What Do You Think? Mall Sprawl vs. Downtown Dock Rehab
Mar 20, 2017 10:40AM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
On a recent weekend I spent the day conducting my own survey on the difference in retail activity between downtown Annapolis and three of our local mall areas including; Annapolis Harbour Center, Annapolis Towne Centre, and the Westfield Annapolis Mall. It was quite a contrast. All three malls were busy. The ratio of people strolling versus shopping inside stores was far better at the malls than what I’ve seen on Main Street or Maryland Avenue. I now understand why our core downtown shops are under pressure. This kind of stress on urban retail shops is not unique to Annapolis. There are many small towns, like ours, that have found a way to be more vibrant for visitors and consumers. Clearly, Annapolis can do better.
Parking seems to be a persistent problem downtown. Yet, when I walked through several garages and parking lots there were plenty of open spaces. If people want to visit, they will find a place to park. I have noticed several new signs directing visitors to garages. This is a good start. The Annapolis & Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau has a nifty, easy to navigate, website: visitannapolis.org. Even locals will learn new things about Annapolis.
Many storefronts are interesting and inviting, while empty stores are very unattractive. Garbage on the sidewalks and streets is particularly off-putting. During my Saturday adventure, the tide was very high, which kept many people from strolling around City Dock. A few years ago, I served on a mayoral commission to study potential ways to improve City Dock. After two years, a plan was produced, and passed by City Council. And, then it went nowhere. It is a shame because there are some good ideas buried in the paper.
I have watched several small towns around the East Coast re-invent themselves with strong government support and buy-in from their respective communities. A few examples include: Red Bank, New Jersey; Rockland, Maine; Norwalk, Connecticut; and Wilmington, North Carolina. Each town took advantage of their precious waterfront. They made the water an inviting destination with picnic areas, band shells, open dock access, and attractive cafés. Our waterfront is dominated by a parking lot.
Last month I spent a few days in Seattle, Washington. The city is booming. Most impressive was massive construction to accommodate retailing giant, Amazon. Seattle locals told me that Amazon was really hurting other major retail stores in their downtown. Internet shopping is certainly going to accelerate in the coming months and years. How will this trend affect America’s malls? This could be an opportunity for small towns by offering things that don’t work on the Internet like: repairing your shoes, going to an indie film theater, getting a haircut, eating an ice cream cone, appreciating an art gallery, finding just the right antique for your mantle, getting your suit cleaned, learning some history on a walking tour, sailing through the harbor, and simply enjoying the atmosphere. The towns listed above have these services available.
Several of our civic leaders are working hard to make good things happen. They deserve our support. Unfortunately, there are a few elected officials who are determined to stop any initiatives that might make our town a better place. When our next round of elections come up, I encourage everyone to listen carefully. Who offers the leadership to make Annapolis a better place?