Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Hallowed Ground

Last night Larry Schoen, the chair of the Wilde Lake Village Board, asked Darrell Nevin and I which of two redevelopment scenarios would be more attractive to prospective retailers. This scenario is the plan drawn up by Kimco, the shopping center owner.

Bob Tennebaum and some other Wilde Lake residents proposed this scenario as an alternative.

It was an easy decision. The Kimco plan would be more attractive to retailers because it opens up the visibility of all the retail spaces in the center. This really comes as no surprise. This is Kimco’s business. They own and lease over "1,465 retail properties comprising  150 million square feet of leasable space." This plan reflects their collective knowledge of what makes a retail center successful.

The community plan is more concerned with creating what some have referred to as a  “sense of place.” That is a certainly a noble goal but it misses out on a key component. A sense of place is created not by gardens and benches but by a combination of many elements working together. The key element is what fills the space. Open space gardens and courtyards are nice but they don't draw people on their own. Stores and café’s draw people. The community plan seeks to preserve the original village green but in doing so it walls off the retail surrounding that green space from the main traffic generators for the center. I can honestly say from personal experience that those retail spaces surrounding the village green would be the last spaces to lease. I've heard some community members speak in almost reverent tones about this green space because Jim Rouse himself had a hand in designing it. That somehow makes it hallowed ground in their minds. This is what I call the "Columbia as a museum of sixties planning" mindset.

I’m also not sure why Larry asked us if the community plan was a viable plan for retailers. No one has offered to actually build the community plan. It’s easy to draw up imaginative schemes on a kitchen table when you do not have a financial stake in the game.

The village board should embrace Kimco’s plan. They should realize how fortunate they are to have a developer willing to invest millions into the aging retail center to once again make it a destination. The village center does not exist in a vacuum, there are plenty of options available to retailers in that zip code besides Wilde Lake Village Center
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