"Few set up shop in mixed-use buildings"
proclaims yesterday's Free Press
Business headline, noting the continued presence of "for lease" in the commercial spaces on the ground floor of condominium developments along Waterfront Drive, as well as in Osborne Village and in the "French Quarter."
In spite of these slow starts, commercial space on the ground floor of new developments should continue to be de rigueur
, certainly in any commercial district, or one that strives to be.
A better (and much more novel) idea is to not tear down old mixed-use buildings where retail space tends to be cheaper. This article makes it sounds like storefront retail was seen as something valuable and sought after, yet almost every significant off-Waterfront project in the Exchange District and north of it to Higgins Avenue--actual or conceptual--has involved tearing down old commercial buildings that would have been had a better chance of attracting retail tenants than the new, expensive shopfronts that affix parking garages. United Way headquarters and WRHA on Main, Sport Manitoba on Pacific, Grain Exchange Building on Lombard, St. Charles Hotel on Albert, and Ryan Block on King... How is it that so little can be built or redeveloped without small commercial buildings first being destroyed?
A walk down Albert Street shows that population density does not necessarily precede some kind of commercial developments. In spite of its success, the Exchange District is still a fledgling, risky commercial market, and so retailers are going to carefully search for spaces based on price and location. Theoretically, however, enough of these independent enterprises operating in cheap old spaces will add to the desirability of the immediate area, and make higher rents in new buildings an easier sell (or lease, to be less metaphorical).
Perhaps a re-read of Chapter 10 of The Death and Life of Great American Cities
by Jane Jacobs is in order. And I mean really read the chapter. This whole old building-hugging that has been a dominant theme of this blog ad nauseum
, is not just for aesthetic reasons--because some building is a good example of late Romanesque Revival; or for historical sentimentality--because some moustachioed gent built a dry goods empire there back in 1911; these buildings are an economic necessity if downtown districts of "grocery stores, bakeries or coffee shops and restaurants"
are truly hoped for. (However, if an unlivable, unattractive, disconnected and sprawling collections of lone non-profit heritage buildings surrounded by parking lots and "for lease" signs is what you want, Winnipeg, keep going: you're half-way there.)