Saturday, January 8, 2011

How the aldermen helped kill the Atrium

The Atrium has a bunch of flaws*, but when you ask people why they don't like to shop there, the number one complaint is parking. Not "they don't have any stores I like." Parking. It was parking when there was William-Sonoma and other now gone stores were there. It was parking when the economy was humming along.

Parking. Parking. Parking.

People hate it.

But, when you consider the Atrium from a land-use perspective, the number one thing it's got going for it is parking. It's a building with over 100,000 square feet of retail space and around 20 surface parking spaces. It's a giant parking structure with a few stores above it. By comparison, the first phase of Chestnut Hill Square is going to have just under 250,000 sq. ft. and 699 surface parking spaces. To be fair, the planned but not guaranteed second phase will have a 300+ space parking garage when the 90-100 residential spaces are built. And, the second phase will eliminate about 100 surface spaces. But, in the end it'll be about 600 surface spaces.

So, what's the board got to do with this?

In a not-even-perfect world, we'd have a lot more structured parking. Surface parking encourages sprawl, creates run-off problems, &c. But, structured parking is at least marginally less appealing for shoppers who drive. So, a mall -- like Chestnut Hill Square or the Mall at Chestnut Hill -- will be a more appealing option than something like the Atrium, which is served almost exclusively by a parking garage. When Land Use and then the full board capitulated to New England Development's one-less-surface-space-and-we-walk threat**, they not only doomed Chestnut Hill Square from a land-use perspective, but they made things worse for the Atrium in this particular regard. It's not only a competing mall within spitting distance, it's a competing mall with more surface parking.

Obviously, this is a regional problem. Making more structured parking at Chestnut Hill Square wouldn't undo the attraction of the surface parking at the Mall at Chestnut Hill or the Chestnut Hill Shopping Center or any of the dozens of surface-parking surrounded shopping options in the area. But, it sure would have been nice if the board had not reduced the incentive to provide structured parking.

* Pedestrian access across the front is awful. The wall along Florence Street is inhospitable. No open space. Possibly even not enoughsurface parking.

** The irony, of course, is that New England Development built the Atrium and it's underground parking garage, which undoubtedly cost 2 or 3 times per parking space what an above-ground garage would cost, and built it with far more capacity then has ever been met by demand.


dr2chase said...

Your ** remark doesn't quite strike me as irony. If NED built the Atrium, their experience with underground parking might be what informs their current intransigence on the point of surface parking.

I would also think that underground parking is particularly bad. I don't know why, but people seem happier to drive up, than down, to park.

And none of these malls (that I can figure out where they are by name) strike me as being the least bit pedestrian or bicycle friendly. I might even argue that their mere existence is ped/bike unfriendly all around, because they draw business (in cars) from older, smaller shops (like those in town centers) that are themselves much more accessible.

Anonymous said...

"But, structured parking is at least marginally less appealing for shoppers who drive."

Says who? I think most people like to be sheltered from the rain and the snow.

Anonymous said...

"when you ask people why they don't like to shop there, the number one complaint is parking. Not 'they don't have any stores I like.'"

Really? I like the parking at the Atrium: out of the weather, not far to walk inside, etc. But I am very willing to drive down to a lower level to get a choice space. For me, the lack of draw to the Atrium is the stores: we go mostly only for the restaurants and the late lamented Borders, with occasional stops at Pottery Barn or other home furnishing shops.

Sean Roche said...

Anon 1:

Take a look at parking patterns at the Mall at Chestnut Hill. The surface lot is always full before the garage even the ground-floor level. I don't get it, can't explain it, but definitely observe it.

Anon 2:

I, too, like the Atrium parking. I always park on level B, right outside the escalators. Always a spot.

But, I know I'm in the minority. In my decade-plus in Newton, virtually everyone I've spoken to about the Atrium bring up and criticize the parking.

Greg Reibman said...

Guess I'm outside the mainstream but I like the Atrium BECAUSE of the underground parking. I can leave my coat in the car and not have to lug it around from store to store.

For me the problem is there are only a handful of stores that I'm interested in. And the restaurants aren't as appealing as many of the places in our villages.

Anonymous said...

Sean, Ive never actually been to the Atrium, but I have been to the Nattick mall a few times, and the underground parking seems to be well patronized. I dont know about the structured above ground garages because Ive never used them, but there are always a few surface spots available we pass on our way down under.

I wish the burlington mall has covered parking.

Anonymous said...

Something is amiss in your research, or you're just talking to a bunch of complainers. If people actually liked the stores, they'd brave the parking, let alone sheltered parking. People I know don't go there because they have nothing they want to buy. Borders was high priced and nothing special. Barnes and Nobles is better, and better yet, Brookline Booksmith. You really have to fight traffic and/or the T to go there, but people do it. Bertucci's was/is a good place but not exactly an anchor store. I'd have to agree with most of the posters, if the right stores were there, the garage wouldn't matter. You're not getting a good sampling of views. 14 years ago the place seemed more popular. It's not the garage that changed.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't help that mall management is aggressive about parking enforcement, threatening to tow patrons whom they believe have been there too long. Never mind that the parking structure is almost completely empty. It comes as no surprise to me that the mall is dying when they're going to such ends to drive away customers.