I’m back! (Did anyone notice I’ve been gone?!)
While attending my cousin’s wedding in Washington state, I stayed in the somewhat theme-parkey but still cute town of Leavenworth, WA, which has been modeled after an Alpine village.
(As an aside, there’s an interesting story there – with the decline of logging industry and the threatened demise of the town, a few civic leaders woke up one morning forty or fifty years ago and said, “Hey! Let’s make this place a Bavarian village and create a tourist destination!” It worked.)
Here’s the local McDonald’s.
So then I looked back on photos and trip notes from other places, and found at least two other examples of what happens when local ordinances require franchises to tailor their architecture to suit the community.
Here’s the McDonald’s in Asheville, NC:
And Sedona, AZ:
Thanks, Tracy! I don’t know if McDonald’s has to change their advertising to reflect the Turquoise Arches in Sedona, but it’s helpful to see that “franchise” and “national chain” do not necessarily mean “sprawlish strip” appearance.
The question is also whether these better looking structures can also fit into a variety of cities, development patterns, as well as coexist with local business, and even be friendly to non-motorized transportation (I can report getting very strange looks going through a McDonald’s drive-through on my bike).
Fun post, Tracy.
In Alton, New Hampshire, the McDonald’s is a gray clapboard saltbox complete with divided-light windows. Unless my memory is failing me, the only signage is part of the restaurant structure.
I guess some communities try harder…or stick to their principles longer.
Thanks for this post, Tracy! I have forwarded this to the Dundas powers-that-be to see if they want to play along. I hope we (Dundas) can do as well on this one as we did on the “sidewalk dining” ordinances (where we beat Northfield to the punch). Not that we are competing, mind you. Remember when we thought we could cooperate and compete in a “race to the top” rather than competing in a “death spiral to the bottom”? Ever hopeful, am I, that the two cities are aiming high together.
Bruce, I’m hopeful too. Sometimes that gets lots in the middle of logging a bunch of complaints about what needs to change.
Ross, I found a picture of “your” McDonald’s:
Too bad Dayton Hudson was not prodded to bring us a store of better scale and design. What a shame.
All this brings back bad memories. Jim Ashman, chair of EDA and chair of our newly formed Bridgewater Township Planning Commission (conflict of interest, anyone?) told me early on that he’d seen the store design and it was simply wonderful. I asked him to put it on the agenda for the next meeting, but he declined. He said that was the last thing he wanted (opening it up to public scrutiny).
The Target store in Northfield is about the smallest they do, and the designs aren’t too flexible. It sounds like the new Culver’s will have a stone exterior (good-bye blue roof) and a real restaurant feel. The local guy says it’s part of a nationwide change in the brand.
Anne, or anyone else in the know… there was talk in the past about a new theater. Anything going on with that now?
Curt: I understand the movie theatre that was planned for south of town, on the “Gleason property” is a totally dead deal. The Planning Commission should rezone that acreage back to industry,PRONTO!
NF just didn’t have the political will to ask for a different design for the Target development; at the time there was a multi-story T in a former Art Deco department store in CA, Pasadena, I think, as well as one that looks like a Williamsburg Colonial (red brick, white shutters) in Virginia.
If they want to be in the Market badly enough, they will suit the design to the requirements. Doesn’t happen often, but it’s not unknown.
Anne… the Target in Sante Fe is totally all adobe with the red bull’s eye, a earthy red. Arby, TJMaxx, McDonalds, and the gas stations etc. all conform to the look.
There really isn’t much that can be done if our existing ordinances allow standard franchise architecture – which they do.
I just like to see examples of communities with the political will to have appropriate design standards codified. Northfield does not; or at least, the ones on the books are inadequate.
I kept hoping, during the Target debate, that the discussion would shift from “Target, yes or no” to “Target, we’d love to have you in town, but we’d like a store like [fill in the appropriate language]” rather than accepting their standard design for a store of this size.
Tracy, I hope you and the rest of the Planning Commission are thinking about ensuring that the new zoning code does regulate standard franchise architecture. Can you tell us what’s happening in the update process?
