New Corryville Store Design Reveals That Kroger Continues to Struggle With Urban Format

Located next to the University of Cincinnati and surrounded by some of the region’s largest employers, University Plaza has long sat as one of the most underutilized pieces of commercial real estate in the city.

With demolition work well underway, a new University Plaza will soon be realized, but will it be any better than what was has occupied the site since the early 1980s?

The public got the first idea of what that answer will be when the Business Courier published designs of what the new 92,000-square-foot Corryville Kroger will look like.

While no site plan has been released, the drawings show a two-level store that will face west toward Jefferson Avenue. The front façade will include numerous windows, while the other three sides would not. A drive-thru pharmacy will be located along Corry Street, and a surface parking lot will sit in front of the building, separating it from the street.

The front façade treatments and two-level store design are departures from Kroger’s previous urban store designs elsewhere in Cincinnati. The large surface parking lot, however, stays true to their typical development model and represents a departure from the earlier visions for the site that included a rooftop or structured parking facility.

In fact, the final arrangement for the redeveloped University Plaza site will most likely appear nothing like the original concepts first produced a decade ago. Over that time, dozens of concept plans have been developed for the site from the Niehoff Studio and three different professional design firms.

The Niehoff Studio has actually be researching the topic of urban grocery stores since 2002, and has published its findings on everything from the economic performance to the social impact and design of such stores.

“I applaud the initiative and risk taking involved to make this a two story format,” said Frank Russell, Director of the Niehoff Studio and Community Design Center. “This is a sensible solution to putting a sprawling large scale program on a valuable site in a dense urban setting. It relates better to the surrounding context which is multi-story, but it is very difficult to do from a functionality point of view.”

While the two-story structure is in line with the original recommendations, Russell says that the large surface parking lot is not ideal.

“That undoes some of the progressive intent of the two-story building design, especially at the important gateway corner of Jefferson and Taft,” Russell told UrbanCincy. “The best thing that I could say about that is that it is a land-bank for future structured parking and mixed-use development, notwithstanding a landscaped corner.”

While notably different than the original design concepts developed in the early aughts, the designs released yesterday appear to have not changed much from what was developed by CR Architects in 2008.

Kroger representatives say that the store will also feature an outdoor seating area, similar to what the company recently developed in Lexington. They also say that while the store will have two levels, customers will not actually use the second floor since it will be used for food preparation functions only.

Project officials say that the current store will close on September 12 so that it can be demolished. It is estimated that construction of the new store will take 12 to 14 months and open at the end of 2016.

  • Jasomm

    Wow! that is some out of context crap there.

    Why is it so hard for architects/developers to understand street presence? Have they ever walked down a city sidewalk, ever?

    It would be really easy just to put the store on the west side of the site with the front toward Jefferson, and have a smaller parking lot with a secondary entrance on the other side, or north side.

  • ED

    This is really easy- the West Elevation, the main entrance with the useless walkway through the parking lot to Jefferson, should be facing to the north and centered down Short Vine. Why did we just redo Short Vine for the end of it to become Kroger’s main parking lot entrance instead of a terminated vista?

    • Yeah this blew my mind when they said it would face Jefferson. Once again developers are more concerned with how it looks from a car speeding past.

    • ED

      The local urban grocery store format doesn’t need all this study as if it’s some huge hurdle. We just need elected officials to required better design.

    • Jules Michael Rosen

      In terms of walkability, I’d say their design is better than putting a cap on the end of Short Vine. This basically reopens the street, which means pedestrians can and will cut across McMillan and Calhoun. It is unfortunate that these streets don’t have crosswalks there, but this allows for easy access from both Auburn and Vine, which originally used to connect at this point. So, although the design is a a far cry from a true urban format, at least it is making the pedestrian situation there a little better.

    • ED

      Fronting Corry, the building would need to be double-loaded anyways to provide access to side/rear parking, so access would be no worse than from the proposed plaza in the middle of the Taft frontage, which really doesn’t provide directly walkability from Vine or Auburn.

      And I wouldn’t call crossing Taft in this area easy access. You could provide immediate pedestrian access from Corry and Short Vine versus splitting the difference among the frontages and providing a level of walkability you’d expect of the surburbs. The building entrance is not close or direct to Vine/Jefferson and there is no building entrance towards Auburn. The bottom line is buildings in urban areas should front streets.

