Detail-Oriented Retail: Fixing the Fulton Mall Up

It is getting hard to catalog all the new changes on the Fulton Mall in recent years. There is the

What to do with those once-beautiful windows? (<a href="">Brownstoner</a>)

It is getting hard to catalog all the new changes on the Fulton Mall in recent years. There is the new benches and sidewalks, rebuilt after decades of neglect. The rezoning and the thousands of new apartments borne in on the tides of its land rush. A new mall, CityPoint, maybe with a Target inside, as well as the national retailers finally flooding into the old department stores alongside Macy’s: Aeropostale, Express, H&M, TJ Maxx. And who could forget the crown jewel, Shake Shack.

While people worry about the future of the mall and who might shop there—indeed, it is the subject of a feature in tomorrow’s paper—it still has much of the polyglot look it has had for decades, even more so given the new mix of national shops among the mom and pops with their riotous signs.

Just as it worked for the rezoning in 2005 and the streetscaping a year later, the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership is in the early stages of  creating new standards for the storefronts on Fulton Mall, according to people involved with the project. While still very much preliminary, some form of new regulations is being developed by the local business improvement district in partnership with the Department of City Planning to spruce up the walls of the Fulton Mull.

The zoning governing the mall has largely gone unchanged since the 1980s, when a special use district was created. One of the biggest challenges to landlords has been finding uses for the upper floors, many of which have been bored up or bricked over in recent years, the ground-level retail really being the only real estate of value. In some cases, stairwells have even been removed to create more selling space. Even the higher windows of the vaunted Macy’s are empty and rusted.

Exactly what sort of signage requirements or development incentives might be used to encourage the activation of these upper stories is still being considered, but the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership is focusing now on studying the history of the strip, looking for cues in its past. Among those are sidewall signs, the kind that used to be painted on the taller buildings, or blade signs that hang from the front of building. Currently, the signage tends to be two dimensional, and this will help shoppers locate stores and create more of an arcade-like feel.

There is also questions of cleaning and paint, but ways to encourage cleaner collonades and cornices are less sure.

As for animating the upper floors, one option would be encouraging landlords to pull down those bricks and replace them with glass again. Even if there is nothing on those floors, it could serve as additional displays, helping to hock the wares downstairs. This will not be Times Square, though, officials involved in the planning insist.

The hope is for a more unified, modern, perhaps less gritty, perhaps a little Disney look. Nothing really out of place anywhere else in today’s New York.

mchaban [at] | @MC_NYC Detail-Oriented Retail: Fixing the Fulton Mall Up