White Paper on the Retail Environment in 2016

Apparel Store Changes 2008-2013

We are often approached by communities asking how they can attract more retail to their business districts. That may be the wrong question. The retail sector is experiencing a massive transformation as people are spending less, the internet is taking an increasing slice, shopping habits change, and chains continue to close stores at record levels. The best locations will continue to thrive, but all others need to be thinking about a more comprehensive approach to creating healthy business districts, in which attraction is only part of the picture.

Our white paper provides a comprehensive look at how retail is changing and what it might mean for your community, district, or center.

Storemaggedon – Retail Shifts and Communities

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Tourism Asset Map for Rural Illinois Counties

Place Dynamics assisted Henry, rural Rock Island, and Mercer Counties in planning to develop and promote tourism within the HRRIM region. This was a multi-faceted project involving inventories, assessment, planning, and marketing.

We began the project by documenting and evaluating existing tourism atttractions on five unique criteria, resulting in a ranking and helping to identify future development needs. At the same time, we examined visitor demographics and patterns not only within the HRRIM region, but also among competitors. Attractions were grouped to create itineraries designed to boost visitation and encourage visitors to extend the length of their stays. A development program addressed both general needs or opportunities, and those specific to individual attractions. A marketing plan discussed messaging, target markets, and opportunities for promotion.

To help demonstrate the importance of tourism to the economy, we compiled an economic impact analysis of tourism on the economy of each of the three counties. The area’s tourism is responsible for generating over $55 million in economic activity, nearly 1,000 jobs, and nearly $1 million in annual tax revenue.

Summary Report: TOURISM MATTERS

Asset Map - Final

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Janesville’s Downtown Riverfront Redevelopment Opportunities

Janesville is a city of about 64,000 people located in south central Wisconsin. The City retained Place Dynamics and SAA Design Group to advise it on prospects for redeveloping several brownfield sites along the Rock River where it passes through downtown. Our role was to assess the market opportunity and advise the team on effective redevelopment strategies.

The analysis demonstrated a strong and immediate demand for market rate and higher-end rentals along with owner occupied condominiums. These uses could be successfully developed along the river, where the river itself, along with existing paths and parks would be a significant amenity. Additional riverfront improvements recommended by SAA Design Group would further enhance the area’s potential. To help establish the market for redevelopment, the City will need to be an active player in helping to assemble, remediate, and market properties, as well as provide support for elements of proposed projects such as enclosed parking, which is a necessary amenity.

The market for retail, office, and dining uses in the downtown is presently limited, in part due to a lack of any retail concentration in the district, and in part due to a very large inventory of available space elsewhere in the city. The most likely prospects in the short term will include eating and drinking places, home decor and hobby-related retail, and boutique office users who may be tied to the nearby courthouse.

Downtown Uses

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Layton Boulevard Market Analysis and Strategy

Layton Boulevard West Neighbors is a nonprofit organization working to preserve the vitality of the Silver City, Burnham Park, and Lincoln Park neighborhoods on Milwaukee’s far west side. These were historically working class areas that developed along streetcar lines from the 1870’s through the early 1900’s, offering housing along with shopping and services for workers in the adjacent Menomonee Valley. As the largely Eastern European households that once dominated the neighborhoods move out, many Hispanic households are moving in. Home ownership in the area remains high, with moderate incomes. These are “moving up” neighborhoods for recent immigrants and first generation citizens who want to own a home.

Our analysis focused on five primary corridors.

  • Pierce Street borders the Menomonee Valley, which has been the historic heart of Milwaukee’s manufacturing district. This area is attracting several new green industries and small craft manufacturers that are attracted to the central location and availability of smaller spaces than found in the Valley.
  • National Avenue is the most important commercial corridor. Its higher traffic volume, proximity to Miller Park, and existing businesses are a foundation on which to build a destination business district focused on multi-ethnic dining and shopping.
  • Greenfield Avenue will largely serve neighborhood shopping and service needs.
  • Burnham Street does not have the traffic necessary to sustain the amount of commercial space available. We recommended development around nodes, with the most important of these being around a popular Mexican grocery.
  • Lincoln Avenue can serve these neighborhoods along with adjacent suburban areas. The street’s proximity to a large hospital complex presents opportunities to serve workers and patients, particularly for businesses in health care or dining establishments.