    • Jules Michael Rosen

      I disagree. While Pedestrians walking from the south to the front entrance of a store that caps Short Vine would have to walk an extra half block around the store, as compared to the current design, where the doors are mid-block between Taft and Corry. This would deprioritize the two neighborhoods that sit to the south of the site, Mount Auburn and Clifton Heights. Considering this is the junction of three neighborhoods and Kroger serves the entire community, not just Corryville, I don’t find that solution very appealing.

      I am not trying to defend the current design, because the use of surface parking is pretty atrocious, but I will point out what they did right.

      The pedestrian corridor along Short Vine in the article is improved from its current state. The Kroger and retail in the proposal are both are on axis with Short Vine, and, while fronting buildings on streets is a good rule of thumb, the pedestrian corridor is extended through the parking lot, creating a “faux Short Vine” that links it to the rest of the retail in the neighborhood. When looking south from Short Vine, parking lots would not even be visible, because the retail and the Kroger frame this faux street. The view terminates in a staircase centered in the faux street, which is a fairly traditional way for a street to end in Cincinnati. Also, while the brick facade wall along Corry is not ideal, this is not the same design as Mount Washington, where the bare brick wall faces their main street. The front of the store is line with most of the retail on the street, as Short Vine is the main street here, not Corry.

      To be sure, the view from cars passing on Taft, Jefferson, or Eden is underwhelming. However, the design in the article opens up Short Vine and announces that there is a neighborhood business district here, instead of shielding it from view, like the current plaza does or a Short Vine cap would.

    • ED

      The proposal deprioritizes Short Vine and Corryville, does not take advantage of the basic design principal of the terminated vista, and prioritizes no neighborhood as it faces Jefferson and is setback in the normal suburban pattern. Sure you CAN walk down the new access drive but it’s not the best design for an urban setting.

      Also, I don’t believe that the proposal is being driven in any way by comprehensive pedestrian access from Jefferson, Vine or Auburn. If you want to make a building walkable, you simply put it near the street. You don’t put the building entrance in the middle of the site and make people walk through out of the way plazas or 300-space parking lots to get there. Splitting the difference is not design, you have A-grade and B-grade pedestrian streets and Sh Vine is the only A-grade street in this location and should be prioritized, though as you said it slightly is.

    • Jules Michael Rosen

      The centered staircase is definitely taking advantage of the terminated vista. In addition, the view to the NBD from Jefferson/Vine and Taft that was lost a generation ago is actually being restored.

    • ED

      You’re making the middle of the Taft Rd frontage between Vine and Auburn into a greater place than it actually is.

  • Aaron Watkins

    More junk for Corryville!

  • Brian Boland

    Well that’s underwhelming. That could just be dropped by any highway exit anywhere. Look at that large expanse of car storage in the middle of a walkable neighborhood. That is a swing and a miss and I hope it doesn’t get built.

    • Maybe there’s still a chance for the rumored MLK Kroger… 😉

    • ED

      And what do you think that would look like…

  • Brian Boland

    This is because unlike the groups working downtown (3cdc et al) the Uptown Consortium is NOT focused on developing on an urban model. I’ve heard them talk and they are only concerned with how to get the hospital workers and commuter students in and out of Clifton as swiftly as possible. If I’ve got this one wrong let me know, but this piece of sub-urbanity will only foster more vehicular traffic and have a dampening effect on any other kind of traffic–pedestrian, bike or whatever.

    • While I don’t disagree with you, I am not sure the blame on this project falls on the Uptown Consortium. Kroger has had many years where it was working with highly qualified architects and urban designers on this site, yet choose to ignore their recommendations aside from the two-story format and use of glass on the front facade.

    • Brian Boland

      True enough. Kroger is the ultimate problem. I think of the Mt. Washington Kroger for another poorly executed urban neighborhood store.

      But I think if the Uptown Consortium were as strong as, say, 3cdc they might have a better feel for context and integration and might have been a stronger force in guiding the architects.

    • ED

      Price Hill Kroger is worse

    • Neil Clingerman

      Not sure if Kroger is fully the issue here as other regions with grocers owned by them have urban format stores (look at Lexington, LA, Atlanta and Seattle), they just aren’t in Cincinnati which is strange.

    • ED

      Wonder what Uptown Consortium thinks about all the violence in Avondale

  • matimal

    Cincinnati needs to tax property based on use, not just on value.

  • keetz44 .

    Kroger builds stores with an urban format in other cities including mine……Seattle. I think you may need to look to your planning dept. They need to make the right demands to Kroger.

  • Jules Michael Rosen

    I don’t know while all the articles keep saying that the pharmacy will be along Corry. All the drawings show it on the south side along Taft.