Strip mall unsustainable

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It’s human nature for judicious restraint to sometimes be supplanted by the desire to “take action.”
Pursuit of unrealistic desires sometimes leads us to a precipice where we are finally forced to decide whether to make a potentially fatal leap or turn back.
Our community finds itself at just such a precipice with the impending decision about the Trinity Place strip mall development.
When we began our quest back in 2005, we were searching for a formula that would significantly diversify our retail sector, provide a suite of new and exciting shopping opportunities, greatly enhance gross receipts tax revenue, provide a community gathering place, and ensure a large, constant revenue stream for our schools.
Seven years later, we find ourselves deciding to use significant public resources to move our only grocery store across the street.
Members of the hard-working Trinity Site Revitalization Project Advisory Committee should be applauded for their extreme dedication and perseverance in attempting to buck the realities of small-town living to create a big-town lifestyle for our citizens.
But we should not be lulled into moving forward with the Trinity Site development based solely on a sentiment that the Advisory Committee worked so hard to come up with the best thing they could think of within the parameters of their original marching orders.
Sometimes doing nothing is better than doing the wrong thing.
The strip mall design — which is what Trinity Place is, regardless of admirable attempts by Public Relations specialists to brand it otherwise — is an outdated retail and development paradigm that has ultimately ended in failure. This is not conjecture or a naysayer’s opinion. This is fact.
In community after community from coast to coast, there is hard evidence that the 30-year retail experiment known as the strip mall is an unsustainable proposition.
While our community debates whether to embark upon our own path to failure, thousands of communities across America are debating how to recover from theirs.
Commerce and development experts from the Urban Land Institute have produced respected essays outlining the ingredients of failed strip developments, which are characterized by “a linear pattern of retail businesses strung along major roadways characterized by massive parking lots, big signs, boxlike buildings, and a total dependence on automobiles for access and circulation.”
Sound familiar? It sounds like Trinity Place.
According to an essay by Edward T. McMahon of the ULI, the few remaining strip developments clinging to life across the country are those anchored by a grocery store, similar to the arrangement we currently find at the Mari-Mac center.
Ironically, by moving this anchor store across busy Trinity Drive, we will move our commerce nexus farther away and beyond practical walking distance from established neighborhoods, increasing Trinity Place’s dependence on automobiles for access and circulation, and thereby further enhancing the center’s strip-like character.
Moreover, moving Smith’s across the street will effectively uproot the anchor that has aided the viability of existing businesses within the Mari-Mac center.
Coupled with the government-sanctioned monopoly that Smith’s will enjoy with its presence in Trinity Place and its ownership of the Mari-Mac center, the proposed Trinity Place strip mall will not serve to diversify retail opportunities and may actually prove harmful to existing businesses now located in the Mari-Mac.
At best, these businesses could move across the street, but higher rents at Trinity Place could actually accelerate this retail death spiral. For a community purported to have some of the smartest people on the planet among its citizens to repeat the same old tried-and-true strip mall experiment that has resulted in demonstrable failure nationwide and to expect a different outcome would demonstrate reckless hubris or downright insanity on our part.
We do not know the true potential or opportunities outside of retail that could come from the Trinity Site parcel — our community’s last, large commercial tract — because for the past seven years retail is the only option we have explored.
It’s time to step back from the precipice and take another look around. Trinity Place as currently envisioned is a leap into failure.
Patient restraint is a virtue that will allow us to pursue other successful quality-of-life amenity options.

James Rickman
Los Alamos