Rethinking the Strip Plaza Bringing Iden ty to the Strip City By Jaymon Dark
First Chair - Peter Prugh Second Chair - Michael Kuenstle
A Masters Research Project Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Par al Fulfillment of the Requirements for a Degree of the Masters in Architecture
University of Florida Spring 2010
Acknowledgements Iâ€™d like to thank my family and friends for all their support. My chairs for their help on this project. And I must thank my brothers in Alpha Rho Chi that have always been there for me through all these years.
Table of Contents Chapter 1
Project Introduc on - Why the Strip Plaza?
Site Study - City of Merri Island, FL
Chapter 1 Why the Strip Plaza?
The Strip Plaza was designed to address a specific need. For the purpose of this study, a strip plaza is defined as a plaza that contains at least one major chain store that is supported by one or two secondary chain stores and a number of smaller retail shops. An example of these plazas would be a grocery store chain supported by a pharmacy chain and several retail shops and restaurants. These plazas began to appear in the post war era to provide a place for one-stop shopping in communi es that began to develop outside of major ci es.
The Strip Plaza meets the primary needs, but falls short in others Commonly these plazas are located along a major road within the community, situa ng the plaza lengthwise to the street with a large parking lot that serves the plaza bordering the road. This placement of the plaza o en makes li le eďŹ€ort to make a connec on to the surrounding context of the community. These plazas are constructed in the cheapest way possible without any considera on toward the permanence of the structure. If the tenants of the plaza move and leave it abandoned, the lack of con nuing maintenance allows the plaza to quickly fall into disarray leaving it incapable of being reused without major repairs. The plazas themselves give li le back to the community but a shopping opportunity. Being oriented for the car and being a one-stop loca on, the plaza is o en only visited by the public to shop and not as a des na on for enjoyment. This also produces a site that is not pedestrian friendly as most people that live within the surrounding community are unwilling to walk to the plaza and drive instead. Page 4
Goals set for the MRP As this research began the goal was to elevate the short comings of the strip plaza by introducing other programs that could charge the site and help make a be er rela on to the surrounding community. The aim was not to adapt what exists now but to build a new model for the strip plaza. This new model would a empt to make be er use of sites that these plazas occupied and to add support for the stores that could charge interest in the site, helping to prevent possible abandonment. The city which was chosen for this study was Merri Island, FL. Merri Island is a barrier island along the east coast of Florida that lies between the main land and last band of islands that make up the beach front. With water bordering it on both sides Merri Island is limited in respects to its expansion. With its limited space most of the island is oriented along one major road that spans ver cally through the city. The other major road intersects this main road and is the islands connec on to the main land and other border islands. Presently the island is mostly populated with suburban neighborhoods that are along Page 6
As the research developed the scope of the project expanded to include looking at the condi on of the city itself as a strip city. Itâ€™s orienta on along this single road has le Merri Island without a downtown core. For many ci es this core is a place its ci zens use iden fy their town and the core adds to their since of community by giving them a place that can gather. Incorpora ng a downtown into Merri Island presents challenges that donâ€™t always arise in ci es that began by developing around a downtown core. At the conclusion of this project a look is taken into what these challenges are and some ways they might be solved.
Areas examined for inspira on. To move forward with the project, we looked toward much of the new urbanism developments that have found their way into local ci es. There have also been many other areas where failed retail loca ons have been redeveloped with new mixed-use models. Two of these were selected for case studies. First of which was Baldwin Park, Orlando, FL which is a new urbanism community. The other is SODO which is mixed-use project also in Orlando, FL.
Conclusions drawn from this experiment Through the process of developing this project and analyzing the city the idea of reinven ng the strip plaza began to take on the broader scope. It was adapted into developing a solu on that replaces the strip plaza with a planning model that starts the transforma on of an area within the city into the beginning of a core which the city lacks. This includes the use of new urbanism ideas to produce an area that becomes friendlier to the pedestrian and crates public areas for the city. This core brings to the city the increase in scale and density that suburbia is missing. The project will work to introduce this scale and change without overpowering the smaller density and scale typically found in suburban ci es.
