Olive Street, between College and Mason, used to be a residential block. The Armstrong hotel first opened in 1923, but there were still mansions between downtown and the hotel along College Avenue and there were still houses on Olive and Mason on that block.
By the 1950s, however, a new grocery store was built on the corner of Olive and Mason. Busley’s Supermarket went in right next door to a single family residence (see photo above) and included off-street parking. (The van blocked cars from entering on the south side in this photo… perhaps because it was picture day? but you can see cars along the west side of the building.) The house next door still had a typical residential front yard, and a sidewalk is clearly visible in front of both properties.
By the 1960s, the grocery store had been converted into an auto center. Note the addition of gas pumps in the photo above. And the neighboring house had been replaced with a business.
Fast forward to the 2000s. A Kinko’s (now FedEx) was located on the corner and in the newer building next door a variety of uses have come and gone: the Olive Street Bakery, a legal office, Vintages Winery, Gibb’s Bagels, and others. The Olive Street Bakery tried to include some patio seating, squished between the front facade and the off-street parking. As you can imagine, it was neither comfortable, nor particularly pleasant.
But despite being only half a block away from pedestrian friendly South College, this auto-centric development has never been pedestrian friendly itself. Though the old sidewalk remained connecting College to Mason, motorists in search of parking often used the space between the sidewalk and the street to park their cars. This meant pedestrians had to beware moving vehicles as well as being doored by exiting passengers.
Motorists would sometimes even park right on top of the sidewalk, assuming that it was just an extension of the off-street parking provided by the businesses. Looking back through several years worth of satellite images that Google makes available through Google Earth, I only found one photo that didn’t include a car parked on, or right next to, the sidewalk.
These kinds of car-centric strip mall developments are located throughout Fort Collins. City plans call for a change in how buildings are positioned on the lot in large part because it’s clear that the standard strip mall design just doesn’t feel comfortable or welcoming to pedestrians or bicyclists. And for businesses that rely on drop-in customers (folks who are wandering past and think “Hey, let’s check this place out”), that can be a real problem. Nowadays the City often requires developers to do a better job of placing buildings so that they front the street (as we’ve seen with the mall redevelopment in Midtown).
But what’s the solution for strip malls? A building owner could scrap the old building and put in a new one, closer to the street. But that just adds to the landfill (which is already expected to be full within a few years) and creates a building’s worth of carbon emissions. As Carl Elefante, once said, “The greenest building is the one already standing.” So the best solution would be one that keeps the older building, but still provides a safe and comfortable means of pedestrian passage through the area. And to whatever extent the changes can even draw pedestrians in, all the better for the small shops and restaurants in the area.
The new owners of Uncle’s Pizzeria & Co. have come up with a solution that retains the current building, provides additional seating space for customers, and creates a safer and more inviting pedestrian experience along that part of the block.
In addition to a sizable patio area, a short plank wall helps to define the space while providing a backdrop for plantings that will add color and life. The orange cones at right in the photo above appear to be placeholding for street trees that will stand where cars used to park.
There are probably a variety of ways in which old strip malls can be given new life with pedestrian-friendly improvements. This is a great example of a local treatment that should be ready to test out come spring.