Strip Malls.. Does Roswell Need More of the Same?


It's not easy to do right.  Anyone can put lipstick on a pig but it doesn't change the fact that it's still a pig.  One of my all time favorites and it might be apt in this case is that 'you can't polish a turd.'  That being said, I recently heard that the Holcomb Woods Village shopping center was sold and the new owner is looking to do a little remodeling.  I was able to find the plans on the city's website and am slightly disappointed.  The first thing I'm going to take up is the name.. please change it.  A village is a small community or group of houses in a rural area.. it is not a strip mall with no residents along a major collector highway.

Now that I've covered that, let's get back to the plans.  The new owner, Hawthorne Retail Partners, has put together a plan that essentially dresses this little piggy up.  Here's the pic... nothing changes in the curent layout of the site.

image: City of Roswell

For those readers unfamiliar with the property, it is the strip mall behind Aqua Blue and Wendy's along Holcomb Bridge Rd about a mile east of 400.  The shopping center itself is probably about 40% leased (guessing) and isn't in very good condidtion.  The premiere tennant currently is Twisted Taco.  Most of the property, as with every strip center is dedicated to parking.  The outparcels where Aqua Blue, Wendy's and Goodyear sit are not part of the center and they cause a problem because they sit uphill from the shopping center.  Thus, drivers along Holcomb Bridge cannot easily see the shopping center.  When car traffic is your only source of business, this poses a problem.

the owner has three options ranging from cheap to cost prohibitive.  Here's a look at each of them. 

Three Options

Dress it up...  This is the default plan and it looks to be the intent of the company.  It is fairly consistent with the Roswell 2030 Master Plan given that this site calls for mixed-use no rise (1-2 stories). Our issue with the plan is that it is essentially adding no value to the city.  It may increase the tax rolls near term but in the long run, it is the same retail model that is failing nationwide.  In 15-20 years, we'll be in the same spot once again.  Looking at an aging strip mall that is half empty.  Here's a sample of some remodels Hawthorne has done in other places.

image: City of Roswell

Change it up...  This will require a little investment and innovation.  Create some additional buildings and potentially a gathering space where families will want to come and spend some time.  Reaching back into the Roswell 2030 plan, one of the stated objectives for this area is to "seek to create a village environment."  A shopping center with the word village in its name does not make this a village.  The first thing we would do is shop out the parking lots to an apartment developer and look to bring some full time residents to the area.  Think 2-3 stories along the east side of the parcel all the way up to HBR.  Internally, consider the Avenue Concept where there is a building in the middle of the horseshoe.  Or, maybe a water feature/sprayground where people could sit and hang out.  You sacrifice some parking but it could be made up along the periphery with parallel parking.  That spot is fairly well shielded from the noise on HBR so it could be a pretty cool spot.  The other thing to consider is to look into using the water retention area as a water feature.. it's downhill from the main building where the "wedge" is and could actually look nice.

Start from Scratch..  This is a longer term idea.  We should be taking the first steps to revitalize the area.  It's going to happen incrementally anyway.  So, why not start here.  Not every city is Alpharetta with a $200M benefactor just popping up to save the day.  The first thing that would be needed is to work out deal with current owners of the outparcels.  There are too many ideas to list here but someone with some imagination could do something nice.

What does the market want?

Honestly, it's hard to tell.  The one thing we can be sure of is that the market isn't screaming for a new, renovated or dressed up strip center.  Sure, Hawthorne will gain some tenants and this will probably encourage the developments surrounding it to redevop to ensure they don't lose their tenants.

As far as mixed-use with shopping and residential is concerned, we think there is a market there.  There have been proposals made and projects approved on that side of town but nothing has gotten off the ground.  That's more of an issue with the types of proposals made (i.e. Charlie Brown) and the timing of the approvals (Centenniel Walk) than an overall aversion.  The lot is close to 400.  It is near the Big Creek Park.  There is a private school within walking distance.  A grocery store and a gym within a reasonable walk or short drive.  It's walking distance to the largest employer in Roswell (Kimberly Clark).  Plus, the redevelopment potential in the area would likely encourage an apartment developer to get into the mix.  The parcel sits pretty close to what is the biggest redevelopment opportunity in Roswell...  just sayin.

So, in our minds, this project could be a catalyst that would jump start the redevelopment of that area but in it's current form, it doesn't encourage much beyond the same 'ol same 'ol strip mall development that we already have for miles and miles along Holcomb Bridge Road.