There are more questions than answers about the future of Highland Park Village, especially in the wake of last week’s announcement that Tom Thumb will leave the shopping center within the next year.
Alex Krieger is a man trying to find the truth amid a slew of public rumors that have led to some animosity between ownership group HP Village Partners and adjacent residents over traffic, neighborhood integrity, and other issues related to the iconic shopping center.
Krieger is a Boston-based urban planning specialist who was in town on Monday to meet with the Highland Park Town Council and also with homeowners to solicit input about HPV from both sides. Because while it’s clear that something must be done, exactly what isn’t clear.
“There’s no such thing” as a secret “master plan” about the Village’s future development that has caused speculation, Krieger said. “There’s no specific agenda that we’ve heard.”
Krieger, who was hired jointly by the Village and the town, has met with several interested parties regarding future development in recent weeks, and he plans to hold several more meetings, including some for the general public, through the spring. Regarding the impending closure of Tom Thumb, he said the Village’s owners weren’t a factor.
“This is the decision of the grocery,” he said. “It was not the intention of the Village.”
Krieger said Tom Thumb officials reached an agreement with the Village several years ago to prevent a competitor from opening in the same location after the store closes. A grocery store could move into another Village location, but space is very limited.
“There’s no possibility for an immediate replacement, at least on that site,” Krieger said. “I imagine this will cause some skepticism among neighbors who are concerned about the loss of a supermarket.”
Another issue to be addressed is parking, Krieger said. He said the Village has always had only surface parking, but he said one option to alleviate congestion would be constructing an underground parking facility where Tom Thumb currently stands, then rebuilding a structure on top of it. He admits, however, that most options to add parking would be costly and disruptive to merchants.
“It seems like it would be a good thing to add parking, but it’s hard to know where to do that,” Krieger said. “The Village faces a bit of a dilemma. There’s no easy solution.”
Krieger said evolving retail dynamics, which have turned the Village into a hub for high-end specialty shops and boutiques in recent years, have caused the shopping center to transform several times during its eight decades. Village officials said public input is valuable as they develop a plan for the future, so it can be a source of pride for the community.
“I believe they are listening sincerely,” Mayor Joel Williams said. “I think a plan can be developed that can be well supported by the residents of Highland Park.”