By Mandy Metcalf
City planner and Ward 17 resident
The owner of the former Kmart site at West 150th Street and Lorain Avenue is proposing some new tenants for the site, but the vision for the redevelopment of the property should be bolder and more compatible with the historic neighborhood character of West Park than what is being proposed.
I’ve lived in the Kamm’s Corners neighborhood for 15 years. One of the things I love most is its traditional character. Originally a streetcar suburb, as it grew, the West Park area was built to accommodate cars, but not at the expense of people. Details like placing garages behind houses help to create its walkable feel. Preserved clusters of historic commercial and mixed-use buildings built close to Lorain Avenue create a unique neighborhood identity to take pride in. The Kmart development, in contrast, was a product of a different time, when car-oriented convenience took precedence over placemaking across the country.
These days, brick-and-mortar shopping centers are struggling with on-line competition. Those that are successful have once again positioned themselves as community destinations that contribute to neighborhood character, with spaces designed for people as well as for cars. The International Council of Shopping Centers report Envision 2020: The Future of the Shopping Center Industry calls for shopping centers to take on a role as cultural centers and fully integrate into surrounding communities by creating places that offer memorable experiences.
The City of Philadelphia published some helpful guidelines on reimagining shopping centers as community spaces in January 2021. Included are the following ideas:
· Make them safer. Build walkways through the parking lot and separate them from traffic with trees and shrubs.
· Make them more welcoming. Turn areas outside store entrances into public open space that connects the street to the store.
· Make them more active. Allowing apartments, offices, and hotels will add more life – and more shoppers – to the centers. Adding small parks, benches, and outdoor dining will create spaces for people to stay instead of grab-and-go.
· Make them greener. Trees and other plants separate pedestrians from cars, offer shade, and soak up stormwater.
· Create “Main Streets.” Orienting buildings towards walkways, drive aisles, and green spaces can make shoppers feel like they are downtown.
The West Park Shopping Center site design needs to be rethought to include public gathering places and more mixed uses. This would create a safer, more welcome environment for families and seniors. There are a number of ways this could be accomplished on the site while reusing the existing buildings.
Additional buildings on outparcels could”
A) be arranged around a community green or plaza, or
B) be oriented to create a traditional “Main Street” retail area within the site, or
C) be oriented toward Lorain Avenue in conjunction with roadway and streetscape enhancements to improve the pedestrian experience on Lorain Avenue.
New buildings could incorporate mixed use, multiple levels, or rooftop dining. The outparcels could be leased by community organizations that would manage some buildings and spaces.
Importantly, the historic mixed-use Marquard building needs to be saved intact and incorporated into the site. This building should be the inspiration for the character of the shopping center. If a redevelopment of the site cannot manage to include this building, then it is a development that is not able to be compatible with or contributing to the character of West Park.
TLM Realty is working with an architectural consultant, Onyx Creative, that has the capacity to create a high-quality design for the site. We need to raise the expectations for this project. It will have a lasting impact on the character of West Park. Attend the virtual public meeting on April 14 to express your concerns.
Mandy Metcalf is a city planner for Greater Cleveland RTA. She previously worked for Environmental Health Watch, Cleveland EcoVillage, and the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative. She served on the Lorain Variety Design Review Committee and received a James Marston Fitch fellowship for independent study in historic preservation. Her views are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her employer, any organization or The West Park Times.