Downtown Retailing

The Post-Gazette reports that the deal to sell the old Mellon Bank building (which has housed Lord & Taylor) has been approved, clearing the way for local developer J.J. Gumberg to take over the space.

Not entirely reassuring tidbit number one: The building won't house slots . . . unless the URA approves.

Not entirely reassuring tidbit number two: Everyone concerned insists that the Lord & Taylor venture fell on its face because . . . of internal problems at L&T's parent, May Co. Demographic changes reducing the number of people downtown during peak shopping seasons? Nah. Development of regional malls north, south, east, and west of the city with abundant free parking? Nah. Limited and expensive parking downtown? Nah. A horrible renovation to the building itself, destroying a once glorious structure? Couldn't be.

None of that is my hoping that Gumberg can't pull this one out of the hat. It seems to me, though, that looking at the building as a stand-alone retail site (one store or several) is doomed to failure. Not only does Downtown need a mall, it needs a mall with a purpose, a mall with a plan. Try this: Develop the entire Smithfield Street corridor as an urban mall, using the Smithfield Street Bridge to connect it to Station Square. Pittsburgh has been obsessed with the east/west Fifth/Forbes corridor. How about looking at a north/south solution?

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at]gmail.com. Mike also blogs at Madisonian.net, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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