September 22, 2006

Arcade, cont.

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.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder what happened or didn't happen in Milford Mass that made the downtown so vital, when compared with Natick and Framingham. One only has to drive through, as I did last Saturday, to see the difference. Lots of variety in the types of stores, from antiques, to hobby shops. Unlike Framingham, where it seems every other storefront is a hairdresser or a place to do your nails, Milford offers a wide variety. Not only that, but as you explore more, you find corner variety stores and other businesses all seeming to do well. Milford didn't tear down the old buildings, either. The only think missing is a movie theatre.
    In Natick, the same comparisons can be made with downtown Norwood. Natick seems to enjoy the brick municipal buildings, and favored parking lots over old storefronts and the Center School. I don't think newer is better, but some folks do.
    As for Framingham, wouldn't someone do the downtown a favor by explaining to Mike Moran that old firehouses aren't necessarily the best location for folky coffeehouses? The old Pennies, or Woolworth would have made more sense, as it would have brought the destination up to where it belongs. In Natick it worked, because beyond the Clark Block, there was nothing vintage left. Framingham had a chance. Even the old Bell Shops or Gorins storefronts, now owned by the Fabric Place, would have been a better choice. Mike, please, lose that fire station fixation, and think about how to do it better!