In the chronicles of urban planning alleyways played an important role. They allowed businesses to hide their trash dumpsters and grease bins. They provided non-disruptive access for deliveries. And of late, they seem to be the place to catch a smoke in our otherwise smoke-free world. But in the search for more (and often unique) square footage in downtowns, many a wise business person has tapped into customer’s desires for that out-of-the way special spot that is tucked down one of those old alleys. Of course that is also usually accompanied with a fairly significant investment to re-make the alley into new frontage — which can get expensive but if the market is good enough it’s proven to be profitable.
Recently I’ve had a number of different downtown Kent businesses talking to me about converting a couple of our old alleys into new public space so that they could put a new front door on their backside. I actually think the idea has a lot of merit, it’s affording it that will be the challenge, but in the meantime here’s a little flavor of what other cities have done with their alleys.
Giving Kent alleys a second chance is not actually a new idea. It was just a couple of years ago that we spent a chunk of change to resurface the alley behind the businesses on the north side of Main Street and since that time you’ve seen a couple of those businesses reach out with some backdoor entrances.
I’m proud that we were able to do that project but resurfacing isn’t really what I’m getting at here. What I’m talking about is transforming the alley into a desirable entrance-way that has an attraction all of it’s own. They say a picture is worth a 1,000 words so I’ll shut my fingers up and let your eyes judge for themselves.
Now I’ll admit that a number of these alleys above are in some downtown hot spots in bigger cities where the cost per square foot of restaurant space works in favor of expanding into alleys but I’ve seen good examples in smaller cities where alleys were converted successfully too. In our case, I look at the alley behind the south side of Main Street and I see a big opportunity to take advantage of some great space that is bursting out of it’s current frontage space.
Just look how much Woodsy’s has added on to the backside to try to create more space. Now imagine if we had retrofitted that alley so that he could use the alley as a second frontage with windows and side entrances that run all the way up the alley on both sides. I think you get the idea.
Don’t go looking for any alley renovations on our new Capital Projects web page just yet but it seems like now is a good time to at least be talking about it.