Maybe we’ve been a little hard on Tampa here at gbNYC of late. After all, Tampa is trying to incent green building and business development, and it has its own symphony and a good baseball team and a terrible football team and honestly doesn’t deserve to be linked — as pejoratively as I possibly can — to the blunderiffic New Domino development in South Williamsburg. But with all apologies to Tampa natives — it can’t possibly be “Tampans,” can it? — your writer was making that comparison for a reason. New York — like Tampa or anywhere else — is a very specific type of environment that’s more suitable to some types of development than others. Because of how dense, compact and vertical New York is, it’s easy to build green; because of the organic way in which NYC’s neighborhoods have developed as exemplars of human-scale mixed-use commercial/residential communities, it’s easier to build a human-scale green condo than it is to build a Big Brown Residential Building marooned in a parking lot, and easier to build a small and efficient green retail space than it is to construct a giant boxy energy-suck of a mall. As New Domino proves, though, it’s still possible to build an anonymous and totally un-New York building right here in New York City. At least to look at it, the hulking Bronx Terminal Market — a macro-scale mall in the shadow of Yankee Stadium jammed with chain retail stores — would appear to be further proof that mediocrity can, in fact, happen here. But it turns out that there’s more to the Gateway Center at Bronx Terminal Market than meets the eye.
In part, that’s because what meets the eye is… frankly, a not-that-great-looking mall that would be at home in, you know, a city like Tampa (But not actually Tampa! Go Rays). But, as The Real Deal reports, the Gateway Center at Bronx Terminal Market has qualified for LEED Silver certification. In many ways, the new Bronx Terminal Market is something of a rhorshach test for New Yorkers — the fact that it replaced the dilapidated but 80-year-old Bronx Terminal Market, and that Related Companies evicted the vendors who had been there, isn’t especially appealing, but whether or not it’s a dealbreaker or not depends largely on your perspective. And of course many New Yorkers — your writer somewhat included — kind of dislike malls on instinct. There’s a lot of semiotic weight behind the idea of a mall jammed with national chains, and some people (rootless cosmopolitan elites like me, again) will never really get that excited to have a Toys ‘R Us nearby. But as The Architect’s Paper points out, the new Bronx Terminal Market — despite being filled with chain stores, despite looking frankly ugly from the highway — is actually a somewhat revolutionary shopping mall. If, that is, those words can ever be put together. Much of the credit for that, apparently, goes to John Clifford, the architect who designed the Gateway Center for GreenbergFarrow Architects.
“This 950,000-square-foot project for the Related Companies represents a major departure from the traditional suburban mall. Instead of being enveloped in parking lots, this mall is pedestrian friendly,” the Architect’s Newspaper’s Alex Ulam writes. “It has wide sidewalks, a small outdoor plaza with seating, and several street-level spaces for restaurants and retail. Sloped roofs and interior streets break up the massing of the enormous development. Instead of big-box stores spread out laterally, here they are stacked on top of one another in two three-story retail blocks that flank a six-story garage for 2,341 cars. The two retail blocks are staggered by about 15 feet, allowing each big-box store to connect to its own dedicated parking deck by walkways that pass over interior streets. If a mall of this size were built in the suburbs, it would typically take up 100 acres.”
Factor in a location near the subway — 37 percent of the mall’s customers are expected to arrive via mass transit, which is a stat few malls can match — and it’s easy to see how a project that seems so un-green on its face could qualify for LEED certification. New York may not ever be a mall-friendly location — which is good, since many New Yorkers will never be friendly towards malls — but if we have to have a mall, one like the Gateway Center at Bronx Terminal Market actually looks pretty good. The question of whether we need a mall, much like the one of whether we need developments like New Domino, is of course another matter entirely.