Saturday, September 19, 2009

Hamburg: More Forward Thinking Than Some Believe

One of the comments that I received from my last post was about how crappy the Hamburg commercial area is concerning walkability. I may confuse some of you with my next idea. I find that the Hamburg shopping center is laid out very well. It was conceived in an economic period when we thought that globalization would cure all the worlds ills.

The Hamburg development was originally planned as a mall concept, back when malls were a big thing. A major mall developer, Faison Associates of Charlotte N.C. was contracted to build the mall, then named Hamburg Pavilion, in the summer of 1988. A little more than two years later they had signed their first anchor tenant for a 1993 opening. Then, 18 months after that the concept changed to the current mix of highway commercial and big box retailers.

It was about this same time that Man o'War Blvd was built with its interchange to I-75 and a large residential development nearby. Both the developers and the initial tenant had pull out and the Madden family decided to go it alone. In February of 1995, nearly 9 years after the first announcement, the first real business Meijer corpacquired 55 acres of land for a 200,000 sq ft store called a hypermarket. Meijer is a chain based in Michigan and Lexington was the farthest south of their locations as it remains today.

Big box stores, as these hypemarkets became known, was an idea that was sweeping the nation along with the idea of a globalized economy. The summer of 1996 brought a 20 screen cinema and a Target and the race was on to build as much parking as the shoppers could fill. Goody's and Officemax followed and then Kohl's and Garden Ridge. 1998 ended with a rousing holiday season and some full parking lots.

Around this same time the residential section of Hamburg began to develop and some folks started to talk of getting from the houses to the retail by means other than walking. Sir Barton Way, the main drag through the subdivision, was and is just too wide and traffic signals are for auto in the minds of most residents. You have to remember that most of these folks drive the fancier and larger SUV's and live on narrower streets than normal. At one point I heard from a friend of mine, a retired Lextran driver, the they had proposed a tram system to circulate through the parking lots and neighborhoods to transport shoppers and residents from the stores to their cars and houses. This was shot down because it did not fit with the high end feel of the neighborhood that the developers were going for.

Every bit of this clearly does show that the Hamburg area fails the walkability test and to a lot of people it fails the driving accessibility test also. I still find it preferable to the Fayette Mall trips that I have to make every so often. I also find it more salvageable in terms of future redevelopment, should conditions warrant. Take what they have planned for the Tysons Corner section of Northern Virginia.

Tysons Corner today

Proposed Tysons Corner

Now consider what the Hamburg area could look like if the sizable parking lots along Pavilion Way were to be redeveloped into multi-story mixed use residential over retail. And, if there is really an economic reset coming as some are predicting, a necessary downsizing of the existing big box stores would allow for more of the local flavor shopping than there is right now. This area is much more adaptable than any other shopping center built in the last two decades.

What it does need right away is a better connectivity to the adjacent neighborhoods to make this the Ashland Park/Chevy Chase of the future.

No comments: