Thursday, April 16, 2009

Industrial Tipping Points

Richard calls for a separate tax classification for industrial land because its too easy to change when the demand is high for other uses. It's interesting because I've been thinking a lot about the near downtown industrial districts ripe for redevelopment with streetcars and light rail. While industrial land is usually easiest for redevelopment, it can also be tricky when some or all of that land is viable for industrial uses. Areas like the Pearl in Portland, South Lake Union in Seattle, Channelside in Tampa, and the South End in Charlotte were once industrial districts that have since been redeveloped because of increased transit accessibility and proximity to downtown.

However other areas such as parts of West Oakland have been deemed off limits to developers even when the proximity to downtown is just enough that a streetcar or light rail line would explode the potential in the area. This is because the industrial land is still viable as such and city council saw value in keeping the jobs and land available in the area. I can't say that I disagree with this assessment but what is the point where industrial properties anywhere are too valuable to tax base?

For the most part, many of the easy pickings in downtowns around America have been taken back in the form of downtown adjacent former brick industrial buildings that have formed a base for a loft district fairly close to downtowns. But there are still spots waiting for a rail line that have good bones and would be great spots for the new streetcar suburbs. Is there an area in your cities that have dwindling industrial uses and is within a two mile radius of downtown?


Kevin Buchanan said...

Oh yes indeed. One of the weirdest was the stretch of West 7th Street between Downtown Fort Worth and the museums of the Cultural District. Here you have two renowned areas - one of the most vibrant downtowns in America and one of the most acclaimed museum districts in the world - and the connection between them was a series of vacant sheetmetal warehouses, used car lots, and a Wendy's.

Now, of course, it's the site of things like these:

All are located along the planned streetcar line.

The Near Southside just south of Downtown has an old industrial sector on the border between the two districts. Probably the most "classic" old industrial sector left in Fort Worth. Not much has happened there yet, but a few of the old brick warehouses are in new use - there's a stage theater, a marketing company, etc. And, of course, Dickies has been headquartered there for ages and have some great old buildings.

Just north of Downtown is an old industrial area that's pretty desolate at the moment - vacant or demolished. A lot of it is due to the flood plain of the Trinity River. It's area now being called Trinity Uptown, and when the Trinity River Vision is complete (we're building a bypass channel and an urban lake so we can get rid of the old levee system) it will be fully developable again:

Robert said...

When I lived in Indianapolis, I lived in a downtown high rise with a view of the western part of downtown. I recall moving there and seeing old brick-clad factories to the, still with their smokestacks and thinking "Man -- Indianapolis would be a hell of a lot nicer if they would move those factories and build houses or something."

Come to find out when I actually walked around -- they were houses. It turned out that the two buildings were formerly a silk factory and a glove factory and both converted to loft condos arond 2000. They were actually some of the nicest urban homes in the city, in fact.

I'm not sure you'd ever see streetcar service around there -- the streets are probably too narrow. It's also walking distance to almost any place you'd want to go downtown.

Robert said...

Correction -- it was a view of the east side of downtown. That neighborhood was just west of the I-65 freeway.

Richard Layman said...

Remember it depends on the jurisdiction. Most cities have far more land zoned industrial than there is demand for, based on current conditions.

That happens to not be the case in DC. DC has about 3 miles of land zoned industrial out of 61 sq. miles of land (1/3 of which is controlled by the federal govt. and not really redevelopable).

Much of it brackets the Metropolitan Branch railroad line (CSX + limited MARC and Amtrak usage) and the northeast leg of red line subway (plus the part of the Northeast Corridor tracks that are in DC, along New York Avenue).

So this land is "bad" industrial -- abutting railroad tracks -- and at the same time, is in high demand because of proximity to the subway stations (from Union Station to Takoma in DC it's 6 stations, + Silver Spring in Maryland).

Pedestrianist said...

Sort of tangential, but I think that when cities do rezone industrial land to commercial or residential (or mixed-use) more care needs to be taken and more conditions need to be applied to the new development.

Developers love to build on industrial land because it has large lot sizes, but those large lot sizes make for bad residential and commercial neighborhoods (Mission Bay SF).

I think it's entirely appropriate for a city to say, "you want us to rezone this land? Fine, but you have to break it up into lots no bigger than x." Maybe mandate that they sell some of those small lots at market rate to encourage a diverse community of investment.

Robert said...


Let's just make sure those small lot sizes don't preclude a dense urban environment in favor of single-family homes.


Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Pedestrianist you make a good point. What Portland did was better than say what Mission bay did in that when they allowed the developer higher densities on the railyard they made him continue the existing street grid. I don't think Mission bay did a very good job of that South of the creek. They really should have brought back a grid and done buildings that fit into that. There's a good picture of Portland before and afterish here:

Kevin Buchanan said...

On block sizes - that's been a concern for us in the Trinity Uptown district. Most of the lot sizes there are larger than we'd like. So, it was written into the bedrock of the Trinity Uptown designs standards that all developments must follow that developers doing large projects must carve up their large blocks with mid-block pedestrian passages lined with retail spaces.