Chapter 2 Case Studies
Looking for inspira on from how other designers have explored altera ves to shopping programs, I decided to look at two newer construc ons in Orlando, FL. Orlando is very sprawled major city that has a significant number of communi es sca ered throughout itâ€™s limits. Most of these are very typical of the same elements that we are dealing with in Merri Island, where the suburban neighborhoods are bordered by shopping plazas that do li le to address the context around them. Recently many new urbanism communi es have started to be built with the city and the two I will focus on are Baldwin Park and SODO. Baldwin Park is a larger planned community that is using new urbanism ideas to develop a shopping core within the denser residen al neighborhoods of the plan. SODO is a smaller new urbanism plan reu lizing an abandoned plot of land in what is the medical district south of downtown Orlando. It is a more compact approach to new urbanism ideas. Page 15
Case Study 1 - Baldwin Park - Orlando, FL
Baldwin Park was planned with the intent to create a strong sense of community. The site uses several design strategies in its planning to build this sense. These strategies include ideas for traďŹƒc control, pedestrian access, parking control, public ameni es, and design criteria. Page 17
To deal with traﬃc Baldwin Park has 25 areas of entrance and exit to the surrounding communi es to help limit conges on at any one access. Signage is employed to assist in direc ng visitors to various elements within the park. Parking also helps with traﬃc flow with small amounts of parking along main streets and overflow parking placed in the center of blocks surrounded by buildings at the block edges to help limit parking seen from the main roads. Pedestrian access is aided by wider sidewalks and buﬀer areas between the pedestrian and traﬃc. Well placed public ameni es are sca ered throughout the community to give the pedestrian places to stop and rest or enjoy the area. Streetscapes are reinforced with design criteria such as the placement of garages at the rear of homes along alley access ways.
Open public green spaces for residents and visitors to gather or relax.
Chain store placed within block core to maintain outer street edge and to allow of parking lot that is obscured from street view.
Wide sidewalk areas to provide safe zone for pedestrians as well as parking on the street to act as buďŹ€er between pedestrian and road.
Roundabout for the easing of traďŹƒc and to provide nodes within the block structure.
Streets have few lanes of traďŹƒc to create shorter crosswalks and to provide safer street crossing for pedestrians.
Service areas and drive-thrus placed on rear of buildings within the block core to maintain pedestrian street.
Alleyways provided at intervals to allow pedestrians to transi on from streetscape to internal block parking areas.
Case Study 2 - SODO - Orlando, FL SODO is an acronym for (S)outh (O)f (D) owntown (O)rlando. SODO was designed as a des na on within the redeveloping south of downtown area. The design was for mixed use buildings that support a major retail chain store. Several useful concepts were employed for this development. Parking is limited along streetscape and addi onal parking is located in parking garages that are placed in the center of the mixed use buildings. Parking for the retail chain was moved to the roof of the building. Residen al is located above mixed use shops. Smaller stores are place at the main street edge to maintain the present density of the corridor.
Entrance to development designed to frame view to chain store at the rear of lot and to help minimize its larger scale.
Roundabouts used to mediate traďŹƒc flow.
Parking garages located within core of mixeduse building to hide them from view within the development.
Signage used to add to sense of place and to aid visitors naviga on.
Limited street parking and wide sidewalks to provide pedestrian safe zones.
Parking for retail chain store placed on roof to remove parking lot. Access to the rarking was designed into building facade.
Mixed-use buildings designed with diďŹ€eren ated skinning for retail level and residen al areas above to define their separa on.
Site Study - City of Merri Island, FL Merri Island is part of the barrier island system on the east coast of Florida. It is bordered on both sides by water and is the transi on land mass from the mainland city of Cocoa to the outer barrier island of Cocoa Beach. Because of the islands shape Merri Island developed as a linear city along one major road. This road, Courtenay Parkway (SR 3) is the main means of travel though the city and has quite heavy traﬃc flow. Courtenay is bisected two state roads (SR 520 and SR 528) that provide the island’s connec on to the mainland and other barrier islands. Historically from the mid 1800’s Merri Island was mostly orange groves and was only accessible by ferry. It wasn’t un l the mid 1900’s with the beginning of the Space Race that Merri Island began to develop. The opening Kennedy Space Center on the northern por on of the island called Cape Canaveral began the popula on growth within the city. The por on of the island north of SR 528 was cut oﬀ from the rest of the island in 1965 when the Barge Canal was cut to provide shipping access to the mainland. This por on of the island remains mostly under developed as most of the popula on is south of this point. The island is mostly residen al with light commercial/retail areas concentrated on SR 520 and along Courtenay between SR 520 and SR 528. This is the area we will focus on within the city.
