Down Economy Hurts the Mix in ‘Mixed-Use’

By on Thursday, March 25th, 2010 at 7:12 am

The new towers rising over the last decade have mostly all included retail along the base in the hope of creating vibrant mixed-use communities akin to older city centers, but as the economy has soured, many of those spaces remain empty.

By there very nature, cities bring residents and services, office workers and shops, together in close proximity. The difference between urban living and the suburbs for many is the ability to walk out of their residence and find themselves in a thriving retail district or enjoying a drink at their favorite watering hole. Mixing residential with retail is also the crux of New Urbanism, the modern philosophy behind projects like Liberty Harbor North as well as in planning offices around the country. But now much of that retail space sits empty.

Adding retail to new construction in urban areas ensures an available supply of services for residents and ready supply of customers for the shops and businesses. Street level retail also makes communities more walkable by providing services in close proximity and by making the streetscape a more interesting place to be and interact. Retail has also played a key role, particularly in new construction projects in Jersey City, to hide the massive parking structures; Jersey City’s high water table makes underground parking more expensive to build and street level retail space helps hide the parking decks.

But with the slowing economy, much of this retail space remains unleased. For instance, the Athena tower on Washington Blvd has just one retail tenant, a dry cleaners. A burger shop had been planned for part of the retail space, but the “coming soon” signs have since disappeared with no sign of future occupancy; the other retail spaces are still empty. Similarly, retail space in the nearby Trump Towers remains empty.

These two towers are not exceptions. Grove Pointe, a three year old building built on top of the Grove Street PATH station still has empty storefronts. The roughly 10,000 square feet in the base of 77 Hudson / 70 Greene Street is mostly vacant as is much of the retail portion in Liberty Harbor North.

Part of the problem might simply be too much retail and not enough new residents to support the shops. The national retail square footage per capita in the nation rose over the last decade making available more retail space than ever before.

Meanwhile, high rise retail in Jersey City is also competing with the Newport Mall. The management there has made a push over the last several years to bring in higher end stores and improve the overall shopping experience.



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