Ok, Betsey and Tracy, why are you waiting for someone else to shift the discussion? It seems that a citizen group, a group of local architects, or anyone, could pull together some examples (available online) and point to the appropriate sample ordinances from those communities. Seems the Chamber and NDDC and CVB could find a theme (spare us the gunslinger and Bavarian options) and propose it. (I was just through Lake Elmo and they have a great public works building with a modern twist on a barn design.)
Robbie, good point about Target. I didn’t say there were no options, just not a lot, but they’ve been reworking the designs overall. I just got back from San Diego and southern California is a sea of adobe and tile roofs, partly a design issue and partly due to fire codes requiring tile.
And I did some research, which shows that most of the changes have some in the last couple of years. About 3 percent of stores are in urban markets, where two-story models are being built. The new store in Bloomington sports a new design and the one near Southdale is quite striking.
Personally, I think some of the McDonald’s designs above seem a little too theme park looking, but the idea of a little variety is reasonable. As I said before, the new Culver’s look indicates that chains are looking for more upscale architecture.
You hit the nail on the head, Tracy:
“There really isn’t much that can be done if our existing ordinances allow standard franchise architecture – which they do.”
As Kiffi says, if a franchise wants to come into a town enough, they’ll comply. Another example is in Freeport Maine. There you can get a Big Mac in a white clapboard Federal style house about a block north of LL Bean’s. Even the discreet sign is in conformity with local rules. I’ll bet McDonald’s was happy depart from their cookie cutter building in order to feed all those hungry shoppers.
I keep thinking that national chains taking on local flavor might include cheese curds along with the fries…
Anne – I don’t think we’ve been waiting. Shifting the Target discussion is an opportunity long gone. As for franchise architecture, I repeatedly brought up issues like this while on the planning commission when we were revising the commercial zoning districts (although I was not successful) and now that the city is revising land use ordinances completely, Tracy’s voice for change is loud and clear.
Getting national brands to adjust for local “themes” means you have to have one.
Walking the four main blocks of downtown Division Street doesn’t offer much of a theme. I know we’re only supposed to look at the late-nineteenth century facades, but the competition dilutes any claim to a theme.
What are you going to ask Target to build as a facade to their big box? A couple three-story gems, a 1960 poured concrete and glass intrusion, and a bunch of in-fill store fronts?
I’m not suggesting a theme. My only point was to use various McDonald’s restaurants to illustrate ways that some communities have developed design standards that suit their local flavor, and that doing so is not necessarily a hindrance to business.
Betsey, in answer to your question about our new ordinances – the advisory group has not met since November, and it’s my understanding that the consultants are spending the bulk of their time on the new code (as opposed to the Comp Plan) and it’s my expectation that certainly there will be *something* in there regulating standard franchise architecture. I don’t know what details have been proposed, but there are many models from other municipalities, so it’s not like we’re breaking any new ground there.
Sedona is an interesting illustration of a community that’s successfully developed consistent design standards for their new buildings, but (in my opinion) they’ve failed when it comes to regulating the relationships of those individual buildings to each other, to the street network, to the environment, and as a support to the existing residents and businesses. Sure, the McDonald’s, Walgreens et al are cute individual buildings, but otherwise their site planning and parking formulas are no different visually or functionally from what you’d find in suburban Anywhere, USA. It was probably not lack of vision or political will in Sedona, but rather a lack of good models for alternatives.
Now there are a lot more demonstrated successes with alternatives to the conventional suburban model, and the biggest downside to those is that in those communities, property values tend to be on the high side (and thus can create or exacerbate issues with workforce housing).
Ken- You have a great point there. The question is, who decides what the theme is? Themes can have all kinds of foundations, some historic, others just subjective, some psychological. Who decides? And, can these be changed over time? Just wondering.
Tracy- I’m not sure I agree with all your points on Sedona. As far as fitting their plans in around the environment, I think they have done too well. The whole exterior color scheme of the whole town is the same color of the rock & soil formations surrounding it. Also, to fit streets into a valley system, it’s very hard to come up with a grid system. As far as national companies doing all their facades the same, they have spent millions of dollars of research on this to portray a consistent image anywhere you travel. And, since our populace is so mobile, there is a lot of travel being done, although that may change with gas prices skyrocketing.
