Sunday, July 15, 2012

Retail Targets for Downtown Dallas

There is a prevalent idea around these parts about just what kind of retail needs to exist in the urban core. The basic premise is that Downtown Dallas can't compete with the suburbs on a one-to-one basis. So, in order to attract customers, the retail and restaurant offerings have to be unique, and not available anywhere else in the region.

This line of thinking makes a lot of sense and I don't disagree with it entirely. The thinking is that someone won't pass by three Gap's to get to one located Downtown. However, I do believe this is an overly simplistic, and in some cases archaic, view.

First, this assumes that everyone lives far away from Downtown. As more and more people live in the urban core, this is less and less and issue. People who live in the core have similar desires and consumption habits as their affluent suburban counterparts.

The idea of only destination retail Downtown also suffers from a lack of context when it comes to urban design. Classic urban design areas have withstood the test of time, literally many millennia. Meanwhile, the typical shopping mall and strip center have a lifespan of only several decades. On top of that, preferences for building and patronizing these places has fallen over the years, in favor of...more urban style developments. So for some folks, they'd rather drive past all the other Old Navy's or Olive Garden's. So, if from that angle, is it reasonable to assume that "average" retail offerings would be appealing in Downtown?

An obvious flaw with destination retail is the price point. Urban areas are supposed to be all-inclusive. If the retail and restaurant products require a hefty penny, that excludes all lower-class folks and most middle-class people as well. If what we are encouraging actually encourages people to not patronize the area, reducing its vibrancy, isn't that fundamentally backwards?

This is one of the main reasons, especially outside of the urban design, that Victory struggled.

One of the biggest impediments, once again excluding current urban design, is the transportation system. There are three conflicting issues that make Downtown Dallas inconvenient.

1) The city's urban core was built prior to the automobile. This meant the urban area was based around walking and then transit (specifically the streetcar). Even after the automobile was introduced and into the first couple of decades of the 20th century, the design stayed steady. Therefore, most everything within a three mile radius of downtown is still based on this mode.

2) In an effort to modernize Downtown for the car, planners and traffic engineers shoehorned in a freeway system with wide roads to facilitate travel to the freeways, decimating parts of the urban environment. However, these additions did not make Downtown auto-friendly, further complicating the local transportation system. It is no longer as transit-friendly, the auto additions alienated the pedestrian and Downtown is still not as car-friendly as the suburbs, which were built with cars as the priority.

3) The transportation system helped foster in a transition from mixed-use to office park. This saw large scale evacuation of a varied retail landscape in Downtown.

So, as it stands right now, Downtown is inconvenient to drive to, taking transit is inconsistent and walking came be uncomfortable. Tell me why any business would locate here?

I initially started pondering this idea when I thought of just how many unique places that were opened in redeveloped buildings had closed: a wine-crafter in the Davis Building, several versions of a club in the old bank vault within the Davis, a furniture store in the Davis, a knick-knack shop in the Kirby, a clothier in DP&L, and numerous restaurants not found anywhere else. So if the thought is we can't do more common retail and unique retail can't stay open, what are we to do? The answer in just a moment.

But first, I don't want this to come off like I am pro-chain and anti-local, though in a region as large as this those labels aren't so concise. Some of my family's most common destinations are local. However, there are large amounts of people who don't prefer something that they don't know.

I think the answer, then, has to be that Downtown include some of everything, especially if we as a city can remedy the transit problem. If more of the retail locates along the transit mall in downtown, it becomes really convenient.

Think back to our modern shopping areas. There is usually a mix of destination and common retail. Downtown Dallas was the original outdoor shopping mall. If we can reintroduce that proper mix of retail, I believe can be again.


Ken Duble said...

Current plans do call for the type of chain retail you're speaking of for the Market Street corridor between the Omni Hotel and the West End.

Branden said...

Ken, I think I did a poor job of expaining a core point.

Chain is not the opposite of destination retail.Sol Irlandes in Downtown or Lee Harvey's in the Cedars isn't a chain, and it isn't destination. They serve the neighborhood and occasionaly non-neighborhood folks will visit.

I think more than anything, but not totally, higher price point and destination are the closest in similarities. Charlie Palmer doesn't attract the local population that Which Wich does.

We need more common man, neighborhood places.