Centers and Corridors

Strip malls are a dying breed.

That was the starting point for a discussion of corridor planning at yesterday’s Metro “Get Centered” brown-bag event.

The market for retail is now reorganizing to favor interchanges and crossroads. Long corridors of strip malls are out. The prototypical example held out from our region is Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway.

The market analysis suggests that there is demand for about 1.2M square feet of retail in that corridor. The problem – there’s already 1.6M square feet of retail space there. The result – disinvestment, i.e., properties remain vacant, get rented to tenants who can only pay low rents (think strip clubs) and generally are not kept up.

Our 2040 regional plan would suggest that retail (and other uses) should cluster at the Beaverton Regional Center, at the western end of this corridor. So in this case the retail marketplace and regional planning are actually in alignment (how cool is that)!

So what’s the risk, and what’s the opportunity?

The risk is that disinvestment in the corridor leads to further degradation and, dare I say it, blight.

The opportunity is to change the investment pattern. What would now appear to be the highest and best use of land along Beaverton-Hillsdale? Medium-to-high density residential.

This is not without some challenges. The building types need to be scaled appropriately to the width of the street (i.e., we’re not talking single family here). But it’s not unreasonable. The residential could cluster around some of the ‘neighborhood center’ (e.g., Albertsons) retail areas on the corridor, keeping them viable.

So where’s the transportation hook for this, you ask? Capacity! As you close all the curb cuts for that empty retail space, and in their place build a network of streets to serve the new residential, you create capacity in the corridor and help reduce congestion.

How’s this for a virtuous cycle:
– Retail reorganizes into denser configurations supporting regional centers
– Corridors convert to denser housing areas, creating infill and reducing UGB expansion pressures
– Traffic on the revitalized corridors flows better

Someone pinch me and tell me I’m not dreaming.

More detail on the corridors project at the Metro web site.

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