My own experience in Sedona trying to find a store is a case in point. We were trying to find a store (I can’t remember which one, now), and we drove up and down the main drag going west out of town three times, looking at a constant expanse of red buildings with green signs. We finally found the place, but I can attest, there was nothing distinctive about it that made it stand out from its surroundings. This can be good for looks but bad for business. Want a Big Mac? Look for the golden arches. Green arches? Good grief!
I also know that wherever I go in the midwest, when I see the red Target sign, I immediately know what kind of store it is. Gasoline? the blue & white “SA” sign, or the “Holiday” or the red & white “Kwik Trip” signs are a welcome sight when the needle is on empty. Maybe I have been brainwashed by the marketing companies, but there seems to be some logic in having consistent signage for the traveling consumer.
John, southern California is much the same, the uniformity of all the buildings, from homes to businesses, makes it hard to find anything. I’ve been there many times and still struggle with my bearings, although I have no problem in other places I travel.
So what kind of design people would want for retail here? Someday there will be stores between Cub and Target, so there’s an opportunity to seek some design improvements to that area. And in a few years, Target no doubt will need to remodel. I could see a Hwy 3 plan with more landscaping and other improvements to existing buildings, a feel that’s more contemporary than the historic district.
Betsey, I think the key is to build public support for design standards.
Look to the example of Bill Ostrem, who took his voice, reached out to others and changed the public discussion about pedestrian and bike issues in the city. He led the movement to get a task force, guided the grant process to get money to plan the changes that people have been complaining about since long before I came here three years ago. Same with the soccer complex. People got together and made it happen.
Perhaps our local architects and business people and others could get something going, instead of depending on the overworked Planning Commission to do it.
Branding is one of the most important parts of marketing any business–large or small. Severe restrictions intended for chains will also hinder small independent businesses from having a unique look. The historic district in Northfield already does this. If you want that look for your business you locate in downtown. If you want a modern look you locate elsewhere. What’s wrong with each business having its own look? As John says, it makes it easier to find a business, and that would be true if it was a chain or an independent. Stores that all look alike seem to be akin to the tan-ville housing developments that have sprouted up around town.
In response to Target, the issue was location and economics. The size of our town did not merit a super Target or a multi level store–those are all in larger towns/cities. If Northfield wanted a Target is had to be of the cookie cutter type. They also could have gone to Dundas to do this. Northfield voted by a narrow margin to acomodate their request. If we kept to our guns, we wouldn’t have a Target. Good or bad? Just the truth.
In the case of adobe being used in architecture throughout AZ, NM, and CA
it is largely a matter of tradition based in sustainable use. Adobe cools the
inside of a building during the day and warms it up at night. Each wall is usually 3 meters deep, which disallows transfer of temperatures at fast rates. This practicality happens to be simple and elegant as well as aesthetically pleasing and is used around the world in various combinations of clay, sand, silt and portland cement for stability. It requires skilled labor to build and
some maintenance to retain.
And, btw, I don’t care too much what a building looks like, as long as it is safe and well kept. After the first time or two, I barely will notice. It’s whats inside that we should be looking at more carefully. In the case of Mickey D’s for instance, altho they claim to have a healthier menu, and many, many people love the old and the new ‘food’, besides the extra lettuce and the grape you might get in a salad, there is very little improvement in nutirtiou sofferings of that menu. I will admit
to gloming into a fish sandwich a few times a year when I am on the road
and desperate for recognizable food in a quick flash…which is why I am elated to hear of a Culver’s coming to a town near you. I have prayed for that and it just shows that such selfish prayers may be answered from time to time. Culver’s has much better fish sandwiches, to be sure.
Actually, I’m with you on this issue Mary. My question to Tracy was more of an indirect question about whether the Planning Commission and consultants were leaning toward this sort of regulation.
Rather than attempting to regulate what buildings look like, I think there are larger scale issues (which still affect the look and feel) to try to guide via zoning like sidewalks, setbacks, and parking issues.
Remember the Design Advisory Board that we used to have? They did a good job during the T debate, while remaining within the ordinance guidelines. They “went away”, through council decision, during the last administration. In all fairness, I’m sure it was a frustrating task for the architects on that board, trying to improve esthetics within the existing guidelines.
They have now morphed into the Design Review Committee and meet as necessary. Why they had to change was never fully explained , but it looked , or felt, like businesses didn’t like being told what to do.