In addition to the market analysis, we recommended specific strategies for the organization to pursue in its efforts to revitalize these corridors.

Summary Report: Layton Market Analysis Summary (Letter Format) 2

Summary Map

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Marquette Economic Development Plan

Marquette is the largest city in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, situated on the shores of Lake Superior three hours north of Green Bay. Though isolated, the city is a vibrant and progressive community, and home to Northern Michigan University. It is surrounded by natural beauty, complimented by its own wonderful downtown and waterfront. The City has defined an unique niche for itself as the silent sports capital of the Upper Peninsula, in addition to being its economic and service center.

While Marquette’s prospects for attracting significant outside industry are limited, the community has become a destination for mid-career professionals and others who see it as a desirable place to live and own a small (micro) business. Our research included an extensive analysis of startup businesses (along with existing businesses, branch plants, and relocations) to document sources and sectors of growth. Important recommendations included strategies to support these emerging business opportunities, continuing to foster revitalization in the downtown and elsewhere, developing the region’s agricultural production and local food hub, and creating an organization to advocate for businesses.

Marquette County Movers Map Strategic Plan

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Hartland Park and Recreation Plan

Hartland is an attractive small suburb of Milwaukee, with a very well developed and maintained park system. Place Dynamics assisted the Village with the five-year update to its Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan. Prepared in accordance with requirements from Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources, the plan inventories Village parks and recreational assets, identifies present and future facility demand, and discusses needs for additional parks or activity-specific resources. The plan is required to seek state funds for park acquisition or development.

Park Service Areas Map 2

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Success is in the Eye of the Beholder

We recently completed a survey of downtowns for the Wisconsin Downtown Action Council. One of the more interesting findings was a tendency for communities that considered themselves to be successful in implementing their downtown plans to also report the highest vacancy rates in their downtown buildings. When we dug into this paradox we found that respondents in local government positions were most likely to consider their implementation efforts to be successful. For these respondents, downtown revitalization centered on physical improvements such as road reconstruction and streetscaping, downtown plazas, parking lots, and redevelopment projects. Success was measured by whether or not the projects were constructed, and not necessarily upon their impact on downtown businesses or real estate.

The point of this story was driven home as I recently walked the streets of a small downtown in Tennessee. Workers were laying the last bricks in an attractive new streetscape project. As I snapped a picture a man nearby came up to chat with me. After a moment he made the comment “I wish they were as concerned with trying to get businesses in these empty buildings as they were with brick sidewalks.” Perhaps he was a downtown businessperson or property owner, or maybe just an interested citizen, but his priorities were certainly different from those of the city.

We need to recognize that successful planning addresses a wide variety of issues through projects, programming, activities, and other approaches. Perhaps this is a problem with the downtown plans in the Wisconsin example. If these communities’ plans were comprised solely of infrastructure projects, then they missed the big picture. Downtown property owners, business owners, and residents might have told them to recruit businesses to vacant storefronts, provide assistance with marketing and promotions, and make downtown a lively place with events and amenities.

As planners, economic developers, and local government officials it is necessary for us to recognize that success is not defined only from one particular viewpoint. Whether it is a downtown district, neighborhood, city, or region, there will be a diverse set of stakeholders each with their own desired outcomes. Plans should include success measures that can be monitored at regular intervals to determine whether progress is truly being made, or if we are simply implementing projects without consideration of their impacts.

2011 Wisconsin Downtown Survey – Final

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Planning for Downtown Sioux City

Sioux City’s downtown is experiencing a resurgence brought about through investments in its east end and the success of residential conversions in several large downtown buildings. We were part of a team of experts brought in to conduct an assessment of the district and offer recommendations for further actions the City could take to promote revitalization.

Continued residential redevelopment will be critical to maintaining momentum. Several actions will support this, as well as help to encourage business development. These include relocating the casino to a site where it can be integrated into the downtown, establishing better connections with the riverfront, introducing new parks, providing landscaping to soften the district’s appearance, and promoting the west end (The Pearl) as a creative district targeting young professionals.

