There seem to be a lot of comments lately with reasons why people believe the retail space at the Town Center's first mixed-use building is not yet full. I've seen the comments on MLTnews, Facebook, at City Council meeting and Planning Commission meetings. Arbor Village, at the corner of 56th Ave W and 236th St SW, is the first mixed-use building to be constructed in the Town Center. It opened to residents at the end of August 2013 and the apartments have been nearly full for quite some time. The sidewalks and trees/planting were wrapped up last fall.
There are a handful of retail spots available to lease on the ground floor but so far Bellis Salon is the only occupant. After 9 months of mostly empty retail spots, many who have opposed changes in our downtown are quick to announce the failure of the Town Center vision all together. Others blame the apparent lack of parking.
I spoke to someone who is intimately involved in marketing the space to get some insight, since they are the ones hearing from potential occupants of the retail space. The perception of lack of parking for the retail space has not been a barrier to attracting businesses. The upper half of the parking garage is dedicated to the retail space (though currently leased out to some residences) and Arbor Village can provide the typical amount of parking that would be expected for the retail spots plus some overflow. Some better signage and wayfinding to where the parking is located probably makes sense.
The main reason the retail spots have not been filled yet is not lack of parking, but lack of people.
What I'm being told is that the area directly around that intersection, and the Town Center neighborhood in whole, does not yet have the residential density to support some of the businesses that have been interested in leasing space at Arbor Village.
As more properties are developed, and residential and office density is increased in the neighborhood, it will be much more viable for businesses to flourish in the ground floor retail space. With every townhouse, apartment, cottage housing, subdivision, and apartment complex built, the Town Center becomes a much more desirable neighborhood for businesses. And when the businesses start to come, residents won't have to drive out of the neighborhood or City as much to do their shopping and spend their money.
But, as you can see, the neighborhood is currently in a time of transition.
Robert Kramer left a great comment on MLTnews.com that explains well that the Town Center is a neighborhood in transition:
Fortunately for the property owners, the four floors of residential space – 123 units – above the one floor of commercial space are 95+% leased, in less than a year. What the cash flow from nearly-full residential space provides the owners is the ability to remain somewhat selective in matching prospective tenants to the space. MLT Town Center development is a work in progress. “If you build it, they will come.” probably is true, although not necessarily right away. The whole Town Center area has but one large, known new commercial entity (Diamond Knot) up and running, although the Town Center concept has been in existence for a few years now. In the early part of the last decade, a four-block length of the west side of 56th Ave W was rezoned from residential to commercial, and since then only one property in that stretch – mine – has been developed into something else. Things take time.
I rather doubt the ownership of Arbor Village is fretting about the commercial space, given the outstanding response to their residential offerings. That the commercial space is still available speaks more about the need for work still to be done in MLT, as well as further economic recovery still to come, than it does about any flaw in the Arbor Village concept. Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, Town Center is a major undertaking, and those expecting an overwhelming and immediate commercial response to any one newly created entity are going to be disappointed, or perhaps be given a mistaken impression about the long-term appeal of that entity.