Gateway Mall Now and the Original Concept A Study in ContrastsIn the next 2 essays, I will try to paint a picture of what the architects originally envisioned for the Gateway Mall and how certain decisions and exclusions from that proposed plan, have added to some of the problems we are facing today. This is not a whine about "oh, what could have been", but a study in bad decisions, unanswered questions and of Moore Unintended Consequences. But specifically, as in the case of the Pivot Point Building, of a tired and uninspired approach to all aspects of the development process and social issues North of Howard.
Where Are The Trees? In studying the original plans that I distributed to some of you at the Pivot Point meeting, one of the most noteable exclusions are the hundreds of trees that were to be planted generously along Howard Street, throughout the bus terminal and the mall parking lot.The architects envisioned a "park like" setting to create a sense of intimacy and soften the hard edge of the mall aesthetic. The unanimous reaction from the people I handed the drawings to at the meeting, were that the trees would have made a huge difference in the overall atmosphere and the perception of the mall. I totally agree. And now, 10 years later, those original young trees, had they been planted and maintained properly, would now be the mature, almost fully grown "park", the architects originally envisioned.
This is Not a Minor Technicality. Landscaping has been universally accepted and embraced as an integral and necessary ingredient in successful mall environments across the country. It has been proven in study after study that a lush, colorful well maintained landscape changes the way people feel. It provides a sense of order, a sense of well being and conveys the idea that mall managers care about their customers.
As a study in contrast, stand in the middle of the parking lot at Gateway and examine how you feel. Then go to Old Orchard during the 8 month growing season and look at the effort and care taken at that mall or any mall for that matter.Do You Notice a Difference? You should because it makes a difference. Most malls have a full time staff of landscape workers whose only job is to plant, water and maintain the landscape. If you still have doubts after reading this, I have 15 complete sets of the drawings that I believe would change your mind.
The cost vs. benefit ratio is a no brainer. Landscaping costs are now a routine inclusion in almost all successful mall budgets.
It still can be done at Gateway and in my opinion, it should be done.
In the big picture, that "park like" setting in the parking lot, would be an added benefit to the marketing effort needed to sell the condominiums at Pivot Point since the current views looking south or east from those apartments are awful. The view from the new 17 story building across the street would also be greatly enhanced, increasing the chance of "renting " ( wink, wink ) those 1 bedroom apartments for $1450.00. The birds eye view of the Howard el station and the barren parking lot at Gateway, would be a really good reason to keep my blinds in the permanantly shut position if I lived in that building.Where is the Underground Parking Garage?The original proposal called for a continous, underground parking garage beneath the Dominicks and the building that now contains Bally's and Marshalls. My best guess from looking at the small drawing that I have, is that the garage would accomodate over 200 cars.
The car entrance to that parking garage was via a "cars only" lane adjacent to the bus exit at Howard. Cars could enter that parking lane east or west from Howard Street and enter the garage, just beyond the bend in the road. The exit from the garage was to be at the very end of the building, just north of Rogers. Just beyond that garage exit was the original loading dock for trucks.
Obviously, this was the correct location for the loading dock, since trucks now stop traffic on Clark Street.
What Happened to These Plans?
Mall operators, developers, retailers and architects all use "available retail square footage" vs. "necessary parking space requirement" ratios to determine the synergy between the two. The original plans called for the construction of the parking garage for a reason.
On a regular Saturday, between the shoppers at Dominicks, Marshalls, Hollywood Video and the Bally's members, the parking lot at Gateway is approx. 60 - 70% percent full. During holiday season, I have had difficulty finding parking close to Dominicks and end up at the very north end of the parking lot fighting for space from "My Place For" customers.
Now add to this equation, the fact that this portion of the mall is still not fully rented. Perhaps the reason those stores remain empty can be partly attributed to a lack of "necessary parking" vs."available square footage". If those empty stores were rented and successful, there would not be enough space to park all the cars.
As I mentioned before, it's sometimes difficult now, during Saturdays and holdays to find convenient spaces. How could that parking lot possibly handle all the cars from the customers of the fully rented stores in that part of the mall?
I fully understand there is an above ground parking structure on the terminal side, but that is not at all convenient for customers at this side of the mall. There is no way to convenently access the parking structure from the Dominicks side of the mall, except through the rotunda. If the parking lot is full and you need to park in the parking structure, are you going to lug all your groceries through the rotunda building, down the road to your car?
I don't know about you, but I wouldn't. I'd wave thanks but no thanks on my way to Evanston, where parking is available and convenient.Why would available and easily accesible, covered parking not be built as originally planned, for a car oriented mall?
This unique decision has far reaching ramifications beyond just the retail spaces at Gateway. Fast foward to the Pivot Point proposal. What was everyone including the developer and the zoning lawyer talking about for the first half of the meeting?
Parking, Parking and Less Parking.
If the underground parking garage was built, adding all that extra capacity, Gateway could have sold adjacent land or parking spaces to the developer for his Pivot Point project, generating some income for Gateway. Or, they could have sold or rented spaces to the new Pivot Point condo owners in the parking garage, again generating income. All in all, Pivot Point would not have had a parking issue and cars would not be added to the street, in the mystery spaces that were being discussed.
Additionaly, the Metra link that was originally discussed could have become a real possibility rather than the pie in the sky dream it is now. For the Metra link to make any sense whatsoever, what ingredient is missing for the Park and Ride system that is set up successfully elsewhere? You guessed it.
Parking. Parking and More Parking.
During the week, commuters could drive to Gateway, park in set aside paid spaces in the covered parking garage and walk across the street to hop on the train, again generating income for Gateway. Commuters who take the Howard el train could do the same.
That is what is known as a transportation hub.Contrast that concept to what we have now.
A White Elephant.