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Saint Petersburg, Florida, United States

Walkable City: One Strip Center at a Time

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So I asked my wife the other night, "Would you walk to the grocery store if it was within walking distance, a couple of blocks away?" Her answer: "No! This is your wife you are talking to." Well, I know my wife, and I know her shopping patterns (she generally gets more than she intends to get), and I know walking is just not her thing (unless it is for exercise). However, thinking a little bit further, she is not conditioned to walk to the grocery store, or to the bank, or to the restaurant around the corner. In fact, most of us that grew up in Sunbelt cities and towns just did not have that kind of mindset. Unless your household could not afford a car, you drove everywhere. We didn't even walk to school.

Well, most of our cities have reached a point where the usual suburban retail pattern (strip malls along a major arterial road with seas and ponds of surface parking) has become unsustainable or just unpractical. The land is expensive to assemble, gas prices are high. There is even the thought that online shopping has become more convenient and allows people to avoid the headache of driving, finding a parking space and dealing with crowds. People want experiences. From an urban planning perspective, our cities need to redevelop and build on their tax base. Just as single-family-detached housing has become cost prohibitive or inefficient (see post on the two-family house), so are our strip centers. As we try to transform our cities into more urban environments, encouraging the use of public transit instead of cars and build the tax base through increased density, we can start at the neighborhood level with our local shopping centers.

Most of the local shopping centers are the center of activity for neighborhoods, and would be great places to start with in terms of creating walkable cities. The challenge comes with (re)integrating these centers into their surrounding neighborhoods, providing clear paths of pedestrian access while still accommodating cars, as well as allowing them to add density and mix uses (particularly add residential) to create a more sustainable center (residential will provide some built-in demand for the retail).

So looking around St. Petersburg, I have identified two shopping centers that would be good candidates from redevelopment from strip centers to what I like to call neighborhood centers that surrounding streets can build on: Northeast Shopping Center (4th Street and 38th Avenue N) and Coquina Key Plaza (6th Street and 45th Avenue S)

I imagine these two centers as sort of bookends or major destinations along my planned streetcar system for St. Pete (the subject of another post another day). These are two typical suburban-style, auto centric shopping centers, but with some redesign, they can become walkable centers re-integrated into their surrounding neighborhoods.

Let's look first at the Northeast Shopping Center. This is a prime location near some of the city's most affluent neighborhoods. Currently the center is anchored by Publix and Steinmart. However I think that center could support a few higher-end stores. When I think of this part of town, for some reason I think of Manhasset, NY, an upper-income area of northern Long Island just outside of Queens. Well, this area isn't quite that rich, but there is a fair amount of affluence nearby. It might not support the likes of Tiffany & Co., but an Ann Taylor or Coldwater Creek might do quite well in this center. So here is the center in plan view:

And here is a proposed redevelopment in plan view:
This redevelopment involves expansion or reconfiguration of existing buildings as well as some new buildings. The red are existing buildings that have been expanded or slightly reconfigured to allow the residential street from the east to flow all the way through the property. The orange buildings have ground floor retail with office and/or residential above (up to 4 stories). The dark grey is structured parking. The light brown is structured parking with ground floor retail. Overall the redevelopment brings in the opportunity for more retail as well as office and housing, creating a real urban neighborhood center. Also, there are already several streets running through the complex that can easily be extended to integrate the center into the surrounding neighborhoods, making it accessible by foot as well as by car, particularly from the east.

Now on to Coquina Key. This one has the potential to change the view of an entire community. Although on the south side of town, this is near some well-established middle class communities. This center may require a complete rebuild, but a new village center of sorts would work quite well in this neighborhood and draw new interest in an area with great potential. Here is the current center in plan view:

And here is a proposed redevelopment in plan view:

The redevelopment is a total rebuild, moving the retail (red) out toward the exterior of the property along the streets to encourage pedestrian access. It also includes the introduction of multifamily housing (purple) - no more than 4 stories surrounding structured parking (brown). I imagine this housing as a mix of affordable and market rate to appeal to the range of incomes represented in that area. The residential also provides some built-in demand for the retail. Parking for the retail is a mixture of structured parking (brown) in the northwestern quadrant and surface parking (gray) in the southwestern quadrant.

In both cases, we have an integration into the surrounding neighborhood , which is the major goal. These two centers could be models followed by other centers around the city, such as Central Plaza, Tyrone Gardens, Lakeview Shopping Center, Gateway Mall and even Tyrone Square. This will begin to create a much more walkable city and bring additional (re)development to the city. As with our discussion of Tropicana Field, I will definitely revisit these ideas with some 3D models. But until then, we can use places like Winter Park Village in Winter Park, FL or Edgewood in Atlanta as examples of redeveloped strip centers and what these shopping centers in St. Pete could be.

Edgewood in Atlanta, GA

Winter Park Village in Winter Park, FL

1 comment :

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