Retail courts lost and found

I stumbled across this delightfully human-scaled space in the middle of the variously anonymous and flashy bank towers of uptown Charlotte:

Brevard Court and Latta Arcade together provide homes for dozens of tiny businesses — Latta is divided into miniature, 500 sq. ft. bays — along a through-block passage off Tryon Street, Charlotte’s main drag. A preservation easement over the site protects it in perpetuity, even if the current tenanting plan seems a little uninspired. (Most everything was shut at 5 PM, and a few forgettable fast food chains visually dominate the space.)

Closer to home, in supposedly preservation-obsessed Oak Park, a place similar in size and scale to Latta — Westgate, a picturesque (“storybook style”) parking-court ensemble of two-story Tudor facades just half a block behind the main drag of Lake Street — is about to get summarily wiped away after 75 years. A series of insensitive developments gradually walled Westgate off from the rest of downtown: the 1950s filling in of an open-air arcade to Lake Street (the building in yellow, Tudor on the back and Deco in the front), and the botched 1990s tilt-up retail complex that “revitalized” Harlem at the expense of the town around it.

Here it is today, still mostly intact.

Of course, the same quest that led to the Harlem buildings getting wiped away in favor of hopelessly bland chain retailers in forgettable strip-mall brick boxes has come back with a vengeance. Vince Michaels has an overview of the process that led — even after an official commission heard from several professionals who urged its salvation — to the village’s announcement of an RFP to bulldoze half of what remains at Westgate and replace it with what’s optimistically termed “transit oriented mixed-use infill.” The village’s RFP only said “encouraged” teams to “investigate” saving “some of the facades.” This week, the only RFP responses selected to proceed all declined this “encouragement” in favor of teardown.

6. Historic Preservation: The Oak Park Historic Preservation Commission has indicated a preference for saving some of the facades of the Westgate buildings on the RFQ parcels and integrating them into the design of a redevelopment project. Teams are encouraged to investigate this possibility as part of their preliminary plan submittal — especially if it helps with the LEED Certification Process…

And here’s an overview of the RFP parcels (in red).

Now, I’m no reflexive NIMBY — I got excommunicated by my neighborhood association for speaking in favor of a giant condo literally in my backyard, and I’m also obviously a fan of human-scale hotels and big box retailers (what the proposals, well, propose) — but really. When you have something this exquisitely human scaled, sitting in an enviable location next to a major transit hub in an upscale area, and surrounded by underutilized land, you can make it work — by demolishing the throwaway retail boxes and parking lots at the heavily trafficked edges of the block, not the historic ensemble in the center.

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2 thoughts on “Retail courts lost and found

  1. I thought it was interesting that just Like I did you also found the one block in uptown Charlotte that was pedestrian scaled and worthwhile. That city was so disappointed it was as if they bulldozed the entire downtown at one time to build surface lots and garages.

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