Aerial Photo of Merri Island
Land Use in Merri Island Through analyzing the land use within the city one can see the pa ern of neighborhood placement just oďŹ€ the ver cal arterial road. The road itself is bordered by retail, commercial, and public uses which become the transi on spaces from the road to these neighborhoods. The issue is that these transi on spaces actually do li le to make a connec on between these two. They instead act as a boundary between the road and neighborhoods.
Legend of Land Use Zones Suburban Neighborhoods Mul -Family Housing Public Facili es Retail/Commercial Buildings Viable Shopping Plazas Abandoned Shopping Plazas Page 33
The majority of the land use within Merri Island is residen al with the majority of that being single-family housing. Most of this housing is organized within neighborhoods although many of these neighborhoods are not considered named communi es. There is a small amount of mul -family housing on the island and with the excep on of some new condo construc on along the rivers, most of the mul -family housing is lowincome and is place in undesirable areas.
Mul -Family Housing Page 34
There is a small amount of public buildings within the city. Of these four are public schools with the addi on of the local post oďŹƒce and the large community church that is also a school. No ceably absent from the city is any public park space. The rest of the cityâ€™s land use falls into the category of retail/commercial building. Many of these is Merri Island are either stand alone buildings or strip plazas along the two major roads. Much of the stand alone buildings are small businesses and restaurants.
Public Facili es Page 35
The rest of the retail/commercial are in the form of shopping/strip plazas and bigbox stores. For the purpose of this study a viable shopping plaza is one that s ll has its major chain store units occupied as well as most of its support store units occupied. An abandoned plaza has lost one or more of its major chain stores or has a low percentage of its support store units occupied. Within Merri Island few of these plazas have been able to be successful for long periods of me. Most of the plazas have become abandoned over the me and have struggled to replace their original tenants.
Viable Shopping Plazas
Abandoned Shopping Plazas Page 36
Project Site The site that has been chosen for the project is located fairly central within the city between the ci es two bisec ng roads. The site is mostly surrounded by neighborhoods with the one to the east of the site being one of the ci es few named neighborhoods and one of its most well known. South of the site is the city’s high school. Presently the site is divided into six separate land uses. Two of these are shopping plazas and one other is a bigbox store. There is also a townhome community, oﬃce buildings, and a senior care center. Both of the shopping plazas on the site are abandoned plazas. This por on of the road is 4-lane traﬃc with the highest of the street’s speed limit at 45 mph. Much of the site has no sidewalk of pedestrians and only the north intersec on has a crosswalks to traverse the street.
Abandoned Grocery Plaza Shopping Center was built for 1 Grocery Store, 1 Support Chain Stores, and 15 Retail Spaces. Site also hosts a small oďŹƒce complex with 50% occupancy, a Fast Food Restaurant, and Pharmacy Chain. Site is 13.7 acres with 32% of the site u lized for parking. Presently the Grocery is unoccupied, the Support Chains has closed and is occupied by Goodwill, and 9 of the Retail Spaces have tenants.
Abandoned Grocery Plaza Shopping Center was built for 1 Grocery Store, 2 Support Chain Stores, 2 Restaurant Spaces, and 14 Retail Spaces. Site also hosts a Bank, a Gas Sta on, a Fast Food Restaurant, and a vacant box store.
Site is 18.5 acres with 39% of the site u lized for parking. Presently the Grocery has been reoccupied by smaller store, both Support Chains have closed, 1 Restaurant Space has tenant, and only 4 of the Retail Spaces have tenants.
Occupied Big-Box Store Shopping Center was built for 1 Big Box Store. There are no other retail spaces.
Site also hosts building originally build as a Pharmacy that was vacated and has had many other tenants since. Site is 12.2 acres with 40% of the site u lized for parking. The Target has occupied the site since construc on.
Retail/Oﬃce Building Site This site is home to three separate buildings. There is a video store, a Sears service center, and an oﬃce building. Site also has a vacant lot.
Site is 7.4 acres with 30% of the site u lized for parking. The video store has changed tenants and the oﬃce building has 50% occupancy.
Townhome Community Mul -family housing community with 101 townhome units and a community pool.