So, we threw away some of the control we had, and would need some really strong ordinances to re-instate that. It’s a very difficult thing to do, unless you go for ubiquitous uniformity like Sedona; What would the ordinance say …We’d like your building to be built to our standard of beautiful?
The best chance to get good design is to have standards of allowable and UN-allowable building materials, and standards regarding appropriateness of scale, both to community and immediate surroundings.
Anne- You’re right about Southern California. I’ve been there, too, but I think Sedona is worse. Many years ago, I was talkng to one of my friends in Southern Cal., and I asked him how things were going. They were in the midst of a particularly dry summer. His response was, “The houses are brown, the yards are brown, the air is brown and the people are brown.” I guess that is pretty uniform.
Bright- The adobe building technique is simply an adaptaion of local building materials. Where there are few trees, a person has to use what is available. As far as the newer buildings, I’m sure a little inspection belies steel studs with a stucco exterior.
previous comment … #22, was Kiffi’s not mine (victor’s).
While I do agree with her, she should get the credit for those observations.
Incidentally, most of those egregious changes to our Ordinances including the demise of the DAB (Design Advisory board) were the result of Susan Hoyt’s Rolidex method of bringing big gun consultants to Northfield to plan its future.
They use their too-oft-tried suburban model
That council played “good puppy” too.
John S.- Did we leave you speechless?
John G. No, the adobe is real wherever people are willing to spend approx. 30% more, and some really do.
Also, I am uploading another McDonald’s right over in Lakeville or
Faribault, not sure which that is in keeping with local architecture,
as you will see from the building right in back of it.
See the Lakewille/Farmington MickyD’s photo here…top of the page,
click on it to see a larger version.
Correction, I meant Farmington, not Faribault in my post #27.
The Farmington McD’s is a little more stylish/modern than most, but it still pretty much looks like a McDonald’s.
The big question in providing local standards for new businesses: do we have a coherent ‘look’ to adhere to?
Perhaps we need to form a committee on architectural standards…
If you take a look at some of the McDs around 1956 to the 90s and even
the opening photos for this subject, I think you will find the one in
Farmington looks least like any McDs possibly ever, imho.
Yes, but Farmington’s isn’t the only one that looks like that. It’s the new brand design. It’ll grow tiresome soon enough.
Why, pray tell, do you people even THINK McD’s? My filters are up, globally. I feel the spread of U.S. created franchise biz to other nations is sicko. When I drive-by or approach a franchise … my auto glass automatically shifts into a blurred gray haze .. I don’t see franchises.
On my last visit, recently I drove through a suburb of Chicago. With Filters Up, went 6.78 blocks on an arterial business stretch, without seeing a thing, including on coming cars, pedestrians, and low flying aircraft. Heard an airplane … and did hear sirens, I think and possibly felt the presence of an oscillating red blur, twisting in my peripheral vision … ( cop’s mars lights? Maybe?) but saw no need to stop, or look further.
Great way to travel the hi an by-ways of ‘merica.
Oh, and by the way .. Earlier on this thread Betsey spoke of her hopes back in the Target day … that the conversation would shift to: “Do it our way!”
(Could that be the N’fld Brand theme … sounds familiar … probably copyright protected )
Don’t know where you were Betsey, perhaps raisin’ babies, but it (the conversation) did shift … at the plan commission and publicly, although not successfully. The old 4 of 7 game (votes!)
Dicy in those days .. not well-seated as things are today. Duh!
I personally was kicked off the Pl Comm. by the Mayor because I lobbied from my brief PC seat, against the Council’s wishes, for a downtown, multiple storied, Q-block-sited Target with a TIF supported parking lot on city owned property, over there.
Even had a dream then that T would save the Co-op’s Elevator and mark it with a T logo much like the T Center in Mpls….
That was exactly ten years ago.
Arguably, using the same vision support in my vehicle today, filtering Brand Name American biz .. I could envision on the site were Cub and T sit today, the corporate business campus, N’fld’s EDA had designated the cornfield at Hy 3 and Cnty. 1, for.
Arguably the struggling in-fill retail coming north up Hy 3 to Jeff Parkway, would all be of a different nature … and the DT, supported by T’s presence would be relatively stable.
