Paint by Numbers Morning Sky Looks So Phony

7 May

[UPDATE: This is a post from March that I’m promoting back to the top (with new title to fit this week’s theme) because of the continuing drama in Amherst Town Hall regarding Benderson’s proposed lifestyle center project at Maple near North Forest. A vote earlier this week was pushed off to June 2nd to permit county involvement with traffic mitigation issues. Benderson recently made some changes to the design of the 34-acre, $44 million mixed-use project.

The comments tend to talk about the fakeness of the project versus the authenticity. Given that Amherst actually has no town center – the Village of Williamsville technically being its own governmental entity – as fake as it is, at least it’s not just another shopping plee-yeea-za.]

Benderson Development recently bought the parcel of land formerly known as the Buffalo Shooting Club. They’re planning to build Western New York’s first lifestyle center there. A lifestyle center is a new form of shopping center that resembles a village downtown. It encourages walking, and usually features nice amenities and upscale shops. Cleveland’s Legacy Village is an example (careful – loud music).

Predictably, there is opposition to the proposal from neighbors and others. Some complain that Benderson has loads of vacant storefronts throughout Amherst – a valid concern, for sure. Others are more NIMBY-ish. Like these people.

Anyone who knows Maple Road in that area knows that we’re not talking about some bucolic little country lane. It’s a four-lane road with a suicide lane in the middle. The Pepsi Center is right there. UB North is walking distance (as are its thousands of well-financed students). Just over the 290 to the east is a bona fide retail strip.

But what’s amazing to me is that there had been a shooting club there. People with guns shooting at pieces of clay thrown in the air, or at targets set up. Shooting? OK. Lexus SUVs coming to visit Trader Joe’s (which is rumored to be opening its first WNY location at this location)? No good.

Not only that, but this will be a mixed-use facility. The plan includes a new hotel, some non-retail commercial space, and even condominiums. In my mind, a development like this can only enhance the value of the surrounding neighborhoods, offers them a new amenity, and adds value to the town’s tax base. The Benderson plan is here in a large .pdf.

All Things Buffalo wrote about lifestyle centers as being evidence of an evolution in shopping.

The fact that it’s taken Buffalo 10 years to pick up on a nationwide trend is amusing, and the NIMBYism is something that must be anticipated. I’m in favor of this project, because it will enhance the quality of life in Amherst, and will most likely have a positive effect on nearby property values.

Build it.

35 Responses to “Paint by Numbers Morning Sky Looks So Phony”

  1. reflip March 6, 2008 at 8:36 am #

    Speaking of wanting to bang your head against a wall…

    If Amherst doesn’t want it, put it downtown. Win-win, right? HSBC, Bass Pro, Casino, Lifestyle Center. Nice little entertainment district.

  2. Derby/Hingham March 6, 2008 at 8:58 am #

    The first Lifestyle in New England (Derby Street Shoppes (http://www.thederbystreetshoppes.com/) opened in late 2004/early 2005.

    http://archinect.com/news/article.php?id=22843_0_24_0_C
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lifestyle_center_%28retail%29

    According to BP’s logic, New England was only 5-6 years behind the national trend.

  3. anthony v March 6, 2008 at 9:04 am #

    Right idea, wrong location.
    A few years ago my wife and I made the decision to move to Washington, D.C. (it is a decision I have regretted from day two). About a mile or so from our home in Alexandria is a “Lifestyle Center” in neighboring Arlington. It has all the amenities that DINKS and YUPPIES require. Predictably they are soullessly corporate and lack character, but they do enhance the surrounding community.

    I do believe that this project will be very successful. However, where Erie and Niagara counties have failed the greatest is in their promotion of Suburban Sprawl. Both counties refuse to do the right thing and redirect development to the area’s where the infrastructure already exists and the need is greatest (Buffalo and Niagara Falls).

    Western New York needs to take a play out of the Portland, OR. Columbus, OH, Charlotte, NC. or Austin TXs’ playbook and allow their already existing urban cores to be successful instead of promoting suburban sprawl; which raises taxes, kills social capitol and promotes economic segregation.

  4. Stephen Nazwisko March 6, 2008 at 9:29 am #

    Right idea, right location:
    It’s a freaking Brownfield.

    Benderson, who I typically do not trust, is willing to clean up the brownfield for free – no taxpayer money – if we let them build this.