Site is 10.4 acres
Design Approach Design Goals The goal laid out at the start of this design was to invent a new model to replace the current design of the strip plaza. This model would consider the needs for which strip plazas were originally designed and incorporate other programs that add to the experience and give back to the community. The ideas inherent in the New Urbanism movement will serve as a base for this model. The condi on that will serve as the diďŹ€ering factor in the development of this model will be its interac on with the suburban neighborhood and the cityâ€™s arterial road. One issue for considera on is dealing with the arterial road. This road is heavily traveled as it is the primary means of circula on throughout the city. Although the road is only 4 lanes of travel, at most intersec ons along the site it expands to 6 to 7 lanes that a pedestrian must cross. Sidewalks along the street are also not friendly to the pedestrian as they provide li le protec on from the arterial road. The model design will explore strategies to provide a streetscape that is pedestrian friendly.
The primary importance for this model is how it addresses the scale of the suburban city. The increase in scale and densifica on buildings of New Urbanism is a definite change from the smaller scale and density of the suburban city. Most buildings in the suburban city are one story buildings with the occasional building that is mul ple stories, but even these are never more than three stories tall. The goal here will be to introduce the increase in scale and density gradually so the city isnâ€™t overwhelmed with the abrupt change. To do this the height of buildings will start oďŹ€ at their highest within the center of the site. These heights will the decrease as buildings move further from this center and reduce down at the edges of the site to scales that relate be er to those of the neighborhoods at its borders. This will make the increase in the scale of buildings gradual over the site minimizing dras c scale changes. This gradual rise will mimic a mountain slowly rising from the landscape giving change to the topography of the cityâ€™s landscape. From this point this concept will be referred to as the suburban mountain.
Design Criteria Proceeding into the design we will define a set of programma c ideas that will drive the project. Some of these programs are currently part of the design of a strip plaza. The others are being brought in to enrich the design. While making this new model it is important that while model brings new life to the area it must con nue to sa sfy the needs the strip plaza addressed. Retail Space OďŹƒce Space Housing Green Space Parking Branding & Signage Service Page 47
Retail space is the primary func on of the strip plaza as it is all about one-stop shopping. For our model retail will s ll be an important program, but it will be coupled with other programs to enhance the experience.
Oﬃce space is a crucial program in the success of this model. Companies taking residence in oﬃce space with the site will oﬀer people to the site that will visit on a daily basis, helping to energize the other incorporated programs.
Housing will also be an important program as having people living within the model will help keep the site ac ve. A key to the design is that this housing is developed to accommodate mul ple levels of income. Varying densi es of housing will help to keep the people living within the site diverse.
Green Space & Public Ameni es
Open areas and park like se ngs will become part of the way the site gives back to the community. These public ameni es will make the site invi ng to the public and provide place that could a ract the one-stop shopper to stay longer and interact with other businesses on the site.
Dealing with increasing the density of an area means you must also deal with increase need for parking. The parking lot is one of the elements of a strip plaza that is o en very undesirable. For this model parking concepts such as parking garages and minimal street level parking will be alterna ves to the parking lot.
Branding & Signage
A major part of branding for the model will be in giving the site a branded name. This branding of the site gives the ci zens of the city the way to iden fy the site. The name gives it a sense of place that makes it easy to refer to is discussion. Included in that is signage on the site. Signage helps to reinforce this iden ty and can also be used to help guide the visitors around the site and to points of interest. Page 53
While the other programs have a direct posi ve eďŹ€ect on the appeal of the model to the residents and visitors, it is service that could make of brake the design. Access to each building for service is absolutely required, but these areas are very una rac ve. Access incorporated into the design needs to be placed so it is convenient, but also doesnâ€™t distract for the posi ve design elements. Page 54
Sec onal Study of Programma c Ideas Within Suburban Mountain
Density in Suburbia The first design aspect I addressed was how to deal with the density. As stated, this is a suburban city without dense areas and with buildings mostly single story. Simply dropping and area with mul ple story buildings into the middle of city would have li le rela on to the cityâ€™s context. Within larger ci es the taller buildings within the city core are balanced by the shorter buildings that taper downwards as you move from that core. For our city this idea has to happen on a smaller scale, but can s ll be eďŹ€ec ve. This will be done by star ng the taller buildings at the central intersec on on the site and then tapering the highs of the buildings as we move from that intersec on with the outer buildings that occur against the single family homes not exceeding two stories so the neighborhood is not overpowered. This concept is like raising a small mountain within the city to introduce this increase in high and density. A suburban mountain.
Massing of exis ng site and surrounding context. Buildings on the site are of unpropor onate scale to the surrounding neighborhoods and are large monuments in open spaces.
Overlay of massing for the idea of the suburban mountain. Masses start highest at the intersec on and taper as they move out to the surrounding neighborhoods.