Some reasons why that didn’t happen.
#4 City’s leaders were afraid to take-a-pass on the business … and related property taxes it would pay.
#3 Citizens were convinced that T’s property taxes… would reduce theirs (Citizens)
#2 Target wanted cost free land, and by purchasing excess acreage they were able to build on land that eventually Cub and Applebees paid for.
And the number one reason T didn’t come DT: The Target representative put nickel bags of M&M’s on selected front row seats in the Council Chambers and hungry citizens dressed in Target Red T Shirts filled the seats at every meeting, munching on chocolate and peanuts … and often finding need to shout-out curses to the Pl Comm. Chairperson. Fact!
OTHER FACT: (Bringing this back to BRANDING)
T’s two or more story retail store didn’t fit their (T’s) brand or, T’s economic plan.
Evidently it DID fit Northfield’s … or did we have one?
FULL DISCLOSURE: I can remember the fifties … as a six thousand dollar a year television director, living above a Liquor Store (haunted by liquor stores?) on Chicago’s north-side, with a pregnant wife. Nickels were rare, pennies were pinched. At work, we’d go out for lunch, run to the “new concept” eatery with arches … FAST-FOOD … no billions yet sold … and, with 50¢ in my sweaty hand, purchase a burger with fries and a strawberry shake… and get a few pennies change.
Seemed like a good deal, I must confess.
Mc Donalds has several store designs already in use in many states. In Ashville, N.C. they have a store accross from the Biltmore Estate. It’s design fits with the mountian flavor and has a tin punched ceiling with a baby grand piano. They also have a Mc Diner theme store in use. At the west enterance to Yellowstone Park, Mc Donalds has a store that also fits with the wilderness area. I have photos if any one would like to see them. Target, Wal-Mart and Home Depot also have varied building designs. Too bad it wasn’t investaged before the Target and speaker food stores were built here.
Should kids be able to bike/walk over and get a malt at the new Culvers ? What can be done to ensure their safety ? Or will this effectively be a car only experience ?
Patrick, I am already tired of the Farmingon Design. It looks like a place whre the hamburgers would be manufactured and I do mean manufactured in the truest sense of the word.
Robert Hall-Did your grandpa run a men’s clothing chain in Chicago last century? I’d be happy to see your Micky D photos.
David, still I say this once again. Everytime I go to downtown Northfield,
I am surprised by a child or yound adult on a bike in the exact wrong place in the street.
Until there is some kind of comprehensive school and licensing for these
pre teenage bikers, I’d be hard pressed to think they will ever be safe.
I have taken to telling them, “Hey! you are in the wrong place!” and then I get an “Yeah, yeah, yeah, so what” kind of look and wave.
There is the occasional Bike Safety Rodeo put on by the Northfield PD, usually around healthy kids day.
I agree that more of that program would be benefical, however, everything to do with a child begins at home.
I have taught my child the ways of the road on a bicycle. He is quite responsible.
However, as a cyclist, walker, and driver in Northfield, I can say that the habits of cyclists in Northfield are for the most part HORRIBLE!. Cyclists need to remember that they need to follow the rules of the road as well. So many times I have almost hit a cyclist blowing through an intersection, running stop signs, riding against traffic, or my favorite, riding with no hands, in the wrong lane, with the ipod in one ear, and a cell phone in the other.
Safety begins at home, and needs to have refresher training frequently and often.
Also, Sibley is having a bicycle registration next week, but was only allowed to do it BEFORE school. No presentation or registration was allowed during school hours. I think a bike and walking safety assembly in our schools in the spring and fall would be a great thing, and a great use of any “safe routes to schools” funding the city obtains.
I am also a believer that cyclists should be ticketed and fined for traffic offenses.
That is a negative on the clothing store chain. That Robert Hall was a Black American and quite successful! I did get my first suit there however. Tell me how to get the photos to you. I have to agree with John Thomas. It is the parents responsibility to teach and supervise their childeren, not the taxpayers. It is good to have the PD give imput and provide an overview of the state’s regulations, but the parents need to take the responsibility. More parenting and less babysitting.
If our crack Public Saftey Department would enforce the traffic regulations concerning bikes we would have a lot less to moniter as pedestrians and motorists in my humble opinion.
