Economic Development, Government, and Retail

A Target or JCP for downtown retail core?

Nationally recognized retail consultant thinks it’s possible and supportable.

December 1, 2012
TAGS JCP / JCPenny / Target
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A Target or JCP for downtown retail core?
Trader Joe’s, which offers a number of store brand specialty items, describes itself as “your neighborhood grocery store.” Image via fb.com
Editor's note: This is the second in a series looking at retail potential in downtown Grand Rapids.

When the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority recently released a report from the Gibbs Planning Group of Birmingham, Mich., the consulting firm said there was room for 120 to 150 new retail shops and restaurants in an additional 566,460 square feet of commercial space across four separate sectors that make up the district.

But Principal Robert Gibbs cited the heart of downtown as the spot where most of that new business development ultimately would go. He called the sector the Government/Monroe Center Area and defined its 20-block boundary as running east from Monroe Avenue to Division Avenue and south from Michigan Street to Fulton Street.

Gibbs said 70 to 90 more stores and restaurants could locate within that quadrant over 328,800 square feet of space. Those numbers represent from 45 percent to 60 percent of all the new businesses he felt downtown could add, and 58 percent of the total commercial space needed to make that happen.

In his report, Gibbs said the area was a picturesque urban setting with world-class cultural venues and considerable employment centers. He also said it wasn’t meeting the demand of its “diverse consumer base” and was capturing only a minor share of the total market’s retail sales.

“This study concludes that the Government/Monroe Center Area core can currently support an additional 270,200 square feet of retail and 58,600 square feet of restaurants, generating up to $154 million in combined annual sales in 2012,” he wrote. “By 2017, this combined 328,800 square feet of new commercial (space) could produce up to $137.7 million in annual sales.”

Gibbs felt those numbers could be reached because the area offers many of the “site-selection attributes” hundreds of retailers are looking for in an urban marketplace. Those include easy access via highways and city streets, a large employment base, a growing residential demand, an attractive historical setting and — something locals have complained about for decades — plenty of decked and surface parking.

Gibbs said those attributes are what Target, JC Penney, Plum Market, Forever 21, H&M, Trader Joe’s and Old Navy, along with a healthy list of other national and regional stores, are looking for in a new market, and all would be “supportable” here. He added that some of this retail growth could occur in existing businesses through repositioning.

As for existing retail, Gibbs said the collection is limited and is one that primarily appeals to daytime workers and college students. He felt the current retailers offer quality merchandise and good service but the stores are too spread out, which limits cross-shopping opportunities.

Gibbs said restaurants in the area offer a variety of upscale dining choices and a decent selection of casual fare. But he thought the scene was heavily weighted with pub and tavern food. He thought the area has a potential for more ethnic restaurants and for some that offer healthier choices. He felt Alexander’s Real Seafood, Texas De Brazil, EO Burger and Panera Bread, to name a few, could be added to the list.

“The existing retail and restaurant offerings need more support in order to be perceived as a retail hub that attracts and better serves these potential consumers,” he wrote of those who live and work in the area or visit it for entertainment and cultural reasons.

Although there is plenty of room and opportunity for growth in downtown’s core, Gibbs suggested recruiting new businesses should pretty much begin at home, based on the spending power of the next generation of consumers.

“Given the strong student population base, and the power of the area’s taverns and pubs to attract students, this study recommends recruiting several local and independent retailers that would appeal to younger consumers,” he added. “This would give the area credibility as a shopping destination, and strengthen the appeal of the downtown area while complementing the existing retailers.”

Next time: The South Division retail district.

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