Big-Box Designs

    Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:35 pm

    Plans for a new Target store at 532 E. Capitol Drive in Milwaukee could be moving forward soon. Waukesha-based Redmond Commercial Development Corp. pitched the proposed development to city officials last year. However, city officials objected to the suburban-style design for the proposed big box store. The city officials, including City Planner Robert Greenstreet and Department of City Development Commissioner Richard "Rocky" Marcoux, said they wanted a store with a more urban style design, a smaller parking lot and a building closer to the street.

    After months of no talks, officials with the city and Redmond recently renewed discussions about the project. The two sides are still in negotiations, but Greenstreet said that Redmond has improved the proposed project. "They worked with us really well," Greenstreet said. "We’ve made a lot of progress. They were very responsive to the city’s suggestions."

    Mark Lake, director of development for Redmond Commercial Development Corp., declined to comment on the details of the project. "We agreed to the basic concept of an urban design," Lake said. "We have not submitted an application. We have talked to the city. We believe the issues are resolved or are close to being resolved."

    The site has some contamination, and Redmond needs to decide how to address that issue, Greenstreet said.

    "There are some issues with site cleaning on the northern part of the site," he said. Once the contamination issue is addressed and city officials and Redmond agree on a design for the store, Greenstreet said he expects Redmond to submit a formal proposal for the development. A commercial real estate source said that Target also plans to build a store in the Park East freeway corridor in downtown Milwaukee. Target could be part of a development being planned by Minneapolis-based Ryan Companies. Ryan Cos. plans a mixed-use development with a big-box home goods store. Ryan has developed several shopping centers with Target stores as the anchor tenants throughout the United States.

    "That’s what I’ve heard," Greenstreet said of Target’s interest in the Park East corridor. "Nothing has been presented to the city. I’ve heard that Target has expressed interest in it. I think it’s still fairly fluid." Target officials did not return calls seeking comment on the company’s plans to build new stores in Milwaukee. City of Milwaukee officials are trying to make big-box stores like Target fit in better with urban environs (see accompanying list). The biggest issue for making a big-box store fit into an urban environment might be the parking lot. Suburban stores typically have huge parking lots between the street and the building. However, in urban areas, city officials want to see the stores closer to the street to create an environment that is more pedestrian and public transportation friendly.

    Some neighborhoods are more appropriate for urban style stores than others, Greenstreet said. Retailers are more likely to build a store right up to the street in the pedestrian-heavy downtown area than on a suburban style retail corridor dominated with automobile traffic, he said. "A lot is going to depend on the site," Greenstreet said. "The more a development wants to be in a particular area, the more we can convince them that urban principals apply." If a Target store is built in the Park East freeway corridor downtown, it will likely be built right up to the sidewalk along the street with parking in a parking garage.

    On streets such as Capitol Drive, city officials will push for a compromise, Greenstreet said. Borrowing an approach used at some suburban developments, city officials want big-box stores with large parking lots to add small retail buildings along the street to create a pedestrian-friendly, urban feel on the sidewalk, while still providing the parking a big-box store needs to survive. The city took a similar approach with the Walgreens store that will be built at the southeast corner of South 27th Street and National Avenue, replacing the National Liquor Bar and some other buildings. The project was held up for years because the Norquist administration objected to a suburban-style Walgreens.

    Current city officials approved the project after reaching a compromise with Walgreens. A small retail space will be built at the corner, with the parking lot located between that structure and the Walgreens store. "In this approach, we can actually learn something from the suburbs," Greenstreet said. "They have found a way that is a good compromise." Milwaukee isn’t the only community in the region that is trying to make big-box stores better complement their communities. Other area municipalities have added new restrictions or requirements for big box store development. Earlier this year, after a year-long moratorium on new big-box stores, Wauwatosa established an ordinance governing all retail developments of 50,000 square feet or more, whether they are single stores or multi-tenant retail facilities. The ordinance requires big-box retail developments to use high-quality materials and to be: well-designed, pedestrian-friendly and beneficial to the community.

    The ordinance includes a requirement that developers pay 20 cents per square foot to a conservation fund to offset the city’s costs to demolish and redevelop the site if the stores fail and the property becomes vacant. "In the past, cities and taxpayers are hit with the costs when national chains come in and over-develop and compete," said Nancy Welch, Wauwatosa’s director of community development. "One store wins, others leave and cities have to pay the costs to redevelop the empty retail buildings."

    In 2004, Franklin passed an ordinance limiting big-box stores to 125,000 square feet, except in the South 27th Street corridor, after residents objected to a proposed 184,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter store at Loomis Road and Highway 100. The ordinance killed the Wal-Mart proposal. Greenstreet said he and other city officials want to convince developers to raise the bar on big-box store design. "My ultimate goal is to get big box stores here that will be a valuable part of the urban fabric," he said. "How about winning a design award with a big box development? I would like to see it done here."

    The Milwaukee Formula

    Milwaukee City Planner Robert Greenstreet and Department of City Development commissioner Richard "Rocky" Marcoux have established a set of seven principles for big-box store design that they want developers to meet. The principles are not iron-clad rules. Instead, they are bargaining points for the city’s conversations with big-box store developers, Greenstreet said. "We’re laying out what we, in a perfect world, would like to see," he said. "These are not the Ten Commandments. These are seven principals for negotiation. We want the developer to give on some points, then we will give on other points." Milwaukee’s big-box retail development guidelines are:

    1. The number of parking spaces should be kept to a minimum. The city will work with the retailer to explore improved public transportation and shared parking options.
    2. Parking lots should be divided into smaller areas when possible to minimize the visual impact. The parking lot should be designed to compliment the building and neighborhood and should provide pedestrian access. In some locations parking structures will be necessary.
    3. Ground water runoff should be handled on site.
    4. Pedestrian access to the store should be safe, direct and attractive, connecting the public realm through the parking lots and to other nearby stores.
    5. Whenever possible the urban edge should be maintained. Building at the street are preferable. Other options are to build smaller corner or edge buildings, which are smaller separate retail spaces wrapped around the big box perimeter. Landscaping or fencing can also be used to enhance the street frontage.
    6. Big-box store buildings should be well-designed so they will be assets long into the future.
    7. Facades should be designed to provide maximum interest to the street.

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