Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Watkins Centre Re-visited

First and foremost I consider myself to be a pretty open-minded individual, fiscally conservative at heart and also the kind of person thats gonna tell you if I think I (and the collected we) am being sold a bill of goods.

I want to state for the record that I am impressed with the Watkins Centre. The size and the scale of the project I believe are want was envisioned for the area when Route 288 was being funded years ago. I think we have to understand that once RT288 was completed and the bridge from Powhatan into Goochland County was completed that we would be faced with potential projects like these sooner or later. Folks thats really the underlying reason that roadway was built in the first place. I know I will get that it was built to connect Chesterfields population with that of the West End and offering easy access for those that work and or shop across the river. Wait. I think I have heard that before somewhere recently. Could it be Watkins Centre?

The meeting held back on June 4th convinced of one simple truth; we were being sold this project by sales folk. Now I understand that there is some vested interest in the project by parties involved and on thats not at all the issue in my mind. I have supported the proponents of this project, as Sen Watkins and Supervisor Sowder whose district the project will be located so this is simply not some political hack job taken at these individuals but what it seemed and to many I have spoken to since was this thing is all but done. Presence at the very meeting was like you unknowingly party to it all. This was a community meeting but truly for what end. Were we really involved? Is are insight or views part of the debate? Is their really any debate at all? Someone will need to help us defone within our county exactly what me mean when we say "community".

Look, I am not opposed to Watkins Centre, but the process our leadership continues to go through in its considerations for such projects. I recall during the Rt288 debate the powers that be used the rhetoric that the roadway would give us greater access to the other side of the river and now we need Watkins Centre as a means to limit the number of residents having to travel across the river and spend their hard earned money. The goal is to provide a mixed-use for business/office and retail with retail going in first and they want to impress upon us that we should support Chesterfield business and stay home. Okay. That begs the question then why do we have Rt288 in the first place. They want us to shop and in my estimation locate new business along the corridor so we work here as well and not feel compelled to travel across the river anymore.

My only real issue is that it will not matter what so ever if the mix of retail is not just right. If they cannot bring "new", okay thats something that gets thrown around all the time and I do not mean a new Walmart SuperCenter, I mean "new" retailers not operating in Richmond at all that are at the higher end. The beauty of Short Pump has not been its location or relatively easy access by residents, but the mix of small and large format retailers that were not here before, anywhere. Nordstroms, Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn, Cheesecake Factory, were just a few that Richmonders wanted and Short PUmp brought them in and lets not forget about Stony Point.

So what does Watkins Centre plan to offer, really? All I think is that the size and scope of this project should have a site plan with signed leases by anchor tennants and other retail as a requirement BEFORE it goes any further. I am sure that the arguement over feasibility in that will be raised, but if I am not mistaken the developer had something similar to that for Short Pump which was delayed if I recall. Without providing new retail I believe the project will not meet expectation. The site must balance family needs, young urban singles, and seniors (a growing poulation in Chesterfield that is virtually be ignored the last five years) within a complex and to pull that off it must do more than simply state it will be high end mixed use-it must deliver it.

Some discussion of the project included that a grocery store would be one of the anchors. Opinion: if its not Wegmans, Shoppers or Harris Teeter big deal. The leadership is so content on coming from the perspective that "free market" philosophy should dominate the discussion and Chesterfield Towne Center will have to change and adapt to compete if fails to look at itself in the rhelm of how it is in fact impacting that landscape through its commercial growth view. We are allowing shiopping centers to go up a stones throw from one another and continue to build out Rt360 like the Rt60 and West Broad Street of old. Did we not learn our lesson? What do they really expect to be left behind? What will be the real impact on us?

Fact: Today it took me 19 minutes too drive from the RT60/Rt288 interchange down to Courthouse Rd and Chesterfield Towne Center. 19 minutes. These are the little things the powers seem to miss when they tell people about great it will be to have a shopping mall in their backyard and the financial impact on the county will be tremondous--how about this earmark the impact for very defined avenues, ie the increase seen will go to very specific things and mandate it before all of this even happens. I know , now thats just plain silly.


