Overall, Elmwood Avenue is a great commercial district. Then there’s South Elmwood. This is the part of Elmwood Avenue, where the buildings are more run down, and parking lots reign supreme. I’m sure that it was not always like this, but as far back as I can remember, it’s been a bit rough. I think that part of this reason is that buildings that front prestigious Delaware Avenue (from Allen to Chippewa) consider South Elmwood their backyard.
And when I say “backyard” I’m not talking about nice gardens and swing sets, I’m talking about parking lots. For some reason this stretch of Elmwood Avenue was, at one time, forsaken by property owners that were looking for convenient places to park for their commercial tenants along Delaware. It’s too bad, because as we all know, Elmwood is a wonderful avenue.
Building density is one of the keys to having a vibrant commercial district.
As I walked down this stretch of Elmwood earlier today, it was easy to see that the swaths of parking have also impacted the remaining buildings.
There are some problematic issues at hand here, many of which also have a bearing on surrounding neighborhoods. Typically, the health of a commercial street can spell out the health of the bounding neighborhoods. It’s too bad that a master plan can not be drafted up for this stretch of Elmwood, but unfortunately I believe that it’s a rogue part of the street – the Elmwood Village Association (EVA) doesn’t operate in this neck of the woods, and Chippewa and Allentown associations don’t have much jurisdiction here either. It’s like a lost soul.
I bet that if a few of these sprawling parking lots could be tackled, we would be looking at a renewed South Elmwood Avenue. The problem is, building owners don’t want to give up their parking.
If that’s the case, why not leave the surface lots in place, and build above them? To me, this would be a win-win for the building owners and local developers. The parking lot owners could partner with developers to come up with some instrumental infill, while keeping the parking as it is. There are plenty of examples of infill that makes sense, whether it’s building residential units over the parking spaces, or eliminating a few of the parking spots that bound Elmwood, equating to a minimal loss of parking spaces, with opportunity to build narrow commercial storefronts (with apartments up above). The best scenario would be to have underground parking, but even mentioning that notion would probably have any and all parties running for the hills.
It would behoove the City to talk to property owners and developers to see if an ingenious plan could be dreamed up that would accommodate for parking, retail, and residential. Only then, will we ever see this section of Elmwood Avenue truly rebound.