Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Whole Foods in Madison Re-Revisited: The Self-Correcting Blogithingy In Action

by Tom Bozzo

A few days ago Ben at Badger Blues had caught a tiny Capital Times news item pointing to the likely resolution of the recent controversy over the relocation of our Whole Foods store to a much larger building in the otherwise new-urbanist Hilldale Mall redevelopment (*):
Joseph Freed & Associates is now looking at a 65,000 square-foot grocery with structured parking and condominiums along the University Avenue frontage, according to sources in the Hill Farms neighborhood.

Freed officials declined to comment Tuesday, saying they wanted to present their long-range plans to the neighborhood before making any statements.
I staked out the position in several posts that the additional amenities weren't worth the risk of pushing the store (and its traffic) into the 'burbs. I'm happy to say that my concerns seem to have been unfounded and that I'm happy that the Plan Commission and Council holders-out look to be getting a materially more desirable development for their efforts. (**) It hopefully would be clear to long-time readers that I don't think it's wrong in principle for the city to play hardball with developers.

The outcome isn't a huge surprise. My basic analysis was that Freed needed to bring the Whole Foods traffic to Hilldale more than Whole Foods needed that specific location. However, among places to relocate the store, Hilldale was probably the best option — and the one closest to the center of mass for the Whole Foods customer base. Revealed preference suggests Whole Foods told Freed to fix it rather than to go pound sand.

I would not expect neighborhood buy-in to be a problem, as I recall the neighborhood supported the previous plans, but securing it is an important step towards returning to the Plan Commission, if perhaps not quite a necessary one in the mathematical proof sense (***). Ben's analysis and mine assume, of course, that having acceded to the stated wishes of Plan Commission (and Council) opponents with both the structured parking and additional residential function of the building, that the Commission will actually approve the revised plans.

The ostensible loser is Tim Metcalfe, owner of the neighboring Sentry Foods grocery, who worked up some "grassroots" opposition from his customers that may have helped with the close Council vote. I could see this as the wages of sin — the guy with 70,000 square feet in a suburban-style mall complaining about the would-be crime against new urbanism — but I think Metcalfe would benefit more than he thinks from a healthier Hilldale. It would be an unambiguous plus for the other incumbent merchants.

Now, if I might suggest a tenant for one of the new retail spaces: Apple Store!

Meanwhile, we've seen a bit of collateral damage from the legislative reaction to the Kelo decision as a south side redevelopment project was abandoned for possible inability to uproot a convenience store.


(*) When Hilldale was built, it was basically in the 'burbs, but the westward component of Madison's sprawl now puts it in what you'd think of as a west-central location.

(**) In the interest of maintaining the blog and seeing my children grow up, I won't hold my breath waiting for certain law professors to admit that they squandered such intellectual credibility as they might have had putting lipstick on a pig.

(***) But if neighborhood buy-in weren't really important, there would be a Walgreen's instead of the Monroe Commons building in our neighborhood.
An Apple store at Hilldale would be a dream come true.
Isn't there an Apple store on Odana? Or is that strictly iPods only? I haven't been in there yet, so I'm just going by what I see driving by.
Tonya: Yeah, but I'd need a big raise. Daddy wants a MacBook Pro.

Pose: The place on Odana (the Pod Shop/Mac Shop) is a locally-owned Apple authorized reseller, rather than an Apple company store. That's not a bad thing to have around, either -- I miss the old MacGalaxy on University Ave. I haven't yet been in there, though.
Thanks for the update, Tom. I've never been able to stop in because they have really odd hours that don't allow us 9-5'ers to get there.
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