02 April 2007

The Current Alternative to Downtown Development

Ok, we are almost into Tuesday of this week, but there was and article in last week’s Columbia Flier (Restaurant park open for business, Plaza offers wide variety of fare) by reporter Mike Santa Rita that has been bugging me.

The article relates the new food offerings at a strip mall development (the “MaGaw Plaza”) tucked between Apple Ford and Gramaphone on MaGaw Road. This collection of eateries (and a JHUAPL Credit Union) is billed as:

The site is designed to attract a lunch crowd from nearby office buildings and evening diners from surrounding residential neighborhoods, as well as patrons of the United Artists movie theater on nearby Robert Fulton Drive, according to [Manekin Senior Developer David] Meiners.

"We tried to get a mix of variety so there are different types of food to suit different tastes," Meiners said. "We're pretty comfortable that somebody could go to dinner at Greene Turtle and get a coffee at Orinoco and a dessert at Smoothie King."

My primary concern is the lack of connectivity. Yes, there are some sidewalks nearby, but most just end and do not easily link the nearby office buildings. The result is that most patrons, either lunch or dinner crowd, will be driving to the strip mall and driving away after. It seems that is the only way to use the center.

Secondly, the variety of fare offered is a little disappointing. In the interest of full disclosure, I have been to Greene Turtle and Orinoco (once, each, not in the same day), but an auto-dependent retail center that traffics in hamburgers, pizza, and burritos seems to be two wrongs that don’t make a right. (OK, yes, Greene Turtle has some salads, Atlanta Bread is not a really not a den of cholesterol)

Moreover, with very similar establishments nearby, we have to be near saturation in the fast-casual market. With respect to hamburgers, we already have a Ruby Tuesdays, Red Robin, Rocky Run, and Fuddruckers; all which have extensive hamburger menus. In the world of burritos, the Snowden Corridor already has Chipotle’s, Qdobas, Baja Fresh, Frisco Grille and Cantina (really, the only choice for burritos in Columbia), and now California Tortilla.

Lastly, the strip mall sits on land that was once designated the “Owen Brown Industrial Park.” This area was supposed to contain light manufacturing concerns and warehouses. Where people would be paid a wage that would allow some to live reasonably nearby. Now this piece of land contains many jobs that pay the minimum wage (or less for waiters).

As I said before, I have visited the establishments there, and will one day return. I’m just not feeling too good about it. Save me a parking space.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Regarding connectivity, the streets do have county-owned rights-of-way in which sidewalks can be built.

These restaurants, however, weren't put there assuming their customer traffic would come solely from offices within walking distance on a lunch break. I expect consideration of people working within a 5 minute drive happened when creating this restaurant strip.

The variety of fare matches demand. Better educate people on healthy lifestyles, nutrition being part of that, and variety will benefit.

Regarding that land being planned to site businesses that included reasonable wage jobs, some restaurants do compensate well - offering healthcare, education benefits, and well-above minimum wages. I know of one burger franchise location where the owner paid 100% of the college tuition of employees who started during their high school years and remained through college. The employees obviously benefited, but so did the employer, more than offseting the tuition costs with reduced training costs because staff stayed on longer and with increased revenue due to more experienced and thus more productive workers.

Perhaps the land could've been put to even better use with those restaurants on the ground floor and office space above, much like most if not all of the village centers. Speaking of which, it's not a bad idea to frequent the village center's restaurants to keep the village centers thriving. After all, they are there for the convenience and benefit of the community.

Le Sac Brun is also quite tasty, doesn't take as much gas, and doesn't require a parking space either.