Thursday, February 27, 2014

Coliseum Center Redevelopment

I saw an article earlier this week that inspired me to write this post - but please excuse any shoddy graphics - my wife took my mouse on a work trip!  Also, I started this blog in 2013 intending to be a prolific writer/observer .. and then bought a house, which has been a major time/energy draw.  It's a "Mini Money Pit" of projects that would challenge even the most seasoned homeowner (re: DRAINAGE ISSUES).

Anyway, back to Independence Boulevard and the Coliseum Center.  First off, my home's directly north of it, so I catch glances of it when out walking my dog on Dresden Dr.  Like many properties fronting Independence Boulevard, the shopping's center's a bit sad-looking.  That's hopefully going to change, as a developer aims to redevelop the site to "shadow-anchor" the existing Wal-Mart at Independence Boulevard/Pierson Drive.  One of the project's developers notes that "... the submarket around Coliseum Center is underappreciated ..." which is true, and the reason much of Independence Boulevard's propertys are challenged is because of ACCESS.

In the 20-year plus push to convert Independence Boulevard from an arterial street to a limited access expressway, businesses along the road have generally lost all or significant amounts of access to the road.  I'll post later on the larger urban design challenges, or lack of urban design on Independence Boulevard, but for now, this shopping center redevelopment is a microcosm for larger redevelopment issues in the corridor.

The challenge in redeveloping the Coliseum Center (yellow polygon, below) will come down to access, which it currently has via two right-in/right-out driveways (red dots) connecting to Independence Boulevard. The challenge of driving on Independence Boulevard is that it's trying to serve Asheville-to-Wilmington traffic (65 mph+) AND local traffic (sane drivers can make a turn at about 20 mph).  So you've got a mix of traffic with a potential speed-differential of 30-40 mph - demolition derby anyone?

What's a safer way to access Independence Boulevard businesses?  Local streets, connected to neighborhoods full of potential customers.  The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Department recognized this concept in its 2011 area plan for Independence Boulevard, including a concept plan for the Coliseum Center/Amity Gardens (now Wal-Mart) area (see image below).

The plan shows a local street connection to the on/off-ramp that connects Wendover Road (Charlotte City Route 4) to Independence Boulevard, so the only safe way to achieve that without a signal would be a roundabout.  Here's a "5-minute sketch" concept for an elongated oval roundabout that could connect a new Coliseum Center street with the existing ramp streets.  It would be tricky, but not impossible, to build, as there is a grade change in that general area.

Crazy idea?  Perhaps, but if Independence Boulevard's going to redevelop into anything worth pulling over for (or walking/biking to), creative ways of  developing and enhancing local street connectivity will be needed to support projects like this.  This concept also acknowledges two parcels to Colisuem Center's west that would need be redeveloped if a local street connection was made. Land/parcel assembly is always a challenge in a redevelopment/infill built environment, but it's better than bulldozing the countryside!