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Park Lane Promenade – ugh, another strip mall

Mike at ReReno is right on the mark when he calls the latest proposal for Park Lane Mall “absolute crap”. It’s just another strip mall. And I’ll go one further. If what this part of town needed – this far from the freeway – was another strip mall, then the strip mall with Save-Mart at Plumb and Lakeside wouldn’t be full of empty storefronts. The strip mall next to the Atlantis wouldn’t be full of empty storefronts. All of Shopper’s Square would be leased up.

This part of town needs an entirely new concept. It is an area ripe not for redevelopment – but for development. The form that development takes will determine whether the area is set back or advanced–for years.

The developer's proposal for Park Lane Promenade.

The developer’s proposal for Park Lane Promenade.

The future of the part of town between Plumb and Peckham along Virginia Street is very important to Reno’s identity – both its self identity and that which outsiders perceive. The potential is there: the transit service, the TOD plan, the three major attractions (Peppermill, Atlantis, and Convention Center ). But what has to follow along and make the area live up to its potential is a catalyst. A major developer – and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be this one – needs to take that next step forward and break out of the strip mall mold and build something that will cause the entire area to transform along those lines.

It’d be a useful thought exercise for these guys to sit down with Google Maps and look at two things side by side. Here, I’ll facilitate.

On the left, downtown Reno. On the right, the Park Lane site.

On the left, downtown Reno. On the right, the Park Lane site.

If this were a greenfield development–part of Damonte Ranch, say–it wouldn’t be weird to build a giant strip mall the size of half of downtown. But, this development is half a mile from downtown. It’s directly adjacent to the epicenter of urban Reno’s (not downtown Reno’s) renaissance. It is a slap in the face to everything that the TOD plan stands for to build the strip mall this developer is planning on this site. And we need to tell the developer, and we need to tell the planning commission.

The proposal has a few nice elements to it. These elements are included in the “intensification plan” – to be read as beyond phase 1. Phase 1 includes a pharmacy, a couple of fast food restaurants, some “shops”, parking lots, and landscaping. Despite the proposal’s language to indicate that parking areas are not visible from the street, most of the Phase 1 Plumb Lane frontage is parking.

This project should be mixed-use. It should go beyond “interfacing” with surrounding uses (in terms of where driveways connect on different sides of Plumb or Virginia), to the point of reconnecting or forming new connections in the street grid. The way forward for this part of town should be to break up these giant lots by connecting the street grid through them. Of course, modern day site planners must be subjected to electroshock therapy at the academy if they so much as say a single word in defense of the concept of well-connected street grids. This site plan is a textbook example. All the “roads” inside this giant megablock are curvy affairs that terminate in or are redirected by either culs-de-sac or small traffic circles.

Since all the architectural renderings in the plan are merely this elevation or that elevation drawings of various cookie-cutter strip mall architecture, one gets no sense of the vistas, from within, without or looking through this project. How does it relate to the surrounding scenery visually?

Finally, the language in the project proposal treats pedestrian amenities as some kind of cosmetic feature. Pedestrian orientation is a design philosophy. What are the pedestrian pathways in this project? That is not accounted for. There will be sidewalks and there will be landscaping. That is what is accounted for.

It’s good that someone wants to do something with this lot. But what they do with it matters greatly to the future of the city. This developer should try a little harder.