Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Speaking Schedule Announcements: Fall 2017

It's shaping up to be a busy speaking season for Larisa Ortiz Associates. Here are some places you can find us in the Fall:

IDA Pre-Conference Workshop: The Future of Physical Retail in the Age of Online

LOA Principal, Larisa Ortiz, will be presenting at this ICSC sponsored pre-conference IDA workshop with  Michael Berne, MJB Consulting and Tony Hernandez, Director & Eaton Chair in Retailing, Centre for the Study of Commercial Activity (CSCA).

This timely session will not only get into the nuances of what is in fact happening in the industry, but also introduce various strategies and interventions that district managers might consider in an effort to help mitigate possible impacts and take advantage of the latent opportunities during the current period of transition. Participants will have an opportunity to share specific challenges they face and receive real-time feedback from peers and instructors.

Sept 13, 2017, 8:30-11 am, Delta Hotels Winnipeg
Conference program + registration.

International Economic Development Council (IEDC) Panel: Optimizing Tenant Mix for Downtown Business Districts

Larisa Ortiz, LOA Principal, will be speaking on a panel with Winnipeg West End BIZ's, Joseph Kornelsen, and Build Toronto's Director of Development, Salima Rawji - moderated by ICSC's Director of Community Relations, Cynthia Stewart. 

They will be discussing how to optimize tenant mix for downtown business districts with practical and actionable steps to better understand how to develop a retail attraction strategy, how to engage retail real estate industry professionals and how to customize a retail attraction strategy to fit the unique challenges associated with different traditional downtown retail environments.

Sept 19, 2017, 4-5 pm, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel 
Conference program + registration.

International Making Cities Livable Conference: Making Space for Democracy

LOA Associate, Nur Asri, will be presenting at the 54th International Making Cities Livable Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico during the conference October 2-6. She will be presenting her paper entitled “Making Space for Democracy,” which introduces a new evaluation tool for assessing public spaces based on political and philosophical tenets of democracy. Nur conducted this research as part of her graduate thesis in City and Regional Planning at Pratt Institute. The study aimed to uncover the state of democracy of Singapore’s public spaces – particularly in relation to migrant workers who have become isolated to parts of the island-state. 

Presentation details + conference registration.

The Do's and Don'ts of Outdoor Displays

A furniture store in Sanford, FL
curates a seating patio outside its store.
Nur Asri is an associate at Larisa Ortiz Associates

The public realm is extremely important in commercial districts. While plazas and parks offer areas for visitors to rest and enjoy a meal, sidewalks make up a larger percentage of the public realm and are often optimized by businesses to attract customers. As a result, many store owners have taken to displaying merchandise on sidewalks as ‘teasers’ to what else is in store for potential customers.

However, business owners need to be aware that every city has its own regulations around sidewalk merchandise displays. Here in NYC, although stores are permitted to have outdoor displays of merchandise with no required licenses (for the most part.. Note: ‘Zero Sidewalk Display’ streets and streets in historically designated areas), these displays are restricted by types of goods and by size and structure.

The City requires that items displayed outdoors consist only of goods that are available for sale inside the store and that all sales must still occur inside the premise. Structures used to display the merchandise outside the store must also be temporary in nature and may extend no more than 3 feet into the sidewalk from the building line, and no higher than 5 feet. If a business owner were to break any of these regulations, a fine between $250 and $300 may be issued by the City.

In Cambridge, MA, where we recently completed work on a citywide retail strategy, the outdoor display of merchandise is even harder to do because a sidewalk obstruction permit is required by the City of Cambridge and costs $75 to submit.

Regardless of municipality, businesses must recognize that the regulations around sidewalk merchandise display are often well-intentioned and aim to meet the following three key principles:
  1. Maintaining standards of cleanliness and hygiene
  2. Enhancing pedestrian comfort and safety
  3. Ensuring collective business viability

More than 8' width pedestrian zone outside
this fresh food market in Mt Vernon, NY.
Through our work in different downtowns and commercial corridors across the state and country, we’ve seen a number of best practices in outdoor merchandise display but we have also seen some that have done more harm than good to the overall business environment. Here are some quick tips to ensure you use outdoor merchandise displays to your business’ and your corridor’s benefit.