    South Western Amherst is at risk of catching some of the cities problems, including lower property values; putting this center in the Western half of the town instead of near Clarence will be tremendously beneficial in keeping property values in Getzville, Eggertsville, and Snyder up.

    Maple Road is a major thoroughfare with little major plaza development; this will help ease congestion on Transit and NF Blvd without being large enough in scale to ruin the character of the area.

    And did I mention: free cleanup of a Brownfield? It’s not like this is usable for anything else, unless the people of Amherst pony up for remediation…

  5. reflip March 6, 2008 at 9:51 am #

    Anthony,

    Right on.

    Let the existing suburbs be suburbs. Let undeveloped land lie. That’s what people who live there probably want anyway. That’s the charm of suburban life. Space. The city is dying for a project like this. They sold us Bass Pro with the idea that it would attract visitors, be the anchor for new retail and become a “destination.” This project is EXACTLY that, and if it goes to Amherst, Bass Pro (and all its subsidies) will lose that edge, and most likely dry up and die on the vine for lack of support. FAIL. What retail is going to follow Bass Pro, especially if there is an upscale lifestyle center already in Amherst? This project is an outdoor mall based on walkable urbanism. It is self-contained, and could exist anywhere there is space to build it. Amherst doesn’t want it. Amherst is OK as is. The city needs it. Put it where it is needed.

    That would be responsible regionalism.

    Of course, Benderson would probably say Amherst or bust.

  6. hank March 6, 2008 at 10:09 am #

    One was recently built in my county. In 1987 this intersection was wooded acreage on all 4 corners. Now one corner has a gas station, one is wooded, one has a Rite Aid, Bojangles Chicken and a strip mall with a Food Lion in it.

    The last corner is the “Lifestyle Center”
    Outlying Parcels contain a Bank,McDonald’s, Auto Parts Store, Arby’s, and a gas Station. Main Parcel is an upscale Grocery (Harris Teeter), also in the complex is a Gym, several bistros, Dry Cleaners, Pizza Hut Express, etc.
    Behind the main complex is housing for about 800 people, mostly townhouses and condos.

    If that’s the way you want to live, I would suppose it a good spot and nice cell-type living. I prefer the open spaces, with few neighbors, lots of agriculture, and undeveloped wooded land.

  7. reflip March 6, 2008 at 10:11 am #

    Let me clarify my stance before I get accused of city vs. suburb bickering.

    I think the proposed site is OK. I think it will make UB a more attractive to undergraduate students (and their parents). That certainly fits in with UB’s goal of expanding and becoming the flagship campus of the SUNY system. And that is good.

    But, if the residents of Amherst are opposed and will go through the usual machinations to get this thing tied up in court for years, then why should the region fight this war on two fronts? Why fight against the proposed development in Amherst and fight FOR the same type of development on/around the waterfront? It’s ridiculous, and it is bound absolutely, positively fail.

    If the residents let it go, welcome it with open arms and the thing gets built in a year, fine. I can’t complain. I’ll go there, I’ll enjoy it. But it just seems like we have a round peg and a square peg, a round hole and a square hole. We’re trying to put the square peg in the round hole AND the round peg in the square hole. Best case scenario is that we get one accomplished clumsily, and the other not at all.

  8. Eric P. March 6, 2008 at 10:18 am #

    I concur with Stephen. (Also, maybe Maple Road gets properly paved in the process).

    Anthony, I do not believe that development is a zero-sum game. Development in amherst is not always at the expense of the City. This plan represents a considerably higher, better and far more appealing use than a vacant parcel or gun club.

    The only people who might have a reasonable NIMBY beef are those along the streets between Maple and Sheridan (Donna Lea, Maplemere, Fairways, Frankhauser,…) who might be likely to see an increase in traffic by those who don’t go via Millersport or North Forest. I think this traffic volume would eventually diminish as people realize the 290 exit at Millersport makes more sense.

    Anthony, your DINKS & YUPPIES statement is off the mark. There are a lot of families and college students nearby. Also, nearly all new development could be seen as soullessly corporate and lacking in character, it is usually a question of degree (and opinion).

    I have long thought of that parcel as a bit of a wasted opportunity.

  9. jesse March 6, 2008 at 10:18 am #

    Living down here in northern VA, they’re putting them up all over the place. You know what you lose? Soul.

