Monday, January 26, 2009

What to do with a big-a-- Big Box


Here's why big box stores, while popular for a time with consumers, are bad for urban neighborhoods in the long term. The new Metropolitan development in Midtown, just over the creek from Uptown, is losing a whopper of a retailer. The Home Depot Expo is closing.

I don't know yet (though I'm doing some research soon as I file another blog item and write an editorial) who the official property owner is -- whether it's Home Depot, developer Peter A. Pappas or other development partners -- but I know there is probably going to be a very big, very empty floorplate at Kings Drive and Charlottetowne Avenue.

That's one of many reasons big boxes aren't good for the urban environment -- although here I tip my hat to the fact that yes, Big Boxes do bring in Big Sales Tax Revenues (until they close) and, for a time, Big Property Tax Revenues. But all it takes is one big retailer going bankrupt (Circuit City anyone?) or closing stores, and there's now a giant retail vacancy in a not-very-adaptable building.

Smaller buildings with smaller businesses also see vacancies and businesses failing. But one store closing shop doesn't affect a space as vast as that Home Depot EXPO Design Center.

A more traditional building can evolve relatively easily into something else. A Big Box needs a Big Tenant. Plus the buildings are usually so shoddily built they look like junk within a decade. Compare the aging boxes on Freedom Drive, Albemarle Road or Independence and Wilkinson boulevards to the aging old stores on North Davidson Street or along Central Avenue near the Plaza.

For now, whaddaya do with the space? Here are my ideas:
Break it into apartments for the homeless?
Cubicles for the job-seekers?
Break it into 1,000 very small offices for bloggers and other entrepreneurs in need of very small spaces at very small rents?
Workshop space for artists? (Not much natural light, unfortunately).
Rehearsal space for local theater, opera and performing groups?
A gigantic indoor farmers and food market, like the one in Florence with cheeses and sausages and plenty of food stands in addition to fruits, vegetables, fish, bakeries, etc. ?

43 comments:

Anonymous said...

Whole Food Market, please.

Anonymous said...

Whole Foods is AWESOME but the butt wipes will never come to Charlotte. I am convinced of it. Too many years of failed promises with S. Park and Elizabeth locations.

realitycheck said...

You don't do anything with it - the official property owner does.

Your Uptown Needs Advisor said...

A bookstore would kill here.

Anonymous said...

Ok, first of all this is *Not* an EXPO Design Center, which there are 34 EXPO Design Centers, whereas there are only TWO Home Depot Design Centers - one of which is here in Charlotte, thus making it even more unique.

Here are plausible ideas: First, Mary's idea of bringing a green market is cool but uptown is already scheduled to get a major green market so I doubt that they would put one in at Midtown.

I think that the spot is too prime of a retail spot to be used for anything else such as housing, offices, rehearsal space.. honestly.

Perhaps a Costco, BJ's, Sams Club type of store could move in - I'm sure with the economy the way it is these stores are probably doing well.

A Bookstore a la Barnes and Noble would be quite nice as well, but what we will most likely see happen is the space be subdivided between stores like Bed Bath and Beyond, Old Navy, Michael's, World Market, TJ Maxx, Home Goods, etc... typical "power center" stores.

And as far as Whole Foods coming to Charlotte, sure it's a great store with great name notoriety, however I firmly believe you can get the same quality and brands at Earth Fare.

Anonymous said...

Mary, those are some great ideas and if you are willing to pay the rent that the owner offers, I'm sure you can implement your pie in the sky plans.

In the meantime, I'm sure another store will take over this prime space near the wealthy populations of Uptown, Myers Park, Elizabeth and Plaza-Midwood. Perhaps a Belk, Harris-Teeter, Filene's Basement, AMC Theater, etc. Luckily the spot is virtually undergound and will be hardly noticable until a new tenant arrives.

In the meanimte, mary can continue her anti-business rants.

Anonymous said...

The space is large enough for a at least four shops like H&M, Foot Locker, or Hobby Lobby. A Party City is needed in the area as well.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1:14 pm: I hate to burst your bubble, but Filene's Basement is downsizing unfortunately, that would be a great store though... they have a store in a similar development in Atlanta.

Anonymous said...

Sale it to a mega church...

meckdeck said...

To answer you question Mary, Home Depot is the owner of record for the 6.5 acre tract, valued at $36m.

Pappas via Midtown Redevelopment still owns some other parcels on the site.