Leave sufficient sidewalk space for pedestrians to walk. On busy downtown commercial streets, for example, the City of Boston recommends a minimum of 8’-12’ width dedicated as the ‘pedestrian zone’ to ensure easy flow of pedestrian traffic on sidewalks. The clear path will ensure the sidewalk remains accessible to multiple users, including those in wheelchairs or pushing strollers, and will also maximize the foot traffic for businesses.
(NYC sure was right in limiting the depth of outdoor display structures to no more than 3 feet from the building line!)
Shoes on display outside this men's clothing store
maintains a clear path to the doorway.

Keep the path to the store’s entrance clear from any physical barriers. The fewer the barriers to entry, the more likely the customer will walk beyond the entryway. Having seen a teaser of products outdoors, businesses will want customers to continue browsing merchandise indoors and extend their dwell times so ensure that outdoor merchandise displays do not block the entryway nor reduce the visibility of the store’s entrance.

Maintain a neat, organized and relevant display rack. The success of your business and the success of your overall commercial district are interrelated. If your district’s sidewalks were spilled over with messy and unmaintained outdoor merchandise displays with expired or irrelevant products, the overall image of the district would be spoiled and customers would perceived a neglected commercial street and take their shopping elsewhere.

Switch out and rotate the merchandise you put on display outside every other day (in the case of fresh flowers, fruits and vegetables) or every few months (in the case of seasonal gifts and clothing) and ensure the display racks are kept tidy. Maintain a good image for the corridor and your business will only reap the benefits.

Curate and get creative with your outdoor merchandise display. A well-curated outdoor display can attract both visitor and resident customers. Take the time to select and curate pieces that market your business best. Furniture and antique stores, flower shops, and even bike shops are increasingly using outdoor merchandise displays to their advantages and luring customers with unique and colorful outdoor product displays.


Florist on Montague Street, Brooklyn NY
Clutter products in the allowable outdoor display areas. If displays appear cluttered and messy, customers are more likely to be confused by the products offered by the store and will quickly move on to neighboring businesses. After all, “less is more” is the common rule for merchandising. According to retail experts, high product density results in visual chaos that overwhelms the shopper. There isn’t enough time for the shopper to sort through the clutter and determine if the merchandise is of enough interest to stop and shop. 

Stack products high in front of store windows. Often, business owners get overexcited about being able to promote merchandise outside and forget the importance of maintaining transparency of storefronts. Sure customers are now able to see products on display outdoors, however, storefront transparency also serve to discourage crime with ‘more eyes on the street’ and reduce energy consumption by letting natural light into the store. Remember that many storefront guidelines recommend having 70% of the fa├žade surface completely transparent between 2’ and 10’ height above the sidewalk.

Display products that are hard to reach by customers. When businesses pack as many products as possible outside, it becomes physically impossible for a consumer to shop comfortably”. As a result of stacks and stacks of products, shoppers are often unable to reach most of the products on display and are therefore unable to examine the merchandise more closely, resulting in them losing interest and walking away.

While outdoor merchandise display can do wonders in advertising and promoting goods on offer in stores, it is important to note that some products lend themselves better to outdoor display than others. For example, lighter-weight articles can easily be blown over by wind outdoors, and food and drinks may become spoiled from long exposure to sunlight and humidity. We’ve also seen long articles of clothing getting dirtied by outdoor dust and particles, ruining the overall appearance of the sidewalk display.

If you’re thinking of enhancing the vibrancy of the sidewalks in your commercial district, first make sure you abide by the regulations set by your municipality and, secondly, ensure that the displays don’t result in dirt or mess on the sidewalks, and don’t create tripping hazards, fire hazards or nuisances for your customers. After all, your customers’ experience is central to the success of this effort.

Retailer Spotlight of the Month: Sweetgreen

Image: Sweetgreen
Sweetgreen is an American fast casual restaurant chain that serves "simple, seasonal, healthy food" and prides itself on having a transparent supply network and preparing their food in house. Each of their locations has character from their surrounding neighborhood through design of their exteriors and interiors. Sweetgreen also changes their menu four times a year to harmonize with the seasons.

Image: Sweetgreen
Price Point: affordable

Target Market: health-conscious design-forward young adults

Image: Uhuru Design
History: Founded in 2007, Sweetgreen has received funding support from the tech investors and expanded seamlessly since. Currently they have 71 locations and growing quickly in the East and West Coast markets, with stores now in Chicago.

