Prentiss Riddle: Austin

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Mueller marts, both mega and mini

At Tuesday's Mueller meeting, Jim Adams of ROMA Design had troubling things to say about grocery stores.

He repeated what I've heard from other sources, that Catellus is having trouble finding a small grocer willing to be located in the "Town Center" north of Lake Park. Donna Carter and Jim Walker of the Mueller Advisory Commission said they found that surprising, given the Statesman article this week on the boom in small groceries [mirror]. Although Catellus says they've been beating the bushes for someone willing to open an 18,000 sf market, I have to wonder who they've been talking to and, maybe more importantly, the specifics of the deal they're offering. Surely a Fresh Plus or one of the many new boutique grocers in the Statesman article would care about the rent at least as much about the square footage. (Not to mention a Michoacana Meat Market, another booming category of small grocers omitted from the Statesman article!)

Meanwhile, in a report on recent changes in the Mueller plan, Adams said that some land swaps at the northern edge of Mueller have freed up enough space at Berkman and 51st for a full-sized supermarket. He showed a conceptual plan for a 140,000 sf supermarket surrounded by loft housing, small shops, and office space for companies that want to be near the Austin Film Society. They're calling this new area the "Market District" (as opposed to the "Town Center", the "Southern Gateway" at Berkman and Manor, and the "Regional Retail" on I-35).

Members of the Commission didn't seem impressed with ROMA's proposal. They pointed out that a full supermarket might reduce Mueller residents' car trips outside the neighborhood somewhat but it would also increase car trips into the neighborhood, probably resulting in a net increase in Mueller's overall traffic impact. Jim Walker asked whether we're really coming up with new, more sustainable retail models or just tinkering with old ones.

No one mentioned that there are already two full-sized supermarkets within a mile of Mueller (Fiesta and the Hancock HEB), plus Target in Capitol Plaza. None of them are particularly walkable, but how many Muellerites will walk to do their full-scale, big-cart, jumbo-toilet-paper shopping anyway? If the area really needs another traditional car-centric supermarket, I'd say it belongs with the Regional Retail.

As others have noted, what seems to be missing from the plan on the table is true neighborhood retail and dining within easy walking distance of the eastern residential portion of Mueller. A scaled-down Market District at Berkman and 51st would help. But there should also be neighborhood retail -- at least a bodega-sized convenience store and a coffeeshop -- on Berkman near Manor. So far all that's scheduled for this Southern Gateway is apartments, although one Catellus person I spoke to said that's to be driven by what the apartment developers come to them with.

I have two modest proposals:

  1. At least a sliver of the Southern Gateway should be designated as live/work and brought online as soon as possible in Phase 2 of Mueller. I hear a lot of interest in live/work property but so far it sounds like that's all scheduled for years out; I think there should be a small trial of live/work ASAP, just as there's a small trial of Garden Court houses in Phase 1. One live/work unit should be reserved for use as a neighborhood bodega as soon as the apartments at the Southern Gateway are built. Unless the live/work units are prohibitively expensive, it should be easy enough to rent it month-to-month to tech startups until then, and sell it again if the bodega fails to catch on.
  2. The public needs to be invited to participate in recruiting small local business to Mueller. Right now the Catellus site has sections for regional retail and big commercial developers, but I don't see a place for individuals to be matchmakers in the process. I want to send "Wish You Were Here" cards to all my favorite local shops and restaurants and tell them exactly who to call to find a place in the Town Center, Market District and (let us hope) Southern Gateway.

I could only attend an hour of the Mueller Commission meeting. It was not the informal session of a few regulars that I expected, but a packed and serious room. Unfortunately the agenda was packed, too, so I had to leave before citizen communication started. Even though we Mueller malcontents couldn't get up and rant, I was impressed that Jim Walker and other Commission members seemed to be aware of some of the issues recently raised in the blogosphere, and I feel more hopeful about the process as a result. (Okay, M1ek, call me a dupe. :-) )

P.S. Don't miss the Mueller update in this week's Chronicle.

austin 2007.03.23 link

Comments

Well, does it pay to be optimistic about this kind of stuff? Let's tally:

"Don't worry; Capital Metro wouldn't dare implement a plan which doesn't give rail service to central Austin".

"Don't worry; the Seaholm Plan won't screw the Pfluger Bridge extension".

Etc.

M1EK [mdahmus cxe io punkto com] • 2007.03.23
I can't for the life of me remember where, but somebody a while back said they had tried to get Fresh Plus to open a branch somewhere and found them completely disinterested in expansion. I suspect that the profit margin at their size is so dangerously slim that they'd need to be subsidized to open a new store anywhere at this point.

M1EK [mdahmus cxe io punkto com] • 2007.03.23
Good overview Prentiss. I'm not really following the new Mueller development that closely, so it's nice to read perspectives different that what we get in the newspaper.
Steve

Steve Crossland [steve cxe crosslandteam punkto com] • 2007.03.25
Excellent. I like your suggestions and it's what I tried to convey at the meeting. We need the public to be involved in what's happening out here instead of leaving it up to other people (i.e. Catellus) to come up with all of the solutions. I'm not an optimist when I say that we can make this community work if we all make the effort instead of relying on someone else to speak up and/or solve a problem.

Dee Copeland [dee cxe deecopeland punkto com] • 2007.03.26
Dee, thanks for stopping by. You and I didn't get to talk at the Austinbloggers meetup last month, nor at the Mueller meeting, but I was pleased to see you on the Commission.

If you don't mind, I've got a bunch of questions!

If someone in the community knew of a small local business interested in Mueller, do you know who they should contact at Catellus or elsewhere?

Is there a way for us to get a ballpark on retail rents in the Town Center? What kind of price per square foot would a small grocer have to pay? Is it possible that a deal could be sweetened somehow in acknowledgement that the grocer would be crucial to the development of Mueller as a whole?

Did I hear correctly that Catellus wants developers to come to them with proposals for large pieces of the Southern Gateway, and if those are not to be 100% apartments, the suggestion will have to come from the developers? If so, how would we go about trying to be matchmakers between small businesses and apartment developers?

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2007.03.26
Thank you for all of the information on this project.

Kelly [kmanfredini cxe gmail punkto com] • 2007.03.27
More rumors from the Mueller open house on 4/1/07, good ones this time:

The Town Center may not be put off for years as I'd heard, and in fact there may be an announcement in May.

The dense area at Manor and Berkman is not intended to be just apartments. (The Catellus person I talked to had not heard the expression "Southern Gateway" so maybe I made that one up, or maybe I heard it without capital letters and assumed it was an official term like Town Center and the others.)

There should also be an announcement soon of some live/work shop houses for the Town Center area.

Catellus doesn't seem to be able to respond yet to people's #1 complaint (home prices), but it sounds like they may be listening on other points...

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2007.04.02
Here's the deal. Mueller is getting its own urban Wal-Mart Supercenter! There, you heard it here first. Get ready for one every 3 miles, people, because that is my plan.

Every. Three. Miles.

The proposed one at Northcross (at Anderson and Burnet) is 5.5 miles away.

The Wal-Mart Supercenter at 1030 Norwood Park is 3.7 miles away.

Bring it on, Responsible Growth for Mueller.

Lee Scott • 2007.04.14
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