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An empty box in North Kingstown

Lowe’s at Quonset Point Gateway, image from Google Street View.

Earlier this week the Lowe’s at the Gateway at Quonset Point in North Kingstown closed, leaving 105 employees without jobs and an empty big box and parking lot.

The Lowe’s, which opened in early 2009 was among 20 “underperforming” stores nationwide which the retailer closed this year. While the store’s opening was celebrated as a sign of the success of the Gateway Center, GrowSmartRI expressed concern about the development in 2007.

GrowSmartRI submitted testimony to the Rhode Island State Planning Council on September 20, 2007 regarding the Revised Site Plan (August 6, 2007) for the Quonset Gateway Center Project.

Grow Smart continues to have serious concerns about this broad expanse of single-story retail. First, it is a low-density form of development that does not use land efficiently. And, as Grow Smart stated in its original testimony, “…this relatively low intensity use constitutes a basic inconsistency with the fundamental premise of Land Use 2025 (.pdf) which is that we should seek to accommodate the majority of our future growth by making efficient use of the infrastructured land within the urban services boundary.”

Second, the single-story retail and surrounding parking results in a great deal of impermeable surface on parcels 1 and 5b. The QDC development guidelines (Section require that not more than 80% of a parcel be covered by impermeable surface. Grow Smart questions whether those two parcels, as shown on the revised master plan, meet the impermeable surface limit established in the QDC’s own guidelines

Third, large national chains, with their ability to cut prices, often drive smaller local businesses out of operation and pull revenue out of the local economy.

Gateway Center also has not yet moved forward with the proposed office component of the development, the component that would make the development actually be mixed-use. The employees of the offices on site would provide a needed customer base for the retailers. Smaller scale retail, catering to office employees, workers from other sections of Quonset Point, and residents from the nearby area would be more readily able to be repurposed when inevitable retail turn over occurs.

By continuing with an auto-oriented development style, reliant on big box floor plates, Gateway Center is now stuck with an empty box and empty parking lot that will be difficult to redevelop. If Lowe’s found the location to be “underperforming” chances are its competitors, such as Home Depot, will find it similarly underperforming.

While the town of North Kingstown works towards targeting growth into village style growth centers along the Post Road corridor (.pdf), Quonset could learn from the demise of 2-year-old big box retailer and shift the focus of development at Gateway Center to better align itself with the town’s vision and avoid future empty boxes.

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