Image: Pat Mazzera
Expansion Plans: They do plan to expand, but are non-franchise and "opting to grow the brand organically under our own management and leadership." 

Site Requirements: flexible and variable, 1,000 - 2,500 SF

Contact Info: Because they are non-franchise and seek to expand organically and sustainably, they encourage suggestions on their website of neighborhoods to expand.

Round Up: Buffalo's Architectural Heritage, Peoria's Parking Problem, Baltimore's New Zoning, NY's Small Towns, Rural and Urban America

How Buffalo turned architectural heritage into an engine for reinvention

Knowing their strengths, Buffalo has taken their many masterpieces, created by some of the biggest names in architecture history, and turned it into architectural tourism. Along with tax-credits and small-scale private urban planning, the city with such a past is seeing opportunity and a future.

Peoria's Parking Problem

Like many cities across America, there is an issue with overabundance of surface level parking. Peoria is one of those cities and is "so full of parking that the amount of land devoted to surface parking in the county actually surpasses the amount of land devoted to buildings." This continues the debate of paved space versus productive space.

Baltimore’s New Zoning Hoped to Boost More Mixed-Use Development

The new zoning code, unveiled in June 2017, has been in the works since 2012 and was the by-product of public debates and multiple revisions. While many of Baltimore's East-coast sister cities have either stabilized or grown, Baltimore has continued to lose population. The hope is that this new code will turn things around.

Additional website of interest: Discover Baltimore City Neighborhoods

For Oneonta’s Aging Downtown, a $10 Million Face-Lift

New York State turns its attention beyond NYC and Great Lake adjacent cities to its small towns through the Downtown Revitalization Initiative. LOA was part of the DRI Oneonta consultant team and look forward to seeing what outcomes and future lie ahead for these often overlooked economies.

The Divide Between Rural and Urban America, in 6 Charts

Beyond the political divide - rural and urban America have other issues. While job growth is higher in urban areas, rural areas still lead the way in entrepreneurship and small business start-ups. Unfortunately, rural areas struggle with poverty and disabilities more so in comparison to their urban counterparts.  

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Creating a successful open street

Nur is an associate at Larisa Ortiz Associates

Last month, I got up on a beautiful Saturday afternoon to the sound of loud, popular music from a neighboring street. As I followed the music, I was brought to Tompkins Avenue in the residential neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, where I was faced with gridlock traffic. Every car was being rerouted to Gates Avenue because, as it turns out, Tompkins Avenue was closed to vehicles for the annual Tompkins Avenue Merchants Association (TAMA) Summerfest.

TAMA Summerfest is a local open streets event organized in partnership by local Bridge Street Corporation and Tompkins Avenue Merchants Association, and this year it was in its 4th year running. Since its inception in 2013, the open streets event has more than doubled in size from only covering two blocks between Hancock Street and Putnam Avenue to a full four blocks between Hancock St and Monroe St.

All over the country, Open Streets programs have sprang in numbers from only 10 of such programs a decade ago to over 70 by the end of 2011. In New York, we call it 'Weekend Walks' – multi- block, multi-day events on commercial corridors supported by NYC Department of Transportation. They also entail closing traditional streets to automobiles and converting them into temporary public spaces for pedestrians and cyclists. As with other types of public spaces, a variety of activities is often programmed to occur on the street, for example, musical performances and catwalk shows on Tompkins Avenue. These programs often attract local residents in the neighboring areas but also increasingly attract visitors from much farther away, which might result in higher-than-normal foot traffic for local businesses lining the street.

However, as I found at TAMA Summerfest, the activities programmed on the street only work best for businesses when:

1. They relate to the services and goods already available at adjacent storefronts

I sat along Tompkins Avenue during the Summerfest observing users of the street and found that food vendors out on the street had a very organic relationship with the local bars and wine stores. The products offered were complementary so as visitors walked away with snacks in hand, they would venture slowly over to Bed Vyne Brew to get a cup of sangria, wine, or soda.

In addition, many of the established businesses on Tompkins Avenue were also active street vendors during the Summerfest and were creating physical outdoor extensions of their already existing or soon-to-be storefronts. As a result, many customers were seen venturing further into storefronts after perusing the small selection of products on display out on the street.

