In July of 2012, Target opened a brand new location in downtown Chicago, in architect Louis Sullivan’s famed Carson Pirie Scott building. Critics were left to wonder if the landmark building’s character could be preserved with such a corporate tenant, yet the remarkable cast-iron façade remains intact, and the exterior corporate branding is less obtrusive than expected. Overall it is telling that big-box retailers like Target and Wal-mart are seeking urban locations, but it raises an important question of what to do with high-profile re-use projects, if they should simply be sold to the highest bidder, or vetted for community benefit. Especially given that special tax-increment financing contributed significant public funds to the building’s restoration.
In some ways Target is a natural tenant for the space, taking over from the old Carson Pirie Scott department store, which went out of business in 2007. No argument can be made for waiting longer for a different tenant in this prime retail spot, despite some urbanists’ bristling at the re-use project’s corporatism. Ultimately the location makes business sense for the retailer, seeking entry in a new market different from their usual sprawling locations. The store contains most everything a suburban Target would, albeit in a smaller footprint, and with some minor changes, including a “CityLove” section with Chicago-oriented merchandise, including “Cubby Bears and Chicago T-shirts and notepads — and an expansive ‘Hi, Chicago’ mural splashed across the first floor’s east wall.”
With the massive investment of public funds to restore the exterior, urbanists are left wanting more from Target than lip service to the city by way of crass merchandising. Perhaps an alternate model exists, where cities can negotiate more effectively with corporate tenants to secure a greater public benefit from historic preservation projects than another place to buy cheap Cubs hats.
What should be the economic and cultural priorities of adaptive re-use projects?
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