Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Will Zone Changes Weaken Main Street?

Middletown's Main Street is the envy of many towns all across Connecticut.

Historically, the citizens of Middletown have been weary of big box stores and corporate chain retail.  Favoring locally owned business.

Middletown is protective of its main street.  Supporting small business and allowing them to grow or fail.  Bob's Stores started on Main Street, part of where La Bocca is now, and has grown to have locations in six states.

Half of Bob's old location has been empty since relocating.  However I did see some activity in that location a few days ago so something may be in the works.

Dunkin donuts is moving into the left half of the old laser tag and it is rumored that an ice cream shop may be opening in the other half.

The retail space that La Bocca use to occupy is still empty.

Dunkin Donuts is leaving the location on Metro Square.  

Sol Tanning, although still has signage up, is out of business. 

And most recently the Shadow Room closed its doors.  All three open retail locations on a seemingly excellent main street location.

There is a good number of open retail on Main Street.   Not in any particular order is the former PIP printing location next to Brew Bakers.    

The optician practice is cleared out.   I really enjoyed the display window setup there.   

Capital Theater liquors is vacant.  I have really admired the front facade of this building.  The upper half not the lower mind you.

The used hardware store on the north end is now empty. 

The former Amado’s toy store has also been empty for a while.  I think it was a 99 cent store most recently.

Vacant store fronts are a normal thing for any retail strip.  But little to no available spaces is a sign that the demand and traffic is high in that area.  Will developing more retail only two blocks away help or hinder Main Street?

An example of how new development pulls business away from main street is the Community Health Center and Bob’s Stores (yes the new CHC is on main street but I am using new development as an example of shifting attention from one location to another).   The CHC had offices spread out in the north end.  Two of those locations that the CHC used are now available for rent.  Bob’s Stores was on main but now has moved to the Stop and Shop plaza on Saybrook rd.
Now don’t get me wrong.  Both of these moves were appropriate.  It is however a good example of how a business that gets big and/or a national chain develops in Middletown; it shifts attention away from Main Street.

Will the vacancies depress the appearance of Main Street?
Is this a good time to allow new development blocks away from Main Street?

What does our Mayor think?

I would propose that if someone wanted to discourage Centerplan from developing on Washington Street that they offer a different location in Middletown that seriously needs new development.

The parking Arcade has been in desperate need of renewal.  The city should offer Centerplan this project.  There was a grant available to the city.  The previous parking director wanted to use it to build a parking garage in Melilli plaza.
I know Centerplan wants the high traffic on Washington Street.  But giving them the Arcade project could help them and Main Street.  One of the few complaints that people give for shopping on Main Street is the parking.  A new, modern parking garage at the Arcade could be a gateway for our out of town shoppers.

The city of Middletown should be treating Main Street like an open air mall.  I don’t see why the city and the businesses that occupy it aren’t marketing to the surrounding communities.  We made a wonderful street map brochure for Midnight on Main.  Why can we do the same for Main Street on a year round basis?

I know that main street will always be changing.  We can see the change in the photos of Middletowns past.   Fortunately for us, development on Washington and South Main hasn’t damaged the attraction to our down town.  One can visit Meriden downtown or New Britain to see the effects of ignoring your downtown business district.

Is Centerplans desire to develop on Washington Street a natural process of urban development?

Is it opening the door to allowing big business take control over the appearance of our city?

What do you think?  Please comment.

The Middletown Planning and Zoning Commission meets Wednesday, February 27, 7 PM, in City Hall's Council Chambers to deliberate two significant zoning proposals which could affect Middletown neighborhoods.


Anonymous said...

I have never understood the complaints about parking. Downtown is not a suburban mall. Walking three or four blocks is equivalent to walking through a mall parking lot but people who complain about parking don't seem to get that. Its not that there isn't enough parking, it's that people are lazy and don't want to walk. They want to park two feet away from the door. I've never had a problem finding a parking space at any time of day or night on any day in many years. There is a lot of open space on Main street and it should be used and repurposed, building new monstrosities is not needed and will be detrimental.

John Paganetti said...

This is great rundown of the issue, thank you. I do think that the development proposed would be better suited on South Main or further down Washington.

Unfortunately I am not able to attend tonight, but I hope that the many passionate, well spoken neighbors who share my view will be able to represent me.

Anonymous said...

Northampton MA had an interesting solution to temporarily fill empty store fronts in their Thornes building (a 'main-street-mall', similar to Main St Market): they let local artists set up shop in the empty spaces, allowing them a cheap studio space. They could create and sell their works there. Now that I think of it, I also believe that New Haven did something similar with some of their store-front space in the downtown area.

It fills the space (instead of having an ugly, dead space), allows exposure for the artists, and generates a revenue, albeit a small one compared with an occupying business. I might be mistaken, but I believe that the artists went into the deal with the understanding that if a business wanted to move in, they took precedent and the artists were out.

I'm not intimately familiar with the zoning laws or liability laws that might concern this sort of arrangement, but always thought that the idea was very unique. Personally, I'd rather see these spaces temporarily filled with folks doing creative things, rather than empty, hollow, sometimes dirty voids on Main St. If it were to catch on, it would be another unique draw to the Main St area.

Anonymous said...

The zone changes will not impact already empty storefronts on Main St and force potential tenants there. If that were true, there would be no empty storefronts now.

Anonymous said...

I count 8 vacancies, after you subtract the spaces that have future tenants lined up.
Out of 153 storefronts on Main Street that is a vacancy rate of 5.2%. Don't assume natural turn over is bad, it can create opportunities. Many downtown's would love to have a vacancy rate of 5.2%. The DBD is working on providing pop-up retail/entertainment for storefront where is makes sense. One of the property owners listed is intentially rejected perspective tenants, in order to have a tenant that is right for Middletown's Main Street. I would hope you would dig deeper in these articles.

Darrell Lucas said...

Anonymous 3:35, I dont see how you count 8 vacancies.

In the photos I posted there is 12 vacancies not counting the ones that have a tenant planning to move in.

I also didn't post every photo of every empty storefront. The 700-800 ground floor building is vacant. There are multiple vacancies in Metro Square. Main Street Market has openings.

Do you count the building that La Bocca was in one space or four? There are four main entrances.

Is the former CHC dental office one space or four? It too have four main entrances.

There is potentially 26 or more vacancies on Main Street which would put your vacancy number at 17%.

Anonymous said...

Vacancy rates should be calculated on a square footage total, not number of units vacant. You could have have 12 vacant units, that are 500 square feet, or 12 units that are 5,000 square feet. Obviously the latter is a much bigger problem. Turnover is natural, and often positive. Hopefully that is the case here.