In fact, a study of open streets programs by Hipp et al, 2012, in St Louis supports this observation. 73% of participants in an open streets program in St Louis had spent money at a nearby business and 68% became newly aware of a store/ restaurant. These findings certainly bode well for the merchants on Tompkins Avenue.

2. Sprinkled throughout the corridor and not just concentrated on one end or another

Overall, areas along the street that were punctuated with a hub of activities found visitors lingering for longer periods of time. From my observations, I noticed parents would browse products in store windows while their children played in the bounce castles, and younger women were getting their nails done outdoors as their spouses finished their beers. 

In the same study of open streets in St Louis in 2011, each participant reportedly spent an average of 108 minutes on the route, which might have translated to increased expenditure at nearby businesses. 

However, on Tompkins Avenue, there was a distinctly inactive zone at the intersection of Madison Street (see diagram above). This was a result of no programmed activities in that area, aside from one vendor selling mobile phone covers. Not only was the product offered not complementary to the Chinese food stall behind it, it was sitting isolated from all the other activities on the street. Businesses such as Calabar Imports, a specialty home goods and furnishing store, located across from the Chinese take-out restaurant, did not appear to benefit from cross shopping as a result of the inactive zone. It's therefore important to ensure that an even spread of activities and street vending occurs along the open streets route to avoid a dip in vibrancy in the public space that might affect the foot traffic to the few businesses located around an inactive zone.

Aside from this single inactive zone, however, the Summerfest on Tompkins Avenue appeared to be a lively event that showcased local businesses on the corridor (new and existing!) and that seemed to work on the whole as a public space. There were pedestrians, cyclists, skaters and even parents with strollers throughout the corridor that afternoon. Merchants were interacting with customers in the open space, promoting products and services offered on a regular basis, and ultimately ensuring a return visit was in the works.

The 0.25 mile open street on Tompkins Avenue certainly had all the features recommended to encourage local economic and community development. Local businesses were set up as active street vending participants and the program was organized in partnership by the local merchants association and not-for-profit Bridge Street Corporation. Finally, the free public activities including the NY Public Library mobile library and music performances were critical in getting local residents to participate on the day itself.

I hope TAMA Summerfest continues to enliven the commercial corridor in my neighborhood for years to come and hopefully this brief social observation study provides an insight to how they might improve the positioning and programming of activities along the corridor in future iterations. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Retail Mistakes in Santiago Calatrava's Oculus

No one is saying the space is not beautiful. Ok, maybe SOME people are, but in my mind, architect Santiago Calatrava added something very special to downtown Manhattan in his stunning, and stunningly overbudget, Oculus. Shopping there, however, is another thing entirely.

The Oculus doubles as a transportation hub for New Jersey PATH trains and as a Westfield shopping center and while it serves it's purpose, I was shocked at how poorly thought out the retail components of the project are. Getting urban retail right - particularly vertical retail - can be a challenge as a new Citylab article on the historic trials and tribulations of urban shopping malls makes clear.  Yet the article speaks to solutions that were clearly not put in place at Westfield World Trade Center. The aesthetics may be beautiful (though the leaky roof and wet marble fall are likely keeping attorney's busy), my experience as a shopper left me confused and frustrated. A few things I noted...

Challenging Circulation Patterns. This picture was taken from the central "piazza". My first question was...how do you get from where I'm standing up to that overlook? The elevator doesn't go to the first floor and neither do the stairs. Hmm...

Yet another image, this time from the second floor. It's nice that the stairs float, but again, how do I get down to the first level of shopping? I couldn't find a single sign directing me to the escalators (which I did eventually find, but they were of course hidden from plain view in deference to the architecture, because really, it is hard to dress up a functional escalator). Finding ways to get from one floor to another was confusing and frustrating. Is this how a retailer wants their customers to remember the shopping experience?And what about those commuters who are in a rush? If the elevator doesn't go down to the PATH level, those customers have to double back to the middle of the piazza to find an escalator. When a few minutes may mean missing a commuter train, the answer for many will be "no way".

Poor Directional Signage. Here I am, finally, at the escalator and elevator on the second floor trying to get down to the first floor. It is nice that there is a sign directing me UP and OUT to a variety of things - the 9/11 Memorial, One World Trade Center, One World Observatory, and Greenwich Street - but not a single sign for where to go DOWN for more shopping.
Seemingly Non-Existent Store signage. Can you even tell what that store is selling? I had a very difficult time figuring out it out until I walked right up to the window (hint. Apple products. Ok, that was more than a hint). Perhaps the designers thought signage would distract from the design (they were probably right), but it also undermines retailers ability to raise awareness and drive foot traffic. 