    Soulless corporate style? Seems like it’d fit right in in Amherst. Just don’t fill up the rest of the county with this kind of homogenous garbage.

  10. sean March 6, 2008 at 10:46 am #

    As long as this lifestyle center comes with a Chipotle, I’m all for it.

  11. Dan March 6, 2008 at 1:43 pm #

    How about the original plans for the site?

    No, not previous Benderson submittals. The original original plans.

  12. Dan March 6, 2008 at 1:44 pm #

    Damn. URL for the “original original” plans were deleted.

  13. Russell March 6, 2008 at 2:39 pm #

    In response to Stephen, I lived in Columbus, OH for almost 6 years. Their first lifestyle center was Easton Town Center, constructed 10 years ago. It was created by Les Wexner to showcase Victoria’s Secret and his other Limited Brand stores. It is about 15 miles from the Downtown core in what was a relatively rundown area until this opened up. This and the subsequent opening of Polaris (25 miles from downtown) to compete with Easton sounded the death knell for the downtown shopping mall. The building of these two centers created all sorts of other businesses in the area and became their own hubs of retail and living.

    It was only recently that The Ohio State University spearheaded its own project, Gateway. This is about 4 miles from downtown and was developed to enhance the university and make it and the surrounding area more attractive. This has been a very successful project, but has also hurt business in the downtown.

    This project in Amherst is sort of a combination of Easton and Gateway. It will enhance the university and make it more attractive. It probably will hurt businesses downtown, but what’s left anyway? This will also create hub of business, retail and living. I really don’t think we’re in any position to be very choosy. Anywhere that we can get this built would be beneficial to the entire WNY community. It is something we need, whether it’s in Amherst, downtown, or Elma.

  14. Dan March 6, 2008 at 4:10 pm #

    Okay …

  15. eliz March 6, 2008 at 10:15 pm #

    Benderson. Ew. Seen it, know it, not interested. This has FAKE in big letters all over it.

    Have fun.

  16. iNdAbUFF March 6, 2008 at 10:35 pm #

    I was at New Town Williamsburg recently…like eliz said..FAKE…I for one am glad that WNY has been behind the trend on this type of development…actually, this will give people a glimpse of what Canal Cide will look like.

  17. Dan March 7, 2008 at 8:57 am #

    > I for one am glad that WNY has been behind the trend on this type of development

    Great. I guess those living in the suburbs are happy with their authentic, honest, real and genuine 1960s-style strip plazas.

    With projects such as this, it’s not a matter of “put it in the city vs put it in the suburbs”, it’s “it’s going on this site in Amherst, period, so what form will it take?” Better a lifestyle center than the retro Consumer Square and [name of major anchor] Plaza-type projects that already dot the suburban landscape. Besides, the upscale merchants that the region lacks don’t usually set up shop between to the teacher supply store and Fashion Bug in an aging shopping center like Transittown and Southgate. Among the many reasons why they’re everywhere but Buffalo is because their preferred type of venue isn’t a part of the retail landscape.

    Everybody seems to be echoing Joanne the Buffalo Lolcat.

  18. Denizen March 8, 2008 at 12:05 pm #

    Dan, spot on!

    People….what’s more fake about this proposed development than the plethora of other crappy suburban retail developments nearby? Can’t tell me that all the fugly strip plazas and shopping malls are somehow “REAL” ….

  19. Pauldub March 8, 2008 at 2:56 pm #

    Dan and Denizen – Define “Authentic” in this case. Why is this word being tossed around so much? Authentic in relation to what? Strip plazas are authentic. in their own way. They are authentic strip plazas. For god’s sake people, we aren’t talking about food, like “authentic” Hispanic cuisine
    As for the word “Real” being used, this project is real. As opposed to Surreal. Which incidentally, I think would be an interesting concept for a lifestyle center.

  20. RisingDamp666 March 9, 2008 at 12:30 am #

    I thought Amherst was already a lifestyle center….for douchebags.

  21. davvid March 9, 2008 at 1:58 am #

    Pauldub,

    If you’re not sure what some of us mean when we say that these types of “new urbanist” developments lack authenticity then you should simply do some research. There has been alot written on the topic of authenticity in architecture. Start by googling it.

    Dan,

    Plenty of people ARE happy with their strip plazas. They function very well for alot of people. I don’t need cheaply built old looking architecture when all I want is a parking spot and a burrito.

