Thursday, October 05, 2006

Rational Thinking, Reasonable Tomorrow...

Yesterday the Holyoke City Council voted down a proposed zoning change to permit retail development on Lower Westfield Road at a closed factory. They caved to pressure from area residents who feared increased traffic (whose point I do not diminish…yet). Frankly, I do find it strange that a city which receives about a quarter of its property tax revenue from the Holyoke Mall, would kill a proposal to bring in more retail.

Nonetheless, like the Lowes Plaza in East Longmeadow and shopping center in Agawam, this project has been killed. Both were victims of vehement resident opposition to increased traffic from both customers and trucks. And thank God. These roads are small and have no room to expand.

So why the hell am I rambling on, as I often do, about a big “Duh!” It’s the economy, stupid! It’s not that the economy is faltering; it is, but that’s for another time. Rather it’s that the greater Springfield area is compact and not brimming with disposable income. My point? We don’t need, nor can sustain an excess of the same stores in yet more shopping centers.

Old Navy had stores in Holyoke, Eastfield, West Springfield, and Westfield. Westfield and West Springfield folded around when the Enfield store opened. They, or at least Westfield closed because of lack of business. Having a Lowes less than five miles away from the one near the Eastfield Mall is overkill. They’re just trying to catch up to Home Depot who has five stores in the area. But still, the sum of the two stores will be less or barely above the one at Eastfield alone. Not to mention the traffic would kill property values along the route. Across the river makes far more sense to compete, anyway.

So the economy, stupid…this is not the shift people mean from an industrial to a service economy. They mean good paying service jobs in health-care or finance. The economy can‘t grow on retail without a firm foundation in something more. That is why these retail proposals have to be tabled, not killed. We need to work to bring in those good-paying jobs and then have more retail development. Holyoke’s plan, with some road adjustments, and a proposal in Westfield have some merit. But it does no good to plant retail seeds than the environment cannot support.

Lowes, Home Depot, and other “big box” stores are partly to blame too. They look at a map of the Springfield area and then at map of the Atlanta area (Home Depot’s hometown) and notice they have a store in every community there. But they don’t have one in every Springfield community. Problem!. Atlanta, just the city, not the metro area, is the size of the whole Springfield area. Having one in every Greater Atlanta community make sense. One in every Pioneer Valley town, is again OVERKILL.

I know it was a joke, but on an episode of the Simpsons, Lisa mentioned a fake Al Gore book called, Sane Planning, Sensible Tomorrow. Let’s have a little of that…for once.

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