Sunday, June 30, 2019

Sears Redevelopment

Social media has a long thread about the meeting last week at the Richardson Civic Center about the Richardson Square Sears site. Everyone was drooling about the names of the potential tenants that the developer dropped as bait, among them Trader Joe's and Sprouts (he's good at public relations). Correction: there was one naysayer, but even he cared only about the tenants: "I say NO! to Jersey Mike's. I hate their sandwiches, 70% bread."

Can I take just a moment to look at the bigger picture here? We're going to be living with this for fifty years, long after the first tenants have moved on, who might not even be the names the developer dropped as bait. Not a person in the comment thread gave the form of the development even a passing comment. I wasn't at the meeting myself, but judging by the comments, I doubt the developer talked about alternative forms that were considered. It appeared to be all about the tenants. What about the point of the meeting as I understood it? What's going to happen to the Sears building? None of the drawings shown in the social media post had more than an undifferentiated box for that building, showing its current footprint. That is, we know little more than we knew before. Apparently, the answer to the question about how the Sears building will be redeveloped focused solely on possible tenants, not the form the redevelopment might take.

In another thread on social media, Andrew Laska explains why form is important:
Nobody doubts they can get tenants. Nobody doubts they will make nice buildings. That's short term. The issue is the long term. This form performs poorly in the long term. It divides property into segments that will be hard to assemble later. It is primarily composed of parking and primarily meant to serve automobiles. That creates costs pushed onto the surrounding built environment that we all eventually pay for. One large property with one owner will become 4. Over time this form performs poorly in terms of tax revenue. So basically "liking" this will very likely create about 10 years of tenants that people "like" and after that it is a crap shoot with a high likelihood it will end up like so many dumped out strip areas along suburban roads. That isn't because it is the wrong brand or because there wasn't enough maintenance or some other reason. It is because it is the natural trajectory of the buildings and sites in this type of proposal.

After the leases are signed and they open, the property will be replatted. Three of the sites will go on the market. Just like the Whataburger and the Panda Express to the south, the properties are owned by out of state investors in their portfolios. and after the leases expire after 10 years and the initial builders have cashed the checks, then all bets are off. If you want to see what happens next look between St Johns and Yale. That's the future of this proposal.
Source: Andrew Laska.
So, I think this redevelopment is a mistake. I think we could get a better development with all this vacant land, and by that I mean a better form, even with all the same tenants. I've said this before and was criticized for not offering an alternative. Alternatives to consider include something like Eastside. And if the housing component of Eastside is a deal-breaker for you, then at least something like Restaurant Row on US 75 near Spring Valley Rd. I'm not completely happy with that, but it shows that standalone pad site restaurants are not the only way to develop the Sears site.

Having said that, resignedly I also think you have to give the people what they want. Given the enthusiasm the neighbors are greeting the names of brands to be pitched to locate there, even I would probably vote "yes," just to satisfy constituent demand. With a city council who think of their jobs as neutral judges passing judgment on the projects brought to them, "yes" votes on projects like this are inevitable. The time for the City to shape this development into something better was two years ago, not at a public hearing in 2019. With a different city council, one with a vision for what our city could be, and the time, effort, and will to engage the public *before* specific projects are brought to the council, we might have gotten different, and better, results. But that's not the council we have. The irony is they will be praised for listening to public demand for this sub-optimal development. And feel good about themselves with the result.


Scotty said...

And, as long as this city does not turn out the vote, this will continue. Sarah Scott ( Please use this e-mail rather than my gmail account.

Janine said...

I don't think the small sampling of neighbors on social media represents the best ideas for the area.