Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Up From The Ruins Updated

http://www.citylab.com; November 16, 2017


Hello Everyone:

Welcome to a Tuesday, a very important Tuesday for fans in Alabama.  As of writing, the voting continues.  Alabamans have a simple choice: decide who will take over (for now) Attorney General Jeff Sessions; Democrat G. Douglas Jones or Republican Roy Moore.  Blogger will do her best to let you know of any developments.  Tuesday also means fresh outrage.

By now, the entire known Galaxy read and commented upon the salacious tweet from Mr. Donald Trump.  The tweet, posted this morning, was directed at New York Senator Kristin Gillibrand (D), who is leading the charge for a Congressional committee to investigate accusations of sexual harassment and assault leveled at Mr. Trump.  The tweet, suggested that Senator Gillibrand came to his office, begging for and do anything for campaign contributions.  The heinous tweet went as far as to imply that she would compromise her marriage and was used by Senate Minority leader and fellow New York Senator Charles "Chuck" Schumer.  White Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders lamely tried to dismiss it as not sexist, stating that only someone with their mind in the gutter would interpret it that way.  Senator Gillibrand responded with a tweet saying that she and the millions of women who are marching in protest will not sit down and be quiet.  How do you dismiss this as non-sexist?  How else does Ms. Sanders interpret her boss' tweet?   If this is not sexual harassment in 280 characters, then what would call it?  "Boy talk?"  This is not just conduct, unbecoming the President of The United States, this unacceptable by anyone's standards.  This latest tweet is obscene.  It is unacceptable for anyone.  What the president says, posts, tweets, and does matters.  When the head of a government tweets some gutter level statement, it speaks volume for the person he or she is.  A sad comment on the current state of the American presidency.  That said, let us move on to today's subject: up from the ruins.

The holiday shopping season is upon us.  If the retail doomsayers are to be believed, brick and mortar stores are going the way of the dinosaur, replaced by websites.  The "retail apocalypse" has laid to waste once mighty stores across the United States.  The retail apocalypse has put the once venerable Sears (citylab.com; Sept. 25, 2017; date accessed Dec. 12, 2017) on its deathbed (Ibid; Oct. 4, 2017).  Benjamin Schneider writes in his CityLab article "From the Ruins of a Retail Meltdown, Post-Industrial Playgrounds Emerge," "But while the ghosts of the chain's big-box stores haunt suburban and exurban strip malls, a few relics the company's past are actually thriving for the first time in decades."

In the twenties, Sears constructed several "plants" around the nation.  The plants were these unimaginably large warehouses and distribution centers with ground-level stores, put up during a time when Sears was primarily a mail-order business.  By the mid-twentieth century, urban areas were being depopulated, abandoning these hulking buildings.  Fortunately, today six out of the seven remaining plants remain and are experiencing a second life "in the image of the contemporary."  Mr. Schneider reports, "The first wave of rehabilitation a came in the late 1990s, when Boston's plant was converted to the Landmark shopping center and offices, and Dallas' plant became loft-style apartments.  Seattle's plant,...., became the global headquarters for Starbucks."  Naturally.

Adaptive re-use projects were quite progressive thinking in their day, the current spat of plant rehabilitations put a greater emphasis on mixed-use development approaches that integrate them into their host neighborhoods.  For example, the Midtown Exchange building in Minneapolis and Ponce City Market in Atlanta have become the defining buildings in their cities, "representing the benefits of post-industrial urban revival and the persistent challenges of gentrification."

This dynamic will only become more apparent when the rehabilitation of the last standing plant in Boyle Heights, set to begin construction next year, will be completed.  When finished, "the Mail Order District will obtain an almost cliche  collection of new economy uses, including 'creative offices,' live/work spaces lofts, a food hall, and an exhibition space, all encased in a shell that dates back to 1927."  This is the logical conclusion of the contemporary history of the Sears' plants, are emblematic of their period of significance.  Over the course of their lifetimes, these building have followed a similar urban trajectory: "...contouring to the largest forces in American urbanism over the past century."  The four current projects make particularly clear trope of post-industrial gentrification has become formulaic.

The plants' assets-size, location, and proximity to rail lines-became liabilities during the sixties, amid the urban crisis.  Street-level retail operations became difficult to maintain in increasingly impoverished communities, while business boomed at suburban shopping malls.  Multi-level urban warehouses were no longer financially viable for the company as rail transportation gave way to trucking, thus Sears decommissioned the plants.  The warehouses and stores were shuttered during the eighties and nineties long before Sears' current financial woes.  These forces combined to spell doom for plants in Chicago (homansquare.org; date accessed Dec. 12, 2017), Philadelphia (phillyhistory.org; Aug. 7, 2017; date accessed Dec. 12, 2017), and Kansas City, all demolished during this era.

