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Bham Development: Behind Box Row

Image via Box Row Avondale

Avondale made another splash last week with the announcement of Box Row, the new retail development based on London’s Boxpark and set to make its debut in 2016, according to the Birmingham Business Journal. But what can we expect, and why should we be so excited about a new style of shopping in Birmingham? To find out, we looked deeper into the development’s inspiration.

Based on shipping containers, Boxpark was designed to provide an affordable brick-and-mortar base for businesses. But it also bills itself as an alternative approach to shopping, a community-based retail model:

BOXPARK is not some run-of-the-mall shopping centre. It’s a living, fertile community of brands packed with talent, innovation and attitude that puts creativity and fashion back where they belong: on the street.

Boxpark Director Rodger Wade told inhabitat.com that the model is designed to circumvent the challenges smaller businesses face with traditional shopping center settings, including multi-year leasing commitments and “financial covenants.” Boxpark retailers, he said, can choose leases as short as one year. In fact, Boxpark itself is not necessarily a long-haul development. Its website promises operations over the coming four years, with no mention of plans beyond that time.

Regardless of its time on site, a CityLab.com article points out some environmental and community benefits of the Boxpark model:

  • The shipping containers are inherently portable and can be totally relocated to a new site, unlike a traditional retail structure.
  • It’s able to take advantage of otherwise unused space in urban areas.
  • Its urban siting and lack of parking encourages more eco-friendly transit models like biking and public transit.

But CityLab also cites some challenges of the shipping container design for the traditional retail and restaurant experience. Without space for large storage areas or standard dressing rooms, container-based boutiques can’t offer the same level of service as traditional shops. Cafes lack substantial indoor space, which makes operations challenging during anything other than clear, balmy weather. Bathrooms are also lacking in the London model, which CityLab sees as a particular impediment for cafe patrons.

According to the BBJ, Avondale’s Box Row will have flexible configurations, which may help ease some of the space concerns cited for Boxpark. As for bathrooms, we’ll have to wait and see, but weather is unlikely to be the same challenge here as in the London version.

Perhaps the most interesting point CityLab makes is the potential for a Boxpark model to test the waters for retail developments in emerging areas. Boxparks need not be permanent shopping centers. They may be equally useful in demonstrating a neighborhood’s ability to support more retail opportunities.

And that’s what we’re most excited about with Box Row: finding ways to make new ideas viable in our local neighborhoods. Box Row’s slated location isn’t exactly an empty lot, but it’s close. A motel with a less-than-stellar reputation occupies the space now, meaning Box Row will add new options to the area without displacing long-term residents. All of which sounds like a win to us.

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