Taking the masses and interpre ng them into more appropriate building masses and providing areas of mass and void and incorpora ng green space.
Sec onal Study From the massing study I developed sec ons that reflect the possible building spaces that could occupy those masses. This included exploring retail at the ground level and how smaller shops and large department stores might be able to work out spa ally. How the ground level could shi and elevate to bring visitors up from street level. I looked at how oďŹƒce spaces and residen al spaces could mix into the buildings above and around the retail spaces. Then how parking could be integrated into the buildings through the use of parking garages and possible places these could be located.
Proceeding Design Phase As the design progressed, for the next phase the ideas were explored in plan and sec on. As the project expanded it became necessary to bring ideas to that would help to con nue its development. First of these ideas was dealing with the streets within the site. The main road of Courtenay Parkway is a very busy road and can be very diďŹƒcult to cross during heavy traďŹƒc periods. Then the streets that divide the site and provide access to the surrounding neighborhoods are very unorganized and are not consistent in design. The decision was made to divide the Courtenay into two one way roads with space between. This keeps the same number of lanes for traďŹƒc but make the number that a pedestrian needs to cross at one me half that of before making it safer. The space between the roads becomes addi on space that can be developed. This solu on also allows for the road to become aligned with the grid of the neighborhoods as before it divided that site at an angle.
Straightening Courtenay within the site makes it possible to overlay an uniform block system on the site. This is something that is found in most downtowns add is something that Merri Island lacks. This begins the forming of this downtown core similar to the technic used with Baldwin Parkâ€™s shopping core. The blocks give the site a hierarchy and setup a more uniform street system that can aid in naviga on on the site. Within these new streets at there intersec ons roundabouts will be used to help with traďŹƒc control for these new roads and to provide nodes on the site that can add green spaces and allow for placement of signage. A typical block structure was developed to provide a consistency to the building forms. Then from there each block can be explored and modified to allow for diďŹ€erent programed building to adapt their block. Some examples would be introducing a grocery store or big box store into a block.
Building use would typically follow the model of retail space at ground level around the perimeter of each block. Floors beyond the retail space would be oﬃce space or housing. In this case the top three floors would be homes while an below that depending on the number of floors of that building would be oﬃces. For the buildings bordering the main road all floors above the retail would be oﬃces as to keep homes from being placed directly on the heavier traﬃced road. The final transi on from the sites block structure to the surrounding neighborhoods would be made with a row of townhomes that also follow the sites building forms and make the final scale and density change.
Parking was also key in the block structure. The blocks and new street structure allowed parking to be address within each block. Parallel parking on the interior streets and parking garages provide parking for each block individually while a parking garage in the space formed when the main road was split provides overflow parking for visitors to the site. In addi on larger business like a big box store would have its own incorporated parking garage, while business like a grocery store would have a small parking lot developed with the core of a block. Streetscapes would be created that provide larger sidewalks for pedestrian travel. From there a tree line between the sidewalk and the street and the parallel parking on interior streets would act as the buďŹ€er between pedestrians and vehicle travel allowing people to feel safer on the sidewalks.
This design sets up the model for the new downtown core for the city. It also creates a model for intoducing a denser and large scale into the typical suburban city. For Merri Island this model could expand from this core down Courtenay Parkway as the city con nues to grow and the need for increased density grows.
Future Direc ons for Design At this point the project has created a basic model for building a new denser downtown. This is already quite a change from the original concept of exploring an alterna ve to the strip plaza. As the project con ues to move forward other direc ons and possibli es will rise from the present design. One of these is the concept of the big box store working into the downtown building core. The larger footprint of these stores wouldnâ€™t work within the block structure of a typical downtown. This would mean the store would have to adapt to using mulitple floors on a smaller footprint. A possibli y for the store would could be to adopt a mutliple floor open atrium plan where the departments of the store become shops within the levels of the big box store. There is also the possibility that the storeâ€™s facade could open up to the outside going away from the large walls that many big box stores tend to create with there exteriors.
Another point of explora on would be to look at other op ons within the spli ng of the main road. For this design a parking garage and oďŹƒce buildings were placed within this split. An alterna ve to the garage would be to introduce a park or other green space into this area. A public park/green space is something that is missing within Merri Island and this area could serve this func on. This model at its conclusion has become a plan for giving a downtown core to a city that doesnâ€™t have one. This core can become the beginning of redeveloping a sprawled city allowing denser areas to fold the way into the context of that city.
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