One can assume that personal responsibility will not solve the bike / pedestrian access to Culvers. In a perfect world with all perfect parents urban design would be easy. The question remains should Culvers be designed for non-auto access or is Northfield’s future to become a franchise driven space like Apple Valley, etc ?
Not everyone rides a bike. Maybe a Culvers downtown?
Bike and Pedestrian access IS currently possible.
You can currently get to the location by the use of the crosswalk and light at Highway 3, or you can use the pedistrian/bikepath under the bridge at the river on Highway 3.
I know it is being used, as I see bikes parked in front of the Athletic club, as well as down at the ballfields behind Tacoasis.
It is NOT fantastic, and there are no sidewalks on Woodley, but you “could” get there.
The safest method currently would be to call Northfield Transit, put your bike on the front, and get dropped off there.
I do not see families with small children being able to access the site a this point. Not enough safety margin in the crosswalk timing.
Robert, thanks for the info on Robert Hall, the store. I only heard the ads and jingle on the radio and seeing your name, well, you know.
As for the photos, you can send them to me at
Bright, You’re e-mail address doesn’t work. Check spelling? I have the photos ready to send.
Sorry, Robert, I knew I shouldn’t have been emailing that early.
Fascinating discussion and debate. Parts of Marin County, California, have similar design restrictions; I believe (based on my dim memories of trips there almost 10 years ago) that several towns in Marin compel all businesses to conform to a rather pleasing green and brown color scheme, and to keep the businesses human scale. For me, it’s the latter that’s crucial: keeping structures on a scale that is inviting, rather than daunting, to humans. Target’s downtown Minneapolis store is such a scale-friendly place; ours is definitely not.
On the topic of bike safety and training, I can say – as a member of the newly minted committee which will help administer the community’s PaTHS grant (from MnDOT’s “Safe Routes to Schools” program) – that better training of children AND adults is part of our plan. As I understand it right now, members of the committee, or other concerned citizens, will attend “train-the-trainer” style workshops, then impart their new skills to young bike riders and adult riders and drivers.
And speaking as a private citizen, I sure wouldn’t mind if a few stop sign-running bicyclists got moving-violation tickets from the NPD – say, in front of Bridge Square. I bike every day, and more days than not I see some (usually helmetless) fool blaze through a stop sign on his or her bike. A few well-placed tickets might help slow biking speeds downtown, keep bikers off the sidewalks, and prevent the inevitable tragedy that will happen when Biker A meets Driver B.
Christopher, so glad you’ll be working on the grant that grew out of our Non-Motorized Transportation Task Force. I’ve mentioned this before, but one key piece of traffic safety is to realize that kids today NEVER see traffic as they are growing up because they ride facing backward in safety seats. They don’t see their parents driving, don’t see how car drivers and bicyclists and pedestrians interact at intersections. They have no frame of reference unless parents walk with them, ride with them, teach them. As drivers we need to remember that and assume that young pedestrians and bike riders — and many young drivers — are dangerously clueless. Add in older drivers and pedestrians who are slower and apt to miss key information around them and the generally faster pace and more crowded streets and it’s a wonder we have as few accidents as we do.
I sent the photos this morning. If you did not recieve them let me know.
Just as a side-bar, the Target store in down town Seattle is in a three story department store. Seems strange, but filled a need.
Ok, it’s been awhile, my kids are 12 and 20, but they rode facing *forward* in their safety seats (once they were past infant age).
One of my children is of the observant type, and could tell me, turn by turn, how to drive to the library from my rural home by the time she was in preschool…
Good observation Tonyia. Only infants ride facing backwards. My 4 year old grandson knows his way from Elko to our house here in Northfield and has since he was two and we drive the back roads. He likes to look at the St. Ole windmill. Kids learn if parents take the time to instruct.
Good catch, guys. I was in a hurry and should have taken more care with my wording. I was thinking about the kids staring at the backs of the tall headrests and in the ‘wayback’ seats of minivans — and those staring at video screens. I know they can see out the side windows, and maybe they can see crosswalks through the front windows, though I’ve ridden in back with the grandkids and the field of vision is not great.
I do know when we had the walk to school day last fall that many kids seemed completely unaware of when it was their turn to enter the intersection or how the cars were supposed to take turns.
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