Anonymous said...

J. Scott is your intent to"buy" the goods they are selling but you just do not like the way in which they are presenting the goods???
I always felt that Sen. Watkins should have removed himself from all this because of a conflict of interest he has regarding that site. Funny no one sounds off when its a Republican. Interesting.

Bill Garnett said...

TO: Alter of Freedom

Looks like you have done your homework and you are coming close to unraveling the “hidden” agenda behind the Watkins Center developer’s paradise. But I think you are seeing the glass as half empty. You are missing the real advantage the 288 corridor has for Chesterfield County residents.

And that advantage is that it gives any bright, energetic, hopeful, or mobile young resident an escape route out of the county and towards some place on this planet where there are job opportunities above retail clerk, a quality of life that includes more than strip malls and residential developments full of fa├žade fronts, and a general tolerance among enlightened residents.

meghan said...

I am always skeptical when politicians tell we "need" something. I simply do not see the need in this project now. We are completely over run with shopping centers, maybe not malls of this magnitude but commercial centers nonetheless. Is this want they mean by "economic development" more retail outlets.
I guess the logic here they have approved so much residential zonings, upwards of 16,000 additional units last I heard with Magnolia Green and Roseland and others that those families will need places for their teenagers to work.
There is a point to be made and thats when our children graduate college are they looking to come here or Richmond anymore, I fear the answer is no. We have seen it every year where we lose a Fortune 500 company or just recently Wachovia announced leaving, Circuit City is in trouble, Capital One is laying people off again.
Is retail really the answer or simply the easier sell to people who have gotten way to caught up in consumer durables and the "gotta have" trendy items of the day. We bear this responsibility and the implication is they can convince us we "need" this kind of center to fill our lust for things and convenience.

Dave said...

I though that they told us that Magnolia and Roseland would have elementary schools in the developments as part of the approval process?
By the there is a site for watkins @

J.Scott said...

Your question is a fair one. I believe that the developers have provided in the site planning and allocated land for the county to use for the schools, that is to say "land-only" the county,tax revenue will have to pay for the infrastructure of the schools themselves.
Nobody has said the developers are not smart. By providing the land for the schools they attempt to make it a "win-win" with the county officials because they know the county needs more schools desperately.
I am like the idea of the developers sharing some of the responsibility in this manner, but what I would like to see even more is for the county to already have the funds to actually build the school before approval of zonings. The county already has school being built but I do not think there has been approved funding for these particular schools yet given the early stages of the process. That should be completed and determined first, otherwise you end up with development moving forward with the schools not built and no timetable for the schools to adequately come on line to support the community as it grows. Again, we have seen this happen time and time again as our schools remain at max-levels.
While I applaud the "give and take" dynamic, I just believe our officials should be demanding more in the way of balance.
These areas are currently being considered to have so-called transportation districts with increased taxs on units within the district for those who live in them, which leads me to belive that the county will not be able to generate the revenue required from these areas for quite some time as the developments are built out over the next 10-15 years.

schipwreck said...

Hey anonymous: True, it is probably not in Watkins' best political interest to involve himself in this project, but Republicans have had their fair share of "sound-offs" on the national spectrum. Come on now, it's only Chesterfield.

I wish Chesterfield would use transportation plans to direct development where it should go, rather than letting hop-scotch development dictate new, pork-barrel road projects like the frightening "wraparound" design of powhite parkway proposed through western chesterfield and beyond. Or what about the 8-lane-wide-and-still-packed hull street road corridor? Where's the high-end commercial development to service folks who live off of Hull Street? Nice try with Commonwealth Centre, but all the higher-end projects are going up further north, where the higher-end retailers already are (Short Pump, Patterson Avenue, Stony Point)!!!!!

J.Scott said...

I agree. Simply take a look at the Chesterfield Economic Dev. website and look at traffic stats and road projects. You knoew I think I'll right post on that this week...thanks.

Anonymous said...

Everyone loves what you guys tend to be up too.
Such clever work and coverage! Keep up the awesome works guys I've included you guys to my blogroll.

my website; great coffee