Empty Main St? - Parking Garage Editorial

Posted by Anonymous

LUSJ Editorial on parking ramp preliminary concept sketches.

As nice as the park and overlook is, retail/mixed use and park/overlook would have been even better, but agreeably the bigger risk. Thankfully the surface parking is sparse and behind Ulrich’s building in the current preliminary proposal sketches. For a public project I am pleasantly surprised with these initial visions.

But I offer a counter point to some things about retail and parkland. To this day it is a common held notion that parks and open space are positives for creating development when the opposite is more readily seen in practice. I used to also think parks were always an easy obvious answer (should have seen my Sim City creations ;) )

Where someone usually finds a busy and successful park it is usually immediately surrounded by existing dense mixed use streets that provide a constant amount of people to the park. It offers a “boring” restful break from the interesting and busy streetscape. Unfortunately a park does not work in reverse. If nothing is there and the street is boring, a boring park will not add much to the surroundings but some boring high maintenance greenery. It will also feel less safe and inviting with less people around discouraging use. Look at Ida Fritz Park where West Ave turns into Main. It is busy for activities like Cruise Night and Taste of Lockport but rather empty otherwise with no retail spurred around it.

Just how many empty street level store fronts are on Main St? The south side of the first block seems in good use but then you have the uninviting wasteland of the wide bridge and then Friendly's (some how miraculously built to the street). The other side is half full and along with City Hall pretty uninviting. The big bridge pretty much cuts off the first block from the rest of Main St to the east.

Next block the Mason's Building (full?) a big street side parking lot Papa Leo's Plaza (full/almost full?) and the NCCC building (non-retail). Other side of the street is the Scrito Building (full?), small parking lot gap and then Locks Plaza (full?) but with the retail unfortunately pushed away from the street/sidewalk. Overall the block is pretty full put with street facade gaps.

Next Block you have Ulrich's building (non-commercial) with Mill's jewelry next door, old ramp and big gap, Urban towers and The Bewley (almost all full last I looked) on one side; Chinese food building (1/2 full) Ulrich City Centre (Full Until Metropolitan Closed) and the old empty bank perpetually for lease by Granchelli. This block is also pretty full for the most part. Though another negative is that most of the UCC complex uses the rear entries off the parking lot and covers the Main St windows ( a big thank you to Wilhelm and Ashe for their wonderful street front displays)

Next block the Ulrich Building with no street side retail on the one side, F&M building perpetually for lease by Granchelli while it dies thru decay, Victory Christian Center building which is a big blank wall with who knows what's inside and then HSBC bank on the other. Basically a dead block inviting no one to pass either way across it. It is about as valuable as the wide bridge in luring people to continue on. At the same time it doesn't really have any retail opportunities at this time.

Next block: Palace Theater with both storefronts in use. Social Services building (no retail) and then the Rite aid (plaza?) which is pretty full on the retail street level (but once again separated from the side walk by a parking lot) Other side of Main St: Old Post Office which is very cool with some places inside but they are hidden from street life and discovery. YMCA and Library are next. They offer no retail but are at least up to the Street to keep the flow and in use. Next two buildings are in use on the retail level. Then we have the First Niagara building with no retail.

So where is the huge vacancy problem on Main? For how separated and disjoint it is I'd say it is doing relatively well. Small business turnover should be expected, especially in a fledgling area. How many people here would go to a mall and keep walking past huge sections that weren't stores or past sections that were parking to get to ones that were 50 yards or more away and keep doing that over and over? One could bring up the rehabbed buildings on Richmond (Canal St.) as being empty but those also suffer from being separated by a block long gap. Luckily the gap is the Locks which give them long term hope.

What Main St needs is a continued push for developments such as UCC to fill in the gaps on Main St. Make sure that zoning requires them in DT. Get people there and once there continually lured up and down the street by having interesting open store fronts etc. Once they are tired of the stimulation they could rest at the park or over by the locks. Every development is a small part which when added up makes a huge difference. They need to be done properly in line with what is desired of Main St.

Main St's plan should be infill built around occupying existing gaps with
1) Mixed use buildings up to the street/side walk
2) Permeable Store fronts that grab people's interest and invites them in.
3) Parking behind the buildings and street side to not alter the flow of people from store front to store front along the sidewalk.

Some mixed use above the parking ramp along Main would have went toward that goal while still allowing a park and over look behind it. It would have offered "eyes" to look over the park with for example a restaurant patio at the rear and apartments above. A much bigger risk yes but only because an empty park would still seem like a positive with never ending potential where as an empty store front(s) would not be given the same optimism.

The parkland and hidden ramp are 100x better than what is there and is very commendable. I was pleasantly surprised by it. But it could be even better with another missing gap filled in similar to what UCC did across the street to continue to unify Main St once again and reverse the disjointed wastelands urban "renewal" efforts created. The more opportunities you have for businesses to be close and build off each other, the more you will see things grow, the more people you will see and the more you will see any created park space being used more. Or if this is desired to be park land and parking, then have other plans to fill in gaps close by on Main St. and stick to them to make it all work.

People will point to malls as examples of success. Malls are an inside out old Main St. Main St moving forward must return to what would now be considered an inside out mall: Continuous and inviting where people draw people and storefronts endlessly draw people on. Then you can worry about the parks and open spaces (little fountains in malls) where people will rest from all the action that drew them there to begin with.

As the paper quoted the Mayor, this is a 50 year decision. It should be reflect how we want DT Lockport to function and look in 50 years. But regardless of if the safer option is chosen, I’ll be enjoying the overlook from time to time as I do now on my walks and it will only improve.

Original parking ramp post with more sketches


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