Five Lessons for Jacksonville to Bring Retail Downtown

July 27, 2015 19 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Recently, a panel at the annual International Council of Shopping Centers offered a list of important points that cities like Jacksonville need to consider when trying to establish retail districts downtown. Here's a few lessons for Jacksonville based off a story by Andrew Keatts of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

Recently, a panel at the annual International Council of Shopping Centers offered a list of important points that cities need to consider when trying to bring retail tenants to their downtown areas.

1. Don’t Start with Retail

Infill development in downtown Greenville, SC

Director of Economic Development in Greenville, Nancy Whitworth believes that you can’t simply just drop a shopping district in to the middle of downtown.  "When you begin the revitalization process, everyone wants retail […] they want to immediately jump to retail. You can make a place look good, but if the market can't support the activity, you won't be successful."

For example, Greenville, which is wildly popular for being a pedestrian-friendly, shopping community, didn’t start off that way. It didn’t start with retail, either. Greenville took almost 30 years to become the “Main Street” community that it is today.
Whitmore continued, stating that they “concentrated on offices, then once [they] had a healthy office market, [they] gradually moved into entertainment.” With that, the city began organizing events and supporting its local performing arts and sports teams.
Once Greenville became the sort of place people really wanted to be, retail came in to play. As a result, today, Greenville has several high-end, national retail tenants. They also have over 125 restaurants unique to downtown.

2. Don’t Chase Trend/ Use Subsidiaries as a Fix-All

Nordstrom in downtown Seattle

Bill Fulton, Director for the Kinder Institute of Urban Research, thinks that all cities want to see and use what other concepts and trends are working in other cities. Several years ago, that would simply mean bringing a multiplex to your downtown area. Nowadays, that means pulling for an “Apple” or a “Nordstrom.”

However, Fulton says that "The reality is, you have to understand your niche […] you’ve got to understand, you're not always going to have the coolest thing." Oftentimes, cities don’t consider that they don’t have the particular demographics to make certain retail tenants successful. This results in a lot of lost money.

Fulton boils it down to a “psychological problem,” which he defines as this:  “ if the market isn't providing what we want, all we have to do is subsidize it deep enough, and we'll get it to work,'" Fulton said. "Sometimes, if you subsidize it deep enough, you will get it, but the underlying market won't be there, you won't keep it, and it won't serve as the basis of what you're trying to grow. You have to be realistic about who you are in the marketplace."

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