The fate of the Arcade downtown revitalization project "will become a lot clearer in the next six months, or maybe even sooner," according to the MetroWest Daily News, following an extension of its special permit by the Framingham Planning Board until March 2007.
The board first approved the plan in spring 2004, but a variety of delays, including waiting for MassHousing to make a financing decision, have kept the proposal on the drawing board.
"Developers hope to be back before the Planning Board before the end of the year, asking for a demolition permit of 80 Kendall St., which would serve as the staging area for the $56-million building and renovation project," the News notes. "In the meantime, Arcade developers expect to soon ink a deal that will double the space occupied by CVS Pharmacy. That move will be made regardless of the progress on the mixed-use development that will include 290 apartments."
I'm sure many people will be happy at the news that CVS is not only staying in downtown Framingham, but expanding. It's a good sign of the company's faith in downtown revitalization plans. And, having ground-floor retail to serve the local community in the business district's prime commercial center is certainly a good thing - lots better than vacant storefronts or non-retail uses. However, I'm still wondering if the Arcade developers or town officials have a broader vision of what they want downtown Framingham to become and plan to work to make it happen, as opposed to being grateful for anyone who signs a lease.
A large chain drugstore is a useful neighborhood business, but NOT an anchor store for a regional business center. Local residents, commuters and workers will shop there, but it's not a draw that will bring people in from outside the immediate neighborhood (although once people are there, they'd certainly stop in). If people hope to turn downtown into a regional destination with appeal beyond the immediate precincts, there needs to be a lot more thought given to creating an attractive mix of retailers with an appealing sense of place -- one that more than makes up for the fact that a downtown can rarely compete with a strip mall for drive-up convenience. Because strip malls can rarely compete with downtowns for overall experience and ambiance, especially when there are unique local-owned stores and attractive pedestrian streetscapes.