Comment of the Day: Introducing the La Branch St. Shopping District

COMMENT OF THE DAY: INTRODUCING THE LA BRANCH ST. SHOPPING DISTRICT “La Branch Street is the answer. Make a linear ‘shopping district’ 5th Avenue style. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel — copy what already works. Instead of a cluster inspired district that will encourage development of a few blocks, the entire street will become synonymous with shopping in Downtown Houston. The street’s location has many benefits to creating a thriving retail shopping district: connectivity from the Northside all the way down to Hermann Park, ample empty parking lot blocks immediately adjacent ripe for development from the ground up, walking distance from all four of eastern Downtown’s major attractions (Minute Maid, Toyota Center, Discovery Green, and GRB), future MetroRail stops nearby (though an added stop between Austin and LaBranch would benefit such a district tremendously), and relative ease of location finding for drivers. A linear shopping district downtown would further accelerate residential development in all of eastern downtown, be it north, central, or south. No resident living on the eastern side of Downtown would have to cross more than three streets to get to La Branch. A cluster shopping district would only encourage development in its immediate vicinity; only so many residents could live within that three block range. The greatest advantage of a linear district is location finding — there’s no need to study maps and such to find where the Downtown retail is — just go park near La Branch Street and you’re there. Who really knows how to get to Houston Pavilions anyhow? No kitschy names that are created by focus groups — the La Branch Shopping District. Put up some new place identifier street name signs to be sure. Flags on light poles too. How many more out of town tourists/fans/convention attendees will be more likely to go shopping if directions will consist of ‘Walk thata way ’til you reach La Branch–You’re there.’? Create a TIRZ for the linear district to incentivize the retail pioneers until the tipping point is reached at which retail and residential will create growth off of each other. Perhaps make the focus of the TIRZ building mixed-use parking garages to replace parking lots — create such a vast, easily accessible, free quantity of parking that the current perceived barrier to venturing downtown is eliminated.” [Thomas, commenting on Downtown Would Like To Know If You Would Like To Shop Downtown]

8 Comment

  • Even with all it imperfections regarding backside utility and access bays, Dallas St. is still a better candidate for corridor retail. Plus Dallas St. already has intensive retail infrastructure and would be a more logical connector from Main to the big park. This is already the plan that the downtown management district is working on. Btw there’s plenty of free parking downtown already if you’re willing to spend some money at your destination to get it validated and the Houston Pavilions garage is free to everyone.

  • In the long run, there are just too many great buildings and memorable places along Main St. and around Market Square to let them go to waste.

    People who pay $15/hour to park their car near Michigan Ave. in Chicago and shop on the Magnificent Mile do so not just for the retail offerings, which they can find closer to home and with free parking in Schaumburg or Skokie, but for the total ambience created by grand old buildings like the Tribune Tower, places of memory like the Water Tower, and sightseeing attractions like Millennium Park and the river.

    Main Street could be a mini version of this. Buildings like the Gulf or the Rice are as grand as in any Southern city. The historic end with the red brick pavement is like a taste of the French Quarter. Main Street Square could be great if it weren’t smothered by parking garages. The Bayou and Market Square will continue to grow as scenic spots.

    The key is not to try to offer enough free parking to compete with Willowbrook Mall for timid suburbanites, the key is to create a district that is grand and exciting and monumental enough that people will be willing to pay an arm and a leg or walk ten blocks to shop and stroll. Aim up, not down – emulate the great cities, not the boring suburbs. As Steve Jobs would say, don’t give them what they think they want, give them what they can’t imagine yet but you know they will like if they have.

  • The Magnificent Mile is a pretty unique place in the Midwest, it has never stopped being a shopping district and it has a huge benefit of all the super high end residential along Lakeshore Drive. It isn’t called the Gold Coast for nothing.

    You might as well be taking design cues from Miami Beach or saying Sugarland should model itself on Malibu.

    These things don’t exist in isolation.

  • The Magnificent Mile took shape in the 1920′s, when Chicago had become a major world city and Houston and Dallas were only dusty Southern towns. Houston now has 2/3 the population and 3/4 the GDP of the Chicago area; it’s not preposterous to think that we could also produce a grand retail experience downtown.

    Also, the Lakeshore Drive Gold Coast is neither within walking distance nor easy train ride from Michigan Ave. It’s as easy to get to downtown Houston from River Oaks.

  • @5
    Most of The Gold Coast is definitely within walking distance of the Magnificent Mile!

    During a summer internship I walked from the train at Michigan & Randolph to the 900 block of N. Lake Shore Drive every weekday. Of course, walking in downtown Chicago doesn’t make one some sort of pariah. Downtown Houston to River Oaks sounds a bit farfetched to me, though.

  • @6
    Most of the Gold Coast is further north on Lake Shore, near Lincoln Park. 900 N. Lake Shore is rather by itself out there by Navy Pier, and even then, I don’t think most people who live there are walking over a mile to Michigan to go shopping.

    I said it would be “as easy to get to” downtown Houston from River Oaks; I didn’t specify walking. Zipping down Allen Pkwy. takes what, 7 or 8 minutes? Meanwhile our friends on N. Lake Shore are halfway through Streeterville on their walk to Michigan Ave., icy wind blowing in their faces.

  • A lot of people have been to Chicago…