It also strikes me that there is a mismatch between the most frequent potential customers (those going to PATH trains) and the retailers who occupy the stores, particularly on the piazza. While having an Apple store there makes sense, Hugo Boss and John Varvatos a little less so. To be fair, more accessible retailers can be found hidden, and I mean hidden (again, no signage directing you there) in the South Concourse.

While I don't know for sure, my sense is that high end brands were convinced to locate here for the vanity of it, but in the end, sales won't quite cover costs. The few times I've been there so far I have not seen many people shopping in any of the higher end clothing stores or boutiques. I'd be curious to see what happens at the end of some of the lease terms. I imagine turnover is likely. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

FREE Resource! Tips to Make Your P3 Pavilion Journey at ICSC Deal Making a Success

If you missed last week’s ICSC webinar on strategies for Public-Private-Partnership (P3) success at Deal Making events, no problem! A recording is available HERE. This is a great FREE resource for public and non-profit entities considering participating in Deal Making but not sure where or how to begin. 

And for those hoping to do more than just walk the floor, another good opportunity to consider are the ICSC P3 Pavilions that allow public and non-profit partners to maintain a low-cost, turnkey kiosk and have a physical presence on the trade show floor. These kiosks are part of a branded area dedicated solely to P3 public and non-profit partners. The goal is to use this area to raise awareness among all of ICSC members about the P3 effort and to help participating communities find interested partners, retailers and developers.

If you are thinking about attending ICSC, be sure to check out the webinar and consider snagging a kiosk early as they do go quickly. P3 Pavilions will be featured at five upcoming events. 
  • Chicago Deal Making, September 27 – 28 | Chicago, IL
  • Western Conference & Deal Making, October 2 – 4 | Los Angeles, CA
  • Canadian Convention, October 2 – 4 | Toronto, ON
  • Texas Conference & Deal Making, November 8 – 10 | Dallas, TX
  • New York Deal Making, December 6 – 7 | New York, NY
The webinar has more information on how to apply. And if LOA can be of help as you prepare for Deal Making, please let us know!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Parking Lots to Public Spaces

Nur is an associate at Larisa Ortiz Associates

In recent months we've talked a lot about parking issues downtown - whether to keep your lots and garages, how to keep and maintain them, whether to lower parking minimums. I assure you our rants about parking lots and garages are well-founded. If you need to be reminded, there are about 500 million parking spaces throughout the country occupying about 3,590 square miles, as last reported in 2012. Furthermore, in some cities in the U.S., parking lots cover more than 30 percent of the local land area, according to Eran Ben-Joseph, a professor of urban planning at M.I.T. who wrote "ReThinking A Lot." Often, these parking lots downtown are owned and/ or managed by municipalities which means they are in fact public land that should be enjoyed by the public.

Pike Place MarketFront (After)
Many cities have become privy to this fact and are increasingly taking a more human-centric approach toward parking spaces and lots and are turning them into the rightful public spaces that they should be. Many of these strategies often start with smaller, guerrilla tactics such as weekly farmers markets in parking lots, or seasonal cultural events, before getting buy-in from local communities to structurally transform the lots into public plazas/ squares, and even light manufacturing spaces (as in the case of Seattle’s latest Pike Place MarketFront). Architects have also increasingly been introducing green design to parking lots for decades now to improve the pedestrian environment downtown. They are incorporating more flora and fauna, and natural permeable paving materials that mitigate storm water runoff and urban heat island effects common in downtowns with high density.

Parklets are another common strategy being employed in major cities to reclaim parking spots for conversion into public spaces. This strategy, while helpful in building support among local businesses and residents to lower parking supply in downtowns, only manages to typically reclaim one or two parking spaces for a limited amount of time. When we start to think bigger, we are able to convert entire parking lots into larger public spaces such as public plazas and parks and we would be reclaiming on average 50-100 parking spaces in one fell swoop.

Here are some examples of parking lots in downtown areas that have been strategically transformed into public spaces. Each case shows that there are incredible social and economic benefits to be reaped from reclaiming parking spaces.

