Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Battle of the Lifestyle Malls

It's shaping up to be a classic developers nightmare, which of course means the community will end up picking up the tab. The Village at Orchard Hills vs. the Village at Knapp Crossing, a "showdown" in the words of the Press.

So what are these Villages? And why are two developers trying to create them just a mile apart on the East Beltline?

The Villages are the latest step in the evolution of shopping in America. First we had real villages, then strip malls, then enclosed malls, and now Villages, a/k/a "lifestyle malls" - which really means a mall that's cheaper to operate, which really means a big strip mall shaped in a rectangle with some grass in the middle. They offer cheaper rents to tenants and allow developers to con local planning boards into thinking they are going to build something really cool and not just another stupid shopping center.

So the two proposed Villages will fight to get the classiest anchor tennants so one can claim it's the real Lifestyle Mall. The winner goes on to (hopefully) build something sort of cool, with the same stores to be found at Woodland Mall 10 miles south (Wow, this is really cool! a new Abercrombies!) The loser goes back to the local planning commission, pleads "financial hardship" and demands permission to build a really crappy strip mall with a Walllgreens, gas stations and maybe a mattress store. If you don't believe me, just look at Celebration Village - a first class example of a developer pitching something cool and delivering a big crappy strip mall.

In any other business, the loser would lose his shirt and move on. But developers are different; they get to take their mistakes and dump them on the community that was foolish enough to believe their bullshit in the first place. Meanwhile, the rest of (i.e. voters, citizens, community members) lose a little bit more of the quality of life that brought us to Kent County in the first place.

Stay tuned for periodic updates of the Battle of the Villages.

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