The Minneapolis complex was closed in 1994 (placeography.org; date accessed Dec. 12, 2017), following a long slow decline.  Benjamin Schneider writes, "The crack epidemic had hit the plant's Midtown neighborhood particularly hard."  Former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak (2002-14) told CityLab,

At one point The New York Times did an article calling the neighborhood  'Muderappolis' [nytimes.com; June 30, 1996 date accessed Dec. 12, 2017], so it was going down fast...When Sears pulled out, there was this massive hole in the second largest building in the state,-Mall of America being the largest building in the state, where Sears just opened an anchor store two years earlier.

During his tenure as mayor, Mr. Rybak and community organizations were committed to saving the building and improving the quality of life for the residents.  Mr. Rybak continues,

We thought, 'We want to get someone to attract jobs, and to create equity.

When the Midtown Exchange opened in 2006, the building remained true to this concept by partnering with healthcare provider Alina, and including 178 affordable housing units.  

Election update: With 59 percent of the votes counted, Roy Moore leads Doug Jones 52.3% to 46.3%. 

However, the building's main attraction, which blossomed into a major tourist destination in Minneapolis, is the Midtown Global Market.  "This food and crafts hall includes 45 vendors from 22 different cultures" (midtownglobalmarket; date access Dec. 12, 2017), according to Mr. Rybak.

Next to the Midtown Exchange is the Midtown Greenway, "a rails-to-rails project that runs alongside the plant, has helped ensure the success of the Midtown Exchange building, providing a steady flow of hungry promenades, and a commuting alternative for the people who live and work there."  Amazingly, both Atlanta's Ponce City Market (completed in 2014) and Memphis's Crosstown Concourse (crosstownconcourse.com; date accessed Dec, 12, 2017), opened this past summer, also conveniently located next to rails-to-rails projects.

The symbiotic nature of post-industrial infrastructure is particularly noticeable at Ponce City Market, whose food and market hall are to the BeltLine is analogous to what the Chelsea Market is to the High LIne in Manhattan.  Both buildings are owned by Jamestown developers, and have become magnets for tourists exploring the host cities' linear parks and quickly transforming the neighborhood they occupy. "From a financial perspective, both are runaway success."  Although Michael Phillips, of Jamestown, said declined to give any specific financial information, he did say that "Ponce city Market is the second most requested Uber destination in Atlanta, after the airport."

Like Chelsea Market, which house the East Coast offices of YouTube and Google, Ponce City is a mini-tech hub, hosting MailChimp's headquarters and a number of other startups.  The building's new rooftop amusement park (poncecityroof.com; date accessed Dec. 12, 2017) and eventual second phases holds the promise of additional office and residential space, as well as a hotel, all combined to make the complex even more attractive to startups.

Development has exploded around the Atlanta and Minneapolis plants, which also features a hotel next doo.  The Crosstown concourse was a 98 percent capacity (atlanta.curbed.com; Sept. 15, 2017; date accessed Dec. 12, 2017) a month after its debut.  Its host neighborhood was on a course for the same.

Story to be continued...

Election update: Do you believe in miracles?  Democrat G. Douglas Jones has defeated controversial Republican Roy Moore in the hotly contested Alabama Senate special election.  This narrows the Republican majority in the Senate to 51-49.  Blogger sees a blue wave in 2018.  

December 18, 2017

Hello Everyone:

Now that all the excitement of last Tuesday's Doug Jones/Roy Moore contest is finally over-sort of-it is time to get back to our chat about former Sears plants being re-adapted as mixed retail commericial space.  Let us proceed.

As we were saying, development around the former Sears plants in Atlanta, Georgia and Minneapolis, Mnnesota has boomed.  In Memphis, Tennessee, the Crosstown Concourse was at 98 percent capacity (cubed.com; Sept. 15, 2017; date accessed Dec. 18, 2017) shortly after opening, the surrounding neighborhood is on course for the same.

Despite all this good news, there is downside to these development booms in low-income neighborhood.  One obvious downside is the spike in median home values.  For example, the median home value around the Midtown Exchange's Census tract increased 39 percent (governing.com; Feb 2015; date accessed Dec. 18, 2017) between 2000 and 2013, "and the proportion of the population with a bachelor's degrees or higher went from 15.8 percent to 24 percent" (Ibid).  Powderhorn, Midtown's host neighborhood, was the only Minneapolis neighborhood "whose white population increased between 2000 and 2013, a recent study found" (law.umn.edu; date accessed Dec. 18, 2017).