Fort Worth, TX– Sundance Square [Completed in 2013]

Sundance Square (Before - 2007) PC: GoogleMaps
Sundance Square (After - 2016) PC: GoogleMaps
Sundance Square now occupies land that once was home to two separate parking lots (each with more than 60 spaces) across from each other along Main Street in downtown Fort Worth. The Plaza now offers residents, workers and visitors a large space for events, programs and individual use. Public workshops were facilitated by PPS throughout the planning process. "Through the open discussions, it became clear that people mostly thought of downtown Fort Worth as an area to pass through, but not a destination in itself..." and there was no gathering space sufficient enough for large downtown events, which the community felt was important. The community also felt that "the neighborhood could use more places for food and other necessities" so this was addressed by activating the edges of the plaza with more ground floor commercial establishments. The restaurants on the ground floor also feature outdoor seating fronting the plaza and encourage active surveillance of the public space. In addition, the plaza also features water fountains that are interactive and fitting for the warm climate in Texas. 

Montreal, Canada – Joseph Venne Public Plaza [Completed in 2014]
Joseph Venne Public Plaza (Before) PC: GoogleMaps
The Joseph Venne Public Plaza is much smaller in size compared with Sundance Square. It only measures about 10,000 SF and was formerly the site of a parking lot with 20+ spaces. The parking lot's transformation was part of a larger neighborhood revitalization project in the Sainte-Marie neighborhood.

Joseph Venne Public Plaza (After) PC: Steve Montpetit
The site is located adjacent to historic buildings including the JTI-Macdonald Corp building, a well-known tobacco factory and also the CSDM, a French boarding school that was once used as a primary school for tobacco factory workers. The plaza therefore serves to connect the two historic buildings while providing an inviting space for students, workers and residents in the vicinity to gather outdoors in the warmer months. The space was also designed to be ecologically sustainable and today serves as a natural retreat for locals with its greenery, water fountain and wooden benches. 

Pike Place MarketFront (After) PC: GoogleMaps
Seattle, WA – Pike Place MarketFront [Completed in 2017]
Most recently, Pike Place Marketfront has been unveiled as the latest parking lot transformation. Measuring about 39,500 SF, the site was formerly a parking lot with structural remnants of the Municipal Market building. The site now not only features a 30,000 SF public plaza with views of the Puget Sound and Mount Rainier, but it's also the site of new vendor spaces and low-income senior housing. The project was led by the City of Seattle and the Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority and also engaged in a community planning process. 

Pacific Plaza Park (After)

Dallas, TX – Pacific Plaza Park [In Progress]
Finally, still in progress, is the Pacific Plaza Park in downtown Dallas. In March this year, Dallas City Council approved a development agreement to build the Pacific Plaza Park. The public space has been made possible through a partnership between the City of Dallas Park and Recreation Department, the Trust for Public Land and local non-profit Parks for Downtown Dallas. The park will site on the former site of a parking lot in downtown Dallas and will become the city's newest destination, bringing benefits to workers downtown seeking outdoor places to enjoy lunch, and also to nearby businesses by bringing in greater foot traffic.
Pacific Plaza Park (Before)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Why is retail important to building strong communities?

Nur is an associate at Larisa Ortiz Associates

Whole Foods Market covers over 428,000SF of ground floor 
retail space in St Paul, MN.
Our work at LOA often entails diagnosing problems facing neighborhood retail corridors and offering recommendations and actions to take to revitalize these areas. More often than not, these retail corridors were once vibrant commercial districts that fell into decline following demographic shifts. This, as we all know, was a result of the flight that took place in the 60s and 70s as many middle to higher income families left urban neighborhoods for suburban homes. This shift led to urban neighborhoods falling into decay with increasing pockets of disinvestment and retail stores closing from the lack of residential and worker spending. Most recently, we have seen the trend impacting South Fourth in Mount Vernon, NY where retailers are struggling to attract local customers with poor sidewalk infrastructure, vacant lots and decaying buildings. Fortunately, this trend is beginning to reverse as more people move back to downtown neighborhoods and reap the benefits of living, working and playing in close proximity.

As this upward trend continues for urban neighborhoods, there is now an urgent need to revitalize the formerly vibrant neighborhood retail corridors that were home to a variety of businesses. Promoting and enabling neighborhood retail corridors can take the form of tenant recruitment and marketing strategies, however this assumes that the corridors already have existing physical assets to support existing businesses and attract new ones.

