Thursday, August 11, 2016

What about the Macys Block?

We talk a lot here about the scourge of our appetite for free parking. A central claim about downtown is also that the number one thing it needs, at the very top of the list, is more downtown housing.

Following retail trends is not a matter of great interest here, but it has been impossible not to notice recent talk about Macy's selling stores and about the decline of classic 20th century department store brands. Just today the Oregonian has a note about 100 store closures and more speculation about the downtown store on Pioneer Square.

Locally, as Meier & Frank the store here was a mid-century icon; as Macy's it seems increasingly like an afterthought.

So is it time to think about what might come next?

Downtown Macy's (all images here via streetview)
The store has the only big privately owned downtown parking garage attached to it.

Four or Five levels of parking

Sandwiched between Marion and Center Streets
On the outer edge of the most densely commercial part of downtown, it is located in the middle of - in the median, as it were, between - the arterial one-way couplet of Marion/Center Streets.

If you were to look at a map, the site offers the strongest combination in Salem of urban walkability and car-oriented connections. It's the one place downtown where you could build fully car-oriented urban housing without also having to build new parking.

So here's the question: Can - would it even be structurally possible - and should Macy's be redeveloped to maintain ground floor retail/commercial and then to stick a housing block on top of it?

(A few years back, you may recall, there was talk about a mixed use development on top the Marion Parkade. It stalled, and it seemed to have the wrong development team attached - but at least structurally, there it seemed possible.)

At the Macy's site no new parking would need to be built for a redevelopment project, and so it could be a perfect transitional moment for a large chunk of downtown housing with plentiful parking. The cars and traffic would impose no hardship on the Marion/Center couplet, already optimized for lots of traffic. And it would help add a large amount of residential foot traffic to reach that critical mass and tipping point for real downtown vitality.

Kitty-corner to the Macy's block is the old QFC Berg's store. The Department of Energy is moving into the remodeled PUC building the bend at 12th/Union Street. So this building and half-block is available.

Former QFC Berg's is kitty-corner and the DOE is moving out
If the parking garage is too large to serve a housing block at Macy's it could also serve as parking for a redevelopment at this site.

So apart from whatever financial constraints there might be, just as a thought experiment, it seems like a good site for new housing.

What do you think?

And just as a postscript, the google on Marion Street captured a person biking down its length, hugging the curb and weaving in and out of parking spots. We need the Union Street bikeway as a parallel lower-traffic alternative, of course. But we will also need to retrofit our principal arterials, as they connect primary places and also have the key storefronts and destinations on them.

Latent demand: Biking on Marion Street, hugging the curb
The State Street Corridor Study just published a draft set of land use alternatives and street redesign concepts. It looks like in general terms, the team wants Mill and Chemeketa to constitute the main bikeway connections and, because of limited right-of-way width and the demand for auto capacity, wants mostly to omit bike lanes on State Street.

We'll look at this more closely in the next couple of days, but as the picture here suggests - there's latent demand for bike lanes, no matter how heavy the auto traffic. The principal arterials are the most direct routes and they are where the business destinations are located.


Susann Kaltwasser said...

I would hope that if Macy's does close, that the parking garage can remain open. Seems to be providing some service as well as some income from the facility. I wonder how a residential use would work with a skybridge access and people renting the parking spaces, but clearly an interesting opportunity for something other than another large store.

Anonymous said...

In a story about the sale and closure of the store on Pioneer Square in Portland, the Oregonian reports that the Lancaster Mall store will close, but does not mention the downtown Salem store.

"Since the beginning of 2015, Macy's has sold or announced its intent to sell more than $800 million worth of real estate. It plans to close its Salem store in Lancaster Mall after its lease expires early next year."

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Edit: Turns out it wasn't a QFC. Originally it was built as a Berg's Supermarket. More on that here. A couple of decades later it was a Quality Food Market, but never a QFC.