban, unique, historic and even European-style shopping experiences. The truth is that these centers are solely created to attract national chain stores and restaurants such as the Pottery Barn, Ann Taylor Loft and California Pizza Kitchen, anchor retailers that would better serve the community if located in downtowns or town centers.

Lifestyle centers draw anchor uses and ultimately shoppers away from the city’s core. This added competition for the limited retail market makes it difficult to revitalize our regional centers and create successful downtown shopping districts. For example, in Gresham (OR), the city’s traditional Main Street now competes with the Gresham Station lifestyle center.

Ultimately, lifestyle centers do not support Portland region’s 2040 growth management policies. They make it more difficult to revitalize downtown “main streets” by competing for the limited retail demand.

Recently, Crandall Arambula prepared a downtown revitalization plan for Lincoln, Nebraska. Working with an economic consultant, an interesting scenario unfolded. It was determined that there was a substantial additional demand for downtown retail. However, because of lack of available land and the fragmented retail environment, downtown retail revitalization would be difficult. It would be easier to build a lifestyle center on the edge of downtown that to revitalize the core with healthy retail along with a pedestrian-friendly main street. Lincoln wisely decided not to take the easy out and build a lifestyle center. Instead, thoughtful city leaders chose to reinvest in downtown and avoid the long-term negative social and economic impacts that would have resulted from creating a competing retail center.

Downtown Salt Lake City faced a similar problem and blinked. Mainly because of the city’s larger sized blocks, creating a successful, pedestrian-friendly shopping street would be difficult. Instead of facing the challenge, Salt Lake City developed “The Gateway,” a pseudo-Mediterranean lifestyle center on the edge of downtown that competes with the existing center city retail environment.

The suburban shopping malls of the past contributed to the decline of the city centers across the country. Lifestyle centers are no different. Although lifestyle centers may be economically successful in the short term, they compete with a city’s urban core, encourage automobile dependence and, in the long term, contribute to a city center’s economic and social decline.

Ironically, lifestyle center developers and designers understand what it takes to create a vibrant retail environment, while regional governments often do not. Development of lifestyle centers are an indictment of our government’s inability to create or adopt policies and plans that support true “main street” town and regional centers.

Simply put, lifestyle centers are merely props, “stage sets” and caricatures that are poor substitutes for authentic mixed-use town centers.

1 comment:

mike said...

City planners tried the "fiesta marketplace" idea for downtowns back in the Seventies. It crashed and burned horribly. People didn't like the homeless and grifters; they wouldn't drive all the way downtown then have the hassles of finding parking.

But bring the idea out to them, provide security, provide lots of parking and voila! It's a success.

Notice how Memphis' city leaders keep stuffing more and more events and "big idea" commerical / culture / sports enterprises downtown, but aren't providing the access nor the parking sufficient for the crowds.

Don't say MATA shuttle busses. Too few, inconvenient, and not late enough.

The success of lifestyle centers says that people like the idea but the implementation of previous downtown centers was flawed. I don't see Memphis doing anything to alleviate the insane crowding nor provide parking.