Meanwhile, do not let your little friendly gnomes in the city planning department off the hook on this one. It is part-and-parcel of the Debra Campbell MO that retail should be coaxed "close-in" and not allowed to fuel "sprawl" in the burbs. Recall the official cover story that allowing retail big boxes "too far out" helped to kill Eastland Mall. City staff wanted precisely what will now sit empty on the site -- and no doubt will propose yet more taxpayer money to re-make it. Again.

The more interesting question, though is what does this all portend for the new, much praised Lowe's on South Blvd.? An Empty Big Box on the very doorstep of Dilworth?

To arms! To arms!

JAT

Anonymous said...

I think that a Farmer's Market like the Your Dekalb Farmers Market in Atlanta would be fantastic. Utilizing local/regional products to prepare foods like baked goods, pastas, cakes, & soups on site, as well as a market selling fresh seafood, meats & produce, spices and one of a kind items etc. open daily would serve Charlotte well. All of this coupled with the talent from J&W = WOW!!!

Check the YDFM out:

http://www.dekalbfarmersmarket.com/

Anonymous said...

Missed a point. Anyone opening a huge store like this would have got lots of tax breaks from the county. They need to give what they got back to tax payers. Some one did not look at the project report properly. I say.. fire them

Anonymous said...

Hands down, H&M.

Anonymous said...

It's not the end of the world Mary. They can always divide the space up into smaller spaces. Bed Bath & Beyond, Old Navy, a bookstore, H&M, etc are all possibilities!

Anonymous said...

Sigh...if only YDFM would come here.

In an ironic twist, the founder of YDFM, Robert Blazer, is the brother of Harry of Harry's Farmer's Market (also in Atlanta), which was bought by Whole Foods about 5-10 years ago. Harry and Robert originally founded YDFM together but had a falling out, and Harry started his own competition. So if a Harry's were to go into this space, we'd get BOTH a Whole Foods and an YDFM under one roof and make all of the foodies in this blog happy.

Anonymous said...

I would rather see a bookstore actually in Uptown, not in the Midtown development. How about a Nordstrom Rack? That would be nice.

Anonymous said...

That property is owned by Home Depot USA, Inc., out of Atlanta... not the developer. Who knows what will come of it. :(

Anonymous said...

How about a satellite jail to house the growing thug population?

Anonymous said...

How about a KOHL'S!

Jesus said...

How about an Illegal Alien training center to house the growing unemployed Illegals . . . though satellite thug center is a good one!

Anonymous said...

My vote - H&M! It's nuts that there isn't one in Charlotte...

Anonymous said...

Put in a snazzy interior cart elevator and turn the whole structure into an urban SuperTarget.

Justin Ritchie said...

The re-use of big box stores is becoming a major topic as suburban paradises begin to dry up and national chains face a society where people no longer impulse buy. A proactive policy from the city or community would be nice. My guess in this strange case is that Home Depot will sit on it for a while because they won't be able to get a buyer with the need for a huge space in an economy where the big guys aren't expanding anymore and because they haven't had the store for even a year.

Anonymous said...

How about replacing it with just a regular old, economy-minded, do-it-yourself Home Depot instead of the upscale version? Maybe that was their problem all along - they miscalculated the market for outlandishly priced applicances.

Rick said...

As a side note on urban retail, Mayor McCrory asked city staff tonight to look into what it would take to relax the requirements on TOD for having retail on the first floor of their mixed use developments.

You could hear the angst in his voice as he kept saying things along the lines of "there's no bigger supporter of this stuff than me, but it's bad out there." He said that there are retailers at existing TOD developments who are taking the loss and just getting out of their leases.

Ouch.

Anonymous said...

Where the hell is downtown if that is midtown and downtown is uptown?

Jumper said...

I only quibble about the big boxes being "shoddily constructed." They will hold up if routine maintenance (paint!) is applied regularly. This, of course, is not done on abandoned property.

Speaking of abandoned property, there is some legal precedent for seizing it. It often is a nuisance, and by more reasons than just its appearance.

Tajblues said...

MeckDeck-- HD closing and the resulting empty locale has nothing to do with planners, it has to do with a poor business model and an economic downturn.

Any major retailer is a destination, visibility isn't as necessary. It is great that there isn't an unsightly dilapidated building sitting there with a sea of parking around it.

Since HD is the owner, it will likely install a new store, serving the general public instead of those few who want to spend 20,000 on a renovation that can be done for far less...

Anonymous said...

Not all artists need natural light. It could be used for pottery, weaving etc.
It is interesting to note that the Charlotte farmers market started there in the Chaelottetown Mall parking lot on Saturdays.

Anonymous said...

Leave it to Mary to dance on the grave of a closed store.

