Fitting Big Box Reality Into Downtown Dreams.
"We are focusing on our revitalizing our downtown."
This is the statement I hear across the board from city leaders. The desire to have a welcoming, walk-able and vibrant city center has become ubiquitous across America. That is a realistic goal for most cities but the reality for the vast majority of towns without major populations centers is that downtown will never be able to provide the majority of a cities retail needs.
Big box chains still have a purpose and will continue to do so for a long time to come. So how does a town looking for a unique, one of a kind feel come to grips with the idea of cookie cutter big box retail?
The answer is simple, you have to cultivate both and you have to do so in a way where one compliments the other.
Igniting growth in a struggling downtown can be difficult but one step in that process that is often overlooked or just put on the back burner because it is too difficult is clearing an attractive path into your downtown.
Exit off the interstate and begin following the signs into almost any small or midsize city and the odds are that it will not be an attractive drive. The potential visitor will most likely pass empty old buildings and dilapidated or unattractive housing. It might be so bad that some people actually turn around and never make it to the downtown a city has worked so hard to rehabilitate.
Downtown is once again the heart of a city, and American civic leaders are doing all they can to take care of them, but they have by in large totally neglected the artery's that feed that heart and this is where Big Box retail comes into play.
Retail thrives on traffic, and the bigger the retail the more traffic it needs. The land where Interstates and Highways meet will always be ground zero for retail and being active in creating that retail is just as important as all the work cities put toward downtown.
Helping cultivate chain retail will increase tax revenue much faster than downtown revitalization, but more importantly it begins to surgically repair the years of neglect the gateways into most of these downtown's have endured. City leaders need to work with landowners and developers in several ways to help facilitate this.
A. That there is property in the area to be purchased.
B. That the property is at a reasonable market price.
C. That the necessary utilities are in place for the needs of larger retail.
D. That there will be approvals for the traffic signals, turn and deceleration lanes that will be needed
E. That there are incentives in place to entice the national retail into your market.
Make sure this new retail adheres to the architectural and signage designs that your city has already put into place and now you have a lovely new entrance off of the interstate and into your downtown.
Meanwhile the revitalization efforts downtown should be increasing growth outward from that area. Growth should occur through the main streets as a rule but make sure it moves outward in the desirable direction. Overtime these two areas of growth should push closer and closer together creating not only a vibrant and unique downtown but a beautiful road for people to get there, and national chain retail is the best tool to make that happen. It is a long process, but so is revitalization and doing one without the other is no better than repairing a heart and leaving damaged artery's