This is an all too familiar experience for the residents of the Old Fourth Ward, home to the Ponce City Market and the childhood home of the Reverand Martin Luther King, Jr.  In 1990, the neighborhood was our percent Caucasian, that number dramatically increased to 55 percent (Ibid).  The real estate website Zillow reported that median home prices in the Old Fourth Ward have spiked 13 percent (zillow.com; Oct. 31, 2017; date accessed Dec. 18, 2017).  A recent study on gentrification (static1.squarespace.com; date accessed Dec. 18, 2017) of Atlanta's Belt Line-adjacent neighborhoods portrays the Old Fourth Ward as

...ground zero of the BeltLine Development's hot market...

The plant rehabilitation start are the solely responsible for changes in their host neighborhood's demographics, like the High Line in New York City, they are the mechanism that drives high-end development.

Mark Perdergrast, the author of the book City on the Verge (citylab.com; May 30, 2017; date accessed Dec. 18, 2017) which chronicles urban development in Atlanta, told CityLab, 

The rents have gone through the roof...The entire point of the BeltLine was that it was supposed to s help bring back this derelict corridor,and help bring back neighborhoods, and it has done that.  But it has also driven people out who can't afford it.  It has driven out people it's supposed to be helping."

Benjamin Schneider observes, "To their cricket, the developers behind the Atlanta and Memphis plant rehabilitation have, like the coalition behind the Midtown Exchange building, tried to mitigate the impacts of their own popularity."  Case in point, twenty percent of Ponce City Market's residential units are below market rate, a rarity as Atlanta works hard to put the 5,600 units of the promisedBeltLine-adjacent affordable housing units (Ibid; Sept.1, 2017).  At the Crosstown Concourse in Minneapolis, an amazing 630,000 square feet has been set aside for healthcare, education, and arts venues.  

This brings us to Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, California.  The landmark Art Deco Sears Building in the epicenter of the Mail Order District is a wee outlier because it does not include any below-market-rate residential units.  Lead project architect Karin Liljegren told CityLab,via email, "...some of the units will be small so as to be affordable by design."  Ms. Liljegren also pointed out "that the project will not directly displace any residents, and will add much needed housing supply to an area in desperate need of it."  We shall see.

Naturally, some of the longtime residents in the infamously anti-gentrification Boyle Heights are not exactly thrilled about the plans (scpr.org; Sept. 26, 2014; date accessed Dec. 18, 2017).  If precedent is any indication, the new development could in for the same conflicts (citylab.com; March 1, 2017; date accessed Dec. 18, 2017) between the long time residents and the "creative" professionals who will be moving in.  Mr. Schneider writes, "The visual and demographic change coming to East L.A. will likely be jarring: The Mail Order District is just one in a slate of mega-projects [la.curbe.com; Oct. 6, 2017; date accessed Dec. 18, 2017] that will abut he soon-to-be denuded L.A. River, [Ibid], a 'cement to trails' project that could blow the BeltLine out of the water."

In their day, the plants were specifically built in places that featured a perfect confluence of attributes, their reincarnations contain that DNA, making them valuable again.  Trail access has replaced rail access and industrial architecture has become an attractive brand for a neighborhood.  The wide open floor plans and high ceilings are ideal for contemporary use, everything from the nearly ubiquitous food, chic lofts, and startup offices.  "Inner city addresses, somewhere between downtown and sleepy residential neighborhood's, are once again in demand-not for heavy industry but for highly mobile residents and businesses in search of abstract traits like character and authenticity."  

This past weekend, Yours Truly read an interesting article in The Los Angeles Times (latimes.com) about the city of Hawthorne California.  Hawthorne is a working-class city about half way to the city of Long Beach.  It is also home to Space X and the sixties pop music group the Beach Boys.  It is also attracting the attention of the very same demographic group thevery same highly mobile residents and businesses, looking for a place to touch down.

The future of now-shuttered suburban Sears stores looks pretty grim (businessinsider.com; date accessed Dec. 18, 2017). These hulking concrete islands, lost amid oceans of asphalt, lack the stylish Art Deco elements, or linear park access, or closeness to bustling downtowns that the plants enjoyed. Newly anointed retail king Amazon's massive exurban warehouses may suffer the same bleak future it bestowed on Sears (citylab.com; Oct. 4, 2017; date accessed Dec. 18, 2017).  However, , if the second life of the Sears plants offer any lesson, it is useful to look at how holdovers from previous economies can inform the next one.