DDA to pursue retail recruitment strategy

March 18, 2012
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Anne Marie Bessette of the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority told DDA members last week that retail operations grew in the district last year. She also said she needs more marketing tools to help the sector grow even more.

Bessette, who is a development specialist with the DDA, said 18 new retailers opened their doors in downtown last year, while only six closed their shops. But to take the business recruitment to the next level and meet the DDA’s goals for enhanced retail, Bessette said the agency needs to develop a strategic marketing plan that will focus on recruitment.

And board members agreed — at least for the first phase of a two-stage effort.

The request before the DDA was to hire the Gibbs Planning Group, an urban economic and planning consultant in Birmingham, Mich., to create the plan at a total cost of $132,000. GPG was chosen from a field of four candidates because it suggested adding an analysis of how parking and urban design relate to attracting shop owners to a district.

“He was the only consultant who already had done his homework and had ideas,” said Bessette of Robert Gibbs, owner of GPG.

DDA board member Elissa Hilary, executive director of Local First and part of the committee that interviewed the candidates, agreed with Bessette’s evaluation of Gibbs. Hilary also indicated that Gibbs would use some local consultants to help with the project.

The work would be done over two phases. The first would include a retail market analysis and cost $83,000. The second would include a plan to implement the recruitment strategy and a feasibility study on whether it would be wise to create retail incubator space downtown at a cost of $49,000.

But Mayor George Heartwell questioned whether the work could be done for less than the $132,000 tab.

“It was actually comparable to the others,” said Bessette of the bids she received.

DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler said they actually got GPG to lower its price. “We worked with them on that,” he said.

DDA Chairman Brian Harris suggested that the board approve funding the first phase at $83,000, but wait to allocate the remaining $49,000 for the second phase until members can evaluate what the first-phase work reveals.

“We would accept that,” said Bessette.

The DDA unanimously awarded the first-phase money last week, and Bessette told the Business Journal that she wants the work to get underway as soon as possible.

Joining Hilary on the committee that interviewed the consultants were Brian Cousins, manager of the Wolverine Worldwide Co. Store; Sharon Evoy, executive director of the Downtown Alliance; Haylea Gray, owner of One Girl’s Treasure; and Experience Grand Rapids’ vice president of marketing, Janet Korn.

“We reviewed some very good input from them for the study,” said Harris of material the Downtown Alliance provided the DDA. “We want to create a fertile environment for retail.”

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