Our Opinion: The real concern with TJ Maxx
Now that Manchester's worst-kept commercial real estate secret is a matter of public record, thanks to a simple sign permit application, there's been a spirited discussion in our community about whether TJ Maxx is the right fit for the Manchester Shopping Center on Depot Street. Where some have turned up their nose at what they see as the corporate box store homogenization they think it brings, others see affordable fashion and home goods, for which they're currently driving elsewhere — and taking their money with them. With all due respect, there's another, more important question to be asked: Why is that parcel getting a cosmetic touch-up, instead of the extreme makeover that would have been a better fit for the community and more environmentally responsible re-use of the property?
The property's owners, Crosspoint Associates, spent years and untold resources hashing out a new plan that would have brought a new supermarket to Manchester. The plan was to demolish the structure closest to the West Branch, along with the old bowling alley behind the plaza, and renovate or build new on the opposite side. But the course of commercial real estate development never did run smooth. First, it was Price Chopper/Market 32's owners, Golub Corp., deciding they were no longer on board for building a vastly improved store in that location. The existing Price Chopper would carry on, despite being limited by its size and age, and the hunt for a replacement began. Whether Crosspoint ever had a supermarket tenant to take Price Chopper's place remains one of several unanswered questions.
The project went through a lengthy application process, and at one point it appeared it had met the regulatory requirements of the town and the state. Tenants began emptying out, which did have one positive side effect: The departure of Eastern Mountain Sports made it possible for Michael and Carolina Ellenbogen to open their stArt Space abstract art gallery. But additional regulations dealing with flood mitigation had to be met. And at some point, Crosspoint threw up its hands and decided that it would make no more concessions, and what was already there would have to do. So instead of a rejuvenated shopping center with a new supermarket that's a better environmental fit for the parcel, Manchester gets the same supermarket with a fresh coat of driveway sealant and a quick coat of paint. It also gets a shuffle of tenants leading to Village Picture Shows, the town's only movie theater, having to pack up the projectors, posters and popcorn maker and hope for a new home.
Is that progress?
Here's the most important unanswered question: Were state regulators being unreasonable in their demands for flood mitigation, or did Crosspoint simply tire of the time and money it had already spent and would have to bake into its business plan?
The answer to that question likely depends where you're standing on questions of government regulation versus private enterprise.
However, where Manchester Shopping Center is standing is next to the West Branch, which feeds the Battenkill, which eventually joins the Hudson River, which empties into New York Harbor. Like many shopping centers built in flood plains, it probably should have never gone there in the first place, but go there it did. And as long as that shopping center has been there, whatever washed out of the parking lot and into West Branch — road salt and sediments, brake fluid, motor oil, etc. — has gone into an ecosystem stretching from here to New York Harbor.
That's a status quo that deserved to change.If we could travel back in time, we wouldn't put shopping centers next to bodies of water. But here we are, and for one reason or another, improving the situation at 263 Depot St. has proven impossible, at least at this juncture.
That's too bad.
Here's hoping Crosspoint's plans are on pause, rather than indefinite hiatus, and that a rebuilt shopping center — perhaps one that includes TJ Maxx — can replace what's there now.
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