Yesterday I made a plea for a proper urban grocery at Mueller. Being realistic, though, I don't think we'll get one. It's important to understand why.
On the surface, an "urban" grocery doesn't require much change from the standard suburban set up. I've put my years of training in draftsmanship to use to draw up a couple of site plans. Here is the suburban model, which matches the April 2010 site plan:
A seemingly slight alteration would make the design much more urban friendly:
Let's think about it from H-E-B's perspective, though. I'm sure it considers a parking-lot entrance non-negotiable. Most of its customers -- and all of the customers buying a cartful of groceries -- will arrive by car. H-E-B isn't going to make them circle the building.
And I can think of a few reasons why H-E-B would really prefer not to have a second entrance. First, adding an entrance would mean losing a whole wall's worth of shelf space which would mean lower revenue per square foot. Second, another entrance would interfere with its preferred interior circulation patterns, which it has meticulously refined over the years to maximize sales. And third, shoplifting is a big cost for grocery stores; it's easier to monitor shoplifting with one exit. (Any grocers out there are welcome to chime in.)
It's not realistic to expect Catellus to hold out for an urban design if H-E-B doesn't want one. The locals have been clamoring for a neighborhood grocery store for years. An H-E-B at Mueller will make Mueller more attractive, making it easier to move houses. H-E-B, on the other hand, can easily find another location in the area if it thinks Catellus is making unreasonable demands. Catellus knows it. H-E-B knows it. The wee lake turtles know it.
The hard reality is that firms voluntarily adopt urban designs only when they are building in a dense environment where land is dear. Land is not dear along 51st street. It is not dear because there are plenty of other large sites in the area, particularly along Airport Boulevard. It is not dear because Mueller is not particularly dense. Although touted as an urban infill project, Mueller frankly is more suburban than urban and is located among a bunch of other neighborhoods that are also more suburban than urban. It should be no surprise, then, when it draws suburban-style development.
I hope I'm wrong and H-E-B adopts an urban design after all. If it does, though, I'm sure it will be making a political calculation rather than an economic one.