Tajblues, Do you really think anything gets built in Charlotte without the involvement of the planning department? Have you heard of "rezoning hearings"? Did you know that Pappas will STILL get MILLIONS of YOUR TAX DOLLARS?

Wake up, naif!

Anonymous said...

Whole Foods will not move in...Trader Joes is in the other building of the development.

Anonymous said...

That whole development should not have been built. They should have put all of it in uptown. Street level. It is only taking retail away from uptown.

Anonymous said...

Make it an upscale bowling alley. Hey, every world class city needs at least two of those.

Rick said...

"That whole development should not have been built. They should have put all of it in uptown. Street level. It is only taking retail away from uptown."

This comment cracks me up. It sort of reminds me of something repeated over and over by someone suffering from a mental breakdown.

"Uptown retail, Uptown retail, H&M, H&M, Whole Foods, Whole Foods....reeeetaaaaail" (Stop and repeat.)

A street level Target, Home Depot Expo, and Trader Joe's right in Uptown. I'm sure Michael Smith would have had something to say about that - though Trader Joe's might make the cut. (Not that anyone should care, but I'm sure he'd have an opinion.)

Anonymous said...

How about a cafeteria, upscale or not?

In fact, I'm hoping that's what will replace Mortons at SouthPark.

There goes the neighborhood!

Anonymous said...

Home Depot owns the property and they are big boys.. they will pay the property tax, keep up the maintenance and probably sell it at a loss.. It is not up to the general public to worry about what is going to happen. Maybe the Observer could buy the building and move their offices from downtown and open a flea market, farmers market and fish market (at least they will have something to wrap the fish in).

Brady Dorman said...

The University of Iowa Art / Theatre department is temporarily using a former Menard's big box store in Iowa City after the art and theatre buildings sustained major damage after the midwest flooding this past summer. Good for temporary use, but not really suitable long term. Interesting possibilities for thousands of big boxes we'll be stuck dealing with.

Anonymous said...

I dare Walmart to come in and fill the space under the Target.

Home Depot could just leave it empty until the economy improves and they open a regular store there.

Anonymous said...

First of all, the era of retail is over. Endless shopping to buy cheap environmentally unfriendly products from overseas factories is a destructive behavior that Americans will need to disabuse themselves of quickly! Try thinking creatively about how to use the space to enhance the quality of life for the community. I have to laugh (or cry) sometimes when I hear people in North Carolina going ape over chain stores. Look at the comments on here... sort of pathetic really. Just a wish list for anonymous boring chain stores that will do nothing to enhance life in Charlotte. At least Mary was thinking creatively when she suggested using it as an incubator for small businesses. I'm sorry for all you "free market" dinosaurs, but the facts just don't support big boxes anymore. The most vibrant stable economies are found in cities where small businesses thrive and where local and regional businesses dominate at the street level. NC has lots of quaint old downtowns that nobody visits. What a shame! Meanwhile they will happily park their fat a**es in their gas-guzzling SUVs and drive a half mile to a nasty strip mall to purchase crappy useless products made in China that will end up polluting the landfill the next year. When North Carolinians figure out what needs to change in their own behaviors, they'll finally figure out how to build great cities. I applaud Charlotte for trying to be more progressive than Atlanta (was) in terms of downtown development and transit, but trendy concepts won't go very far if people don't understand how to create a vibrant urban environment. Big boxes, big retail, chain stores, strip malls, parking lots and business strategies that focus on the short-term gain in tax revenues at the expense of long-term growth will NEVER make Charlotte a great city.

Anonymous said...

If they're empty, tear them down. Contemporary retail buildings are simple boxes with colourful facades, designed for making money. The capitalized cost should be amortized over less than 15 years, because that's about all their useful life amounts too.

If somebody else wants to occupy the site, it's cheaper in the long run to construct a building designed for the purpose in the first place.

Perhaps an innovative city will start requiring some form of bonding to provide for the removal of obsolete buildings when they are vacated. Hopefully that would including recycling of the materials.

Charlottetean said...

Please, no more big box stores in or near uptown. We have enough of them in Midtown already. If I wanted to shop at another big box then I would move to the suburbs. I am however into the idea of expanding the Target into a Super Target to give us another grocery store. Target is already there so let them expand downstairs. Other than that idea...no more big boxes in the uptown area.

Anonymous said...

I'm a big sustainable planning fan, and I have to say that I'll be sad to see the Home Depot go! Definitely saved a drive out to the 'burbs to get useful stuff. I think there is a place for compact big-box retailers in midtown.

Anonymous said...

couldnt there be a tax write off incentive for this company to donate the acreage to the parks department and turn into a small public park/garden? plant a tree! enough stucco!!!!!!!!