Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Filling the Macy's hole

Many of us are disappointed to hear that Macy's will be closing its downtown Boise store. I haven't been here long enough to remember the earlier retail incarnations that Tim Woodward described in his Idaho Statesman article today. I just know that, whenever I was lured by Macy's One-Day Sales or holiday blow-outs, I always tried the downtown store first to see what they had before even considering a trip to Mallville. Sure, the selection was never as good, but the vibe was friendlier.

Now the big question turns to whether and how downtown Boise can fill the void at 10th & Idaho. In Cynthia Sewell's main Statesman story today, key players including Capital City Development Corporation director Phil Kushlan and downtown revivalist Mark Rivers were fairly downbeat about the possibilities, though they said that this does give Boise an opportunity to re-imagine future uses for the space,since it's unlikely any national retailers will want it. Here are a few possibilities I'd propose:

Make it multi-use. It's unlikely that one tenant will need the 118,000 square feet Macy's occupies. Besides, some of the most compelling spaces in our downtown and those of other cities feature a mix of retail, offices, cultural attractions, and even residential space.

Boise State will continue to grow, and its campus boundaries become more porous every year. Could BSU claim part of the Macy's real estate for a downtown campus, perhaps for its political science or community and regional planning classes?

Central downtown really needs a grocery store and/or a public market. Winco's flagship behemoth is too far east to serve people living and working in the downtown core, especially people who'd like to quickly hit a store on foot at lunchtime or before heading home. Whole Foods' plans for a Boise store have been on the back burner during the downturn - but if it does move forward, perhaps it would consider taking over part of Macy's. (The first Whole Foods I ever visited, while researching for Lonely Planet in the chain's hometown of Austin, Texas, was a multi-level store.)

Perhaps the Boise Co-Op, crammed into its current Fort Street location, might take a look. Or how about a year-round, indoor public market a la Seattle's Pike Place or Vancouver's Granville Island? Yes, parking will always be an issue, but not an insurmountable one, especially for the thousands of people who will be living downtown in another decade or so.

Bowling! Say no more. Macy's basement would be a rocking spot for a bowling alley/nightclub/performance space.

What are your ideas?


Michael Shay said...

It's tough to lose a big tenant such as Macy's in a lively downtown like Boise's. All of your suggestions about filling the hole are good ones. Cheyenne's downtown has many empty buildings. We also have an actual hole on the main drag of 16th Street. The hole was left after a fire incinerated a four-story brick building a few years back and the remains were excavated. The gaping hole is an eyesore and begs to be filled but lawsuits and stupidity are holding things up. So, better to have a vacant building that leaves a hole downtown rather than an actual downtown hole.

Julie Fanselow said...

Michael, thanks for stopping by. Cheyenne and Boise have something in common: an actual hole downtown. Ours, too, was created by a fire, but it's been vacant for a long time. There were grand plans for a skyscraper (seriously) there a few years ago, but the builder defaulted and. At least the hole is surrounded by a wooden fence that - in recent years - has been brightly painted by school groups, non-profits, etc.
BTW, I have been to Cheyenne with my travel writer hat on a few times, and I always enjoy it. Last time, I stayed in The Plains Hotel, and that was a treat. I love your museums, too.

Julie Fanselow said...

Another possibility, as seen in the Statesman (I think) this past week: Re-use the building for a new Boise main library.

I have mixed thoughts about this. I like the library's current location (as well as the plans that Mark Rivers has floated for a new main library in the same area), but it's worth considering. The current library needs way more room and way less HVAC noise,and the Macy's building certainly could accommodate the sort of mixed-tenant, community gathering spot library as seen in Salt Lake, Seattle, etc.