  22. Pauldub March 9, 2008 at 6:48 am #

    David – I am well aware of what you mean. My point still stands. Authentic does not have anything to do with it.
    Simple facts. This type of development has been shown to make money in other regions.
    Benderson wants to make money.
    Convince the town that this will not be to their benefit and it will not be built.
    Work angles of traffic, property value, whatever. Telling people and the board that this project lacks authenticity will not make an impression unless you can attach a dollar value to it.

  23. Dan March 10, 2008 at 7:31 am #

    davvid: Okay, what are some of the traits in a new development that would make it “authentic”? Don’t use the words “honest”, “genuine” and “real” in your description. If “authentic” in your mind means downscale and/or gritty, all I can see is a grasp at some indie or old Buffalo cred, like the crowd in 1989 Cheektowaga who complained that the Walden Galleria was too fancy, and that they’ll take the Thruway Mall any day of the Week.

    Understand that the pundits and social commentators of the 1920s thought “suburban” areas like North Buffalo and Kenmore were as cheaply built and sterile as the hipster crowd thinks of new urbanism and lifestyle centers today. I’ve seen turn-of-the-last-century literature decrying the suburbs of that era – which would have been the likes of places like Elmwood Village and Parkside.

  24. Dan March 10, 2008 at 7:39 am #

    Also, FWIW, I live about a mile away from Legacy Village. The project really didn’t change traffic patterns that much; it’s at the intersection of two busy streets (Cedar Road and Richmond Road). Residential through streets across Cedar Road in Beachwood didn’t experience any increase in traffic. Real estate values in the immediate area boomed. Two new patio home developments nearby have prices starting in the $400s. Prices in a high rise condominium development across Richmond, Three Village, went from affordable to quite pricey; $250-$300/sq ft. We’re talking about Cleveland, in a part of the inner ring eastern suburbs that was hit extremely hard by the foreclosure crisis.

    It’s great having many different options for a third place nearby; traditional pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods like Coventry and Cedar-Lee in Cleveland Heights, and lifestyle centers like Legacy Village.

  25. Dan March 10, 2008 at 7:53 am #

    The other thing I wanted to say: some Buffalonains — at least those outside of the hipster EV/keepin’ it real/Old Buffalo crowd — are begging for higher-end retail in the area. There are many national upscale retail and restaurant chains that have a presence almost everywhere in the country except Buffalo. There are many reasons why (demographics, lack of dense daytime employment clusters in the suburbs, etc), one being that there just isn’t any retail space they see as well-suited for them. Really, the likes of P.F. Chang’s, Restoration hardware, Z Gallerie, Trader Joe’s and Zara don’t want to be squeezed in between the mobility aid store and mom-and-pop scrapbooking store in some Whatevertown Plaza-like venue that hasn’t been updated since it first opened in 1952. They either want to be in wealthy urban neighborhoods — generally far wealthier than EV or North Buffalo — or with similar businesses in a suburban lifestyle center. Sorry to break the news to you, but Crate and Barrel, East Elm and Design Within Reach aren’t coming to downtown anytime soon.

  26. reflip March 10, 2008 at 8:49 am #

    Dan,

    Wealth is relative. Urban is relative. Connecticut Ave in DC is wealthier than Elmwood. Given. But Chevy Chase is far wealthier than Amherst, and far more “urban.” You’re being deceptive when you say that upscale stores will only go to urban areas that are wealthier than Buffalo’s, but the “wealth-i-ness” of the suburb doesn’t matter provided it isn’t in a city. That’s a “city vs. suburb” mentality if I ever heard one.

    My argument is that the region can only support one of these upscale retail developments, lifestyle center or not. So, if it gets built in Amherst it will effectively kill any further retail development on the waterfront.

    The question in, “What effect will this development have on retail development downtown?” (Assuming you’ll concede they are banking the Bass Pro project on attracting future retail development to the area.) There’s only so much money to go around in the region, so where you put things makes a difference. Some very vocal residents of Amherst have said, predictably, “We don’t want this.” Well, why force it on them? Unless there’s a silent majority out there who’ve issued an unspoken mandate.

  27. Dan March 10, 2008 at 11:09 am #

    Generally, these are the criteria used for site selection among upscale chain restaurants and stores.