Sioux City, IA (143)

Promo The Pearl

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Economic Developers Need to be Part of Disaster Response Planning

Emergency management is often seen as a function of the local police and fire departments, and not a subject with which economic developers need to be concerned. If there is a disaster, the thinking goes, police and fire departments, and perhaps the national guard will respond to protect lives and property. But there is more to disaster response than the immediate need to ensure public safety. A community needs to be prepared to deal with the aftermath. Imagine that nearly every business in your downtown is flooded, losing their inventory and sustaining damage to their buildings. Or perhaps a fire ravages the forests surrounding the community, which were the basis for its tourism or logging industries. Consider what might result from a tornado leveling the city’s business park. Yes, it is important to plan for the initial response, but it is just as critical to have a plan in place to immediately begin the recovery. Is your community ready to assist its industries, the shops on Main Street, and home-based businesses in the days and months after a disaster?

Ever since Hurricane Katrina a significant part of our business has been helping disaster-impacted communities to chart a path to recovery. It seems that disasters are only growing more common. Hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, and floods have lately become a staple of the evening news. We have a few observations from working in these places.

  • Very few communities have anticipated the potential for disasters or have any sort of recovery plan in place.
  • Most businesses do not have a continuity plan in the event of a catastrophe. In fact, few even have adequate insurance to cover their losses, or regularly back up critical business information.
  • The threat is not always apparent. Most of the businesses impacted by flooding in the Great Plains and New England states in 2011 were located outside of the 100-year floodplain and thought they were safe. And who could have anticipated a major oil spill closing beaches and wrecking the Gulf Coast tourist economy?
  • While impacted homeowners may receive some grant assistance, the best a business may hope for is a loan. Many business owners will not find that an attractive, or even a feasible solution for their loss. Many businesses will simply not return.
  • Just as businesses may not return, the customers may also move on to other locations. These customers may be residents of a trade area or they may be clients who find other suppliers of goods or services while a disaster-impacted business may not be able to serve them. Loss of their customers may be another factor in whether a business returns.
  • People moving out of the area, either temporarily or permanently, are also the workforce for many local businesses. It is a problem overall, but particularly if some of those moving out are critical employees with skills or knowledge that may be hard to replace.
  • Key businesses will look elsewhere for opportunities to reopen more quickly. Businesses with multiple facilities may transfer work, while local businesses may find new locations in nearby communities.
  • Just cleaning up from a disaster can take days, weeks, or even months. Traffic patterns change due to road closures. Rail or air service, municipal water and sanitary services, telecommunications, electrical power and natural gas services may be disrupted for an extended period, during which the business may not be able to operate. In some cases uncertainty about whether rebuilding is possible (such as when a property may be acquired for mitigation) can hold up reconstruction for years.
  • Many common business assistance resources may also be lost in the disaster, such as municipal offices, the chamber of commerce, the small business development center, and others.
  • Municipal resources will be stretched thin. Staff will have enormous workloads and may have to cope with their own disaster losses. Municipal budgets will be impacted by the loss of fees, sales taxes, and property taxes, while also needing to fund response and repair costs.

If the consequences of a disaster can quickly rise to this magnitude, it should be apparent that the time to start thinking of how to react is before the event. Few places have the staff, resources, or time to adequately respond once the event has already taken place.

It can take years to recover from a disaster, and some communities never do return to the prosperity they once enjoyed. As part of the emergency management team, economic developers can help to anticipate potential impacts to businesses and the economy, and ensure that there is a plan in place to immediately begin a recovery. Economic developers should be educating their businesses on the importance of obtaining insurance and backing up critical data. They can provide assistance in continuity planning. During and immediately after an event they can assist with salvage and clean-up, and even establishing work centers and marketplaces where impacted businesses can set up temporary operations. Over the long term they can coordinate continued business planning, loan programs, promotions, and other activities to support business recovery.

Perhaps a last lesson is to continuously document business conditions in the community. Data from before the flood can be used to establish a baseline. Post-disaster data will show the degree to which the economy was impacted and can be essential to seeking grant support from state, federal, and other sources. Have in place an effective strategy to maintain contact with your businesses, as many will no longer have access to a physical address. Survey businesses at frequent intervals to monitor their intentions for reconstruction, their needs for recovery, or to determine how many will not return.

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The Impact of Gas Prices on Commuting Costs

There has been a lot of speculation recently about whether gas prices may again shoot up, and how far they may go. This is a concern for many of our company and community clients, who want to understand if rising commuting costs will impact their ability to recruit a workforce. We have created a simple model that helps people explore how changes in gas price, commuting distances, fuel economy, and wages interact with each other. Simply enter a few values into the spreadsheet and view the results. This is an Excel file.

Gas Price Impact Calculator

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