Thursday, January 23, 2014

You call that an auto mall?

An auto dealership in an urban environment in Manhattan
I was in New York over the weekend for a meeting, and Saturday morning I went out for a quick walk beforehand. I was staying on West 55th Street so I decided to walk west toward the river.

By the time I got down to 11th Avenue I realized I had been walking past a large auto dealership. Sure enough, a look at signage told me this Mercedes dealership was taking up a substantial part of the block.

New York-style dealerships
Nearby was another new-looking, large building selling Audis. Across 11th Avenue was a building with the names for numerous makes of car - Ford, Volvo, Mazda, Jaguar, etc. I had stumbled on an urban auto mall! (It was the Manhattan Automobile Company.)

It seems developers - at least those who are not in Charlotte - are perfectly capable of designing auto dealerships, even facilities housing several dealerships - that sit right on a sidewalk along a city street, and do not require vast surface parking lots designed with the elegance of a Walmart superstore.

Back home in Charlotte, of course, the City Council just unanimously OK'd a rezoning to allow a vast expanse of auto mall asphalt within the quarter-mile walk zone of a to-be-built light rail station. (See "Don't derail transit areas with an auto mall," and "University City auto mall rezoning complete.")

This was after the appointed planning commission recommended it, and after the city planning department recommended it. Those decisions remain a bafflement to me. None of it matches the city's stated goals for its transit station areas. While in New York, I mentioned this transit-station-area rezoning vote to a former city planning director from another state who now teaches planning at a large state university. His jaw dropped. He was incredulous.

The said thing is, as these photos show, there are creative ways to have both auto dealerships and a pedestrian environment. I'm left to conclude that our local folks may just be too provincial to know better.

Mercedes-Benz Manhattan.


Anonymous said...

Is it too late to show them this and have them reconsider??

George P. Burdell said...

As of 2006, according to the Federal Reserve, the cost of land in metropolitan New York was around $16,000,000 per acre. To surface-park a 15-acre car dealership (Parks Chevrolet on North Tryon St., Keith Hawthorn Ford on South Blvd.) at that rate would cost around $240,000,000, plus the cost of demolition of whatever buildings were there and relocation of the occupants/tenants. Building a parking deck is "only" several million dollars depending on labor costs and the number of levels. It would be financially infeasible to surface-park a car dealership at that rate even if they were selling Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Paganis.

Land in University City is going for roughly $500,000 per acre and can be surface-parked at a cost of roughly $9,000,000. The benefit gained by going up is marginal in terms of dollars and a loss in terms of plan-review and construction time. There is no economic incentive whatsoever for a developer to go up instead of out with land that cheap.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:39. The best incentive for this kind of developer should be to find land that wasn't half a million dollars/acre (and climbing quickly) near a light rail stop. Just think what that land should fetch in five years with multiple businesses surrounding the light rail. It doesn't take a marketing genius to figure out best use for land near a light rail stop. Perhaps you guys see something the rest of Charlotte doesn't. Who knows. Taping into that rich student body (cough, cough)?

Alannc44 said...

Mr. Burdell,

As a businessman myself, I would be tempted to invest in the land near the light rail for more condensed use. While the land is *only* worth 500,000/acre as you say, just think what it would yield in 5 years when all those students and residents pile off the trains.

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