    • Population living in a certain radius (mileage and driving time).
    • Percentage of families versus singles in a certain radius.
    • Average family and household income in a certain radius.
    • Average age of the population in a certain radius.
    • Cumulative income of all people in a certain radius.
    • Education level in a certain radius.
    • Number of jobs in a certain radius.
    • Traffic volume at a location.
    • Utility availability at a location.
    * Appropriate venue for a location (wealthy urban neighborhood, lifestyle center, high-end superregional mall)
    • Proximity of other mid- and high-end retail development (positive).
    • Proximity of low-end commercial development (negative).
    • Property size and geometry.
    • Potential return on investment.

    As for the waterfront, the likely tenant base is probably going to be much different than a lifestyle center in a middle-to-upper-middle income area. Expect a mix more like Village West in Kansas City, Kansas (the rough-and-tumble little brother to Kansas City, Missouri) rather than Legacy Village or Crocker Park.

    Another thing to consider: high-end chains usually don’t open in Buffalo because the demographics just don’t work; city or suburbs. They prefer to be in the heart of an area that is solidly upper-middle-class for miles around; Amherst/Clarence doesn’t come close to Oakland County, Michigan; the Heights/Hillcrest/Chagrin Vallley suburbs east of Cleveland; Johnson County, Kansas; or even the eastern suburbs of Rochester. They’ll come to the Buffalo area only after they’ve exhausted most other locations where their paper pushers calculate they can get a greater return on their investment.

    I guess what I’m saying is “don’t expect the really high end stuff at Amherst Town Centre yet”. Borders, Starbucks, H&M, Coldwater Creek, maybe California Pizza Kitchen or P.F. Chang, but probably not Restoration Hardware, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Arhaus, Design Within Reach, or Whole Foods.

  28. reflip March 10, 2008 at 11:27 am #

    Agreed on that. I’m expecting an outdoor version of the Eastview Mall in Victor (outside of Rochester), with a few subtractions. Basically, the only value I see in this project is that seeing a few familiar department stores nearby will make downstate residents feel more comfortable sending their kids to UB.

  29. Jesse March 28, 2008 at 10:38 pm #

    Along the lines of people feeling comfortable with familiar stores… how much merit is there in the rumor of Trader Joe’s scoping the area? It may seem like just another store in just another upscale ‘lifestyle center’ (it does seem to appeal to that demo), but to me it’s a piece of home. If it doesn’t go there, please let it go SOMEWHERE.

  30. Whitney Yax May 7, 2008 at 8:07 am #

    I don’t think anyone returned or joined to define what is meant by “fake” in reference to this project:

    Roget’s Thesaurus suggests these root synonyms for “fake:”
    Untruth
    Deception
    Falsehood
    Result of Imitation

    Unfortunately, Denizen, as much as you and I might share disgust with “the plethora of other crappy suburban retail developments nearby,” these developments can generally not be characterized as fake, as they rarely purport to be something that they are not.

    A Town Centre like that proposed by Benderson, however, IS the self-proclaimed result of imitation of the attractive qualities of either Small Town USA or an urban retail district like EV, such as walkability and combined work-live spaces. By eliminating potentially unattractive qualities, such as through the exclusion of affordable housing units, along with many of the incidental charms of a non-simulated town center, the developments can also be considered untrue, deceptive, and false in their imitations.

    Whether you believe this development will have a positive or negative effect on the region, it certainly cannot be argued to be anything but fake.

  31. Tom May 7, 2008 at 9:29 am #

    Why did the Amherst Planning board then recomment it not be built?? and What about the master plan if it is such a good project????

  32. Eez May 7, 2008 at 6:07 pm #

    Let’s see, have a vacant plot of lead-contaminated land just sit there, or build what would be a huge asset to that particular area (with UB and Pepsi Center right there, as BP pointed out)…AND have a private company (not government aka our tax money) clean up the site. I’ve been to a few of these types of places down south, and they are always buzzing with activity. We really are our own worst enemies around here, when it comes to NIMBY and being so resistant to change. Note to Benderson: Never mind Chipotle, PLEASE bring in a Joe’s Crab Shack!!!!

  33. Joseph May 7, 2008 at 11:43 pm #

    Is Satish for it or against it? Or is he only interested in getting his double dipping state pensions (one from the Town, one from the State) and his lifetime health benefits!! Oh! I forgot Satish Mohan is for the people and will only work for one dollar, Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!!! The people of Amherst deserve what they get.

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