A shopper's dream in a Parking Nightmare
Lack of parking puts the squeeze on Bridgeport Village and other "lifestyle centers"
Sunday, August 27, 2006
Across the street from Bridgeport Village in Tualatin-Tigard, Connie Watt has watched a mined-out rock quarry's dazzling evolution into one of the state's most successful open-air "lifestyle centers."
But don't expect to find Watt, owner of nearby Village Inn Pancake House, among Bridgeport Village shoppers. With parking problems at the $250 million retail and entertainment center seemingly growing worse by the day, she has decided it isn't worth the headache.
"I made the mistake of stopping by on a Saturday evening to buy a couple of items at the grocery store there," Watt said, referring to Wild Oats Natural Marketplace, one of Bridgeport's roughly 85 tenants. "It was terrible. Parking lot rage everywhere. Honking. Screaming. I won't do it again."
The 15-month-old Bridgeport Village -- Oregon's most recent addition to the lifestyle-center trend -- is not alone when it comes to gridlock. Across the country, other lifestyle centers -- generally defined as anchorless outdoor malls with high-end specialty stores -- have the same problem.
Building centers close to freeways and desirable high-end demographics -- a five-mile radius around Bridgeport Village captures some of Oregon's highest household incomes -- increasingly means shoe-horning them into properties barely big enough to contain them.
In that light, the very thing that drives them -- easy access to upper-income populations in dense, established neighborhoods -- is creating parking problems that keep some shoppers away, effectively applying the brakes to the trend.
Even so, lifestyle centers, with exclusive retailers fronting narrow streets decorated with paving stones and ornate lampposts, remain the upstart centers of choice for developers and shoppers. In the past five years, 82 lifestyle centers have debuted across the country, and 23 regional malls have opened.
Sales at lifestyle centers also have far outpaced those at traditional malls, according to national experts.
The popularity of lifestyle centers, in turn, is forcing conventional malls to expand and renovate.
Washington Square and Clackamas Town Center, for instance, are undertaking major upgrades. At Clackamas, half of the expansion will come in the form of a lifestyle center.
And with those expansions come more parking problems.
"We always seem to have ample parking," said Paul DeMarco, Clackamas Town Center's general manager. "But you might have to park out on the edge to find it sometimes."
Expanding malls have to take their own measures to increase parking. But in many cases, they started out with more room to grow than lifestyle centers.
Terry McEwen -- whose company, Poag & McEwen Lifestyle Centers, is credited with opening the country's first such center, in 1987 -- said lifestyle centers must confront the parking issue.
But in sprawl-conscious Portland -- the only area McEwen knows of in the country that tries to limit rather than maximize parking -- it's tough to find enough land for a lifestyle center.
"We've tried hard to do a site in Portland," he said. "So far, we simply haven't been able to come up with enough land in the right area."
Bridgeport Village's developers say they are managing the crush.
"It's pretty clear to everyone that we can use extra spaces," said Fred Bruning, president of CenterCal Properties. "But you could also say that if we weren't so popular, we wouldn't have a parking problem."
Most evenings and weekends, frustrated shoppers and moviegoers heading for Bridgeport's 18-screen cinema cruise jammed parking lots for 30 minutes or more anxiously looking for a pair of backup lights.
Increasingly, the center's four-story parking garage, intended for those unable to find anything closer, displays a "full" sign.
Tenants find solutions
At the busiest times, even motorists willing to pay $3 for the center's valet parking are turned away.
"It's crazy," said Portland resident Mike Keller, who with friend Patrick Cowles took half an hour to land a space near McCormick & Schmick's restaurant. "If they are going to invest in all these beautiful shops, they should accommodate the people shopping here. And I can't imagine that the store owners like it any more than we do."
Some tenants, knowing the problem will only get worse with the imminent opening of more stores, are seeking concessions.
Mario's, an upscale clothier set to open in about a month, negotiated for a valet parking stand near its front door. Owner Mario Bisio said the convenience should keep customers coming.
"Oregonians jog 10 miles a day but want to drive two blocks to whatever their destination is," he said, laughing. "Many people will still just circle the lot until they find a spot, but valet service is the way to go."
A need for more parking may be even more immediate for Wild Oats. The organic foods specialist faces serious competition this fall, when natural foods giant Whole Foods, with its own expansive parking area, opens across the street.
Wild Oats has taken steps to ease its parking shortage, including a "Wild Ride" shuttle service from the other side of the 28-acre property and a valet service that lets shoppers buy groceries, pull their cars to the curb and have their goods loaded.
"We obviously wish our parking situation was better," said Sonja Tuitele, Wild Oats' senior director of corporate communications. "But we still think Bridgeport Village is a really good fit for our store."
Parking ratios for lifestyle centers hover around 4.5 parking spaces for every 1,000 feet of leasable space, according to the New York-based International Council of Shopping Centers. That's fewer than the five spaces per 1,000 square feet at most traditional regional malls, but more than Bridgeport Village's ratio of just below 3.5 per 1,000 feet.
Bridgeport's Bruning said the center is working hard to ease the shortage. On Thursday and Friday afternoons and on weekends, for instance, the center's 1,500 employees are required to park off-site and take shuttles in. If they don't, their cars are towed.
And Bruning has just struck a deal with a private landowner and the city of Durham to acquire land next to the center. He hopes to raze two dilapidated houses and add parking for about 250 cars. The lot could be available for this year's holiday season.
Squeeze was predicted
Bridgeport Village parking has long been a concern. Before the first plans made it off the drawing board, area developers and retail consultants predicted parking would pose a stumbling block.
One of several citizens' groups, meeting in late 2001 to review early design proposals, concluded that the number of parking spaces, including those in a five-story parking garage, represented, at best, the minimum.
The garage was scaled back to four stories when Durham, which abuts Bridgeport's western boundary, complained that a five-story garage would tower over buildings in the area. The change meant a loss of more than 200 spaces.
City officials now say they may have overreacted.
"In retrospect, another story may not have made much difference," said Roland Signett, Durham city administrator. "But at the time, from the plans we saw, it looked monstrous."
Developers also initially planned to build an underground garage. But the estimated $20 million cost to remove thousands of cubic feet of loose fill imported onto the site under the auspices of then-landowner Washington County forced developers to scrap the idea, Bruning said.
Any notion of resurrecting plans for underground parking died in early 2003, when tests showed substantial amounts of methane gas trapped beneath the fill. Active and passive methane-ventilation systems costing more than $6 million now snake beneath the property.
No shortage of customers
Regardless of a budding reputation as a parking nightmare, Bridgeport Village packs in customers. Sales, now near $700 per square foot a year, make it one of the hottest retail locations in the region, said Mark New, whose company, New & Neville Real Estate Services, is one of Bridgeport's leasing agents.
Nationally, successful lifestyle centers rack up $400 to $500 in average sales per square foot, McEwen said. Regional malls, by contrast, range in the mid-$300s.
One recent afternoon, Lorraine Beyerlein, 81, said she had driven from Corvallis to check out Cold Water Creek, a women's clothing shop. She said she "got lucky" when a car left a spot just as she cruised past.
A few minutes later, Hillsboro resident Brett Robichaud strolled by, his sleepy 3-year-old daughter, Sabine, cradled in his arms. The pair headed toward an early dinner at Romano's Macaroni Grill.
Robichaud recalled that, on his first trip to the center, he found the parking lot so frustrating that he vowed never to return.
"We ended up liking the restaurant so much that we decided to come back," he said. "But it's a problem, definitely. Anyone not as dedicated as we are is going to say forget it."
You can reach Dana Tims at 503-294-5973 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
©2006 The Oregonian