The typical market-led business attraction strategies may only serve to better inform commercial real estate agents and potential retail tenants about the untapped opportunity and market demand in these revitalizing neighborhoods. However, often, these neighborhoods themselves don’t have sufficient viable commercial spaces to support the retail tenants that might be interested in the market. This would then call for redevelopment and more specifically, mixed use developments that can both provide housing for residents hoping to move back to urban areas and provide commercial space for retail, restaurants and even offices.

In fact, the most direct intervention to promote neighborhood retail development is to develop new commercial real estate in the form of ground floor retail spaces and these may be led by the public sector, private sector, or even public-private partnerships. In fact, public sector-led projects can often “act as catalysts of further neighborhood development, with the expectation being that public investment in one or more key initial projects will lead to greatly increased private (unsubsidized) development activity.”

As urban neighborhoods start to get back on their feet with more ground floor retail, a myriad of economic and social benefits may also arise for local residents, particularly in areas that are still seeing a concentration of poverty or lower income families.
One South Market development in downtown San Jose.
Firstly, the presence of neighborhood retail at ground floor often has an incredible impact on overall neighborhood vibrancy and safety, and can create a positive image for the area. In fact, neighborhood retail has often been described as the ‘front door’ to a community, acting as a signal for the direction and types of changes occurring in the area. As retail offerings and storefronts improve, locals also will likely perceive the whole neighborhood as improving and becoming more vibrant.

In fact, ground floor retail, when designed well with transparent facades and welcoming signage, can result in additional lighting on the streets in the evening. If the stores operate into the night, for example restaurants and convenience stores, then these businesses will also contribute to more eyes on the street with patrons and employees coming in and out of the stores. These traits although often negligible can certainly contribute to neighborhood safety and other quality of life factors.

Neighborhood retail can also serve to provide key services to residents in the immediate area, including medical facilities, daycare centers, hair and personal care salons, and finance and tax service centers. These services would be especially important in neighborhoods that are attracting young families with children and working parents. Over time, the easy access to these amenities can even influence the location decisions of more households, potentially inviting even greater retail market demand from local residents.
Shops + Lofts at 47 in Chicago,IL features 55,000SF of retail

In addition, the retail and offices that fill ground floor commercial spaces can often become main employers for urban neighborhoods. Shops & Lofts at 47 in Chicago, IL for example is a mixed use development with over 55,000 ground floor retail SF. It is currently occupied by a Walmart Neighborhood Market, Subway, Burger King, Associated Bank and Uncle Remus Chicken, and as of 2016, there were about 35 full time employees working in the single development. Other than retail, medical service centers located on ground floors are also well-paying employers (in fact, ground floor commercial spaces are often suited to large medical institutions seeking outposts for supplementary services such as eye clinics). Overall, retail and services in revitalizing urban neighborhoods provide great job and even entrepreneurship opportunities, particularly in lower income areas.

Finally, neighborhood retail is key in solving for food deserts. Often neighborhoods that have experience the decline and decay of previous decades have lost major anchor grocery stores and are now the face of healthy food equity gap. By creating new and well-equipped spaces for large and small grocery stores to enter the neighborhood, many more residents will be able to gain access to fresh produce and essential goods that were not so easily available. Some revitalizing urban neighborhoods have even seen immigrant business owners that are bravely entering new retail spaces, offering culture-specific grocery items and thriving.

Pinecrest project in Cleveland will feature ground floor 
retail, office, residential, and public plazas.
Retail is important to building strong communities in our neighborhoods as it contributes to street vibrancy, neighborhood safety, job opportunities, and access to key services and healthy food.  As we continue our work on neighborhood retail revitalization and leading development, or business attraction strategies in emerging neighborhoods, we need to maximize the benefits to local residents who will continue to live, work and play in these areas for years to come. 

For more resources, check out:
Beyard, Michael D., Michael Pawlukiewicz, and Alex Bond. Ten Principles for Rebuilding Neighborhood Retail. Washington, D.C.: ULI–the Urban Land Institute, 2003. http://uli.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/TP_NeighborhoodRetail.ashx_1.pdf

What difference can a few stores make? Retail and neighborhood revitalization. Rick Jacobus and Karen Chapple, 2010. http://communityinnovation.berkeley.edu/reports/Retail-and-neighborhood-revitalization.pdf