Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Parks, Open Space and Retail

Nur is an Associate at Larisa Ortiz Associates

Here in New York we are fortunate to have parks and open spaces all across the city – from the core of Midtown Manhattan to the outer borough neighborhoods of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx. Like shopping malls, these open spaces range in scale from neighborhood parks that primarily serve residents within a four- or five-block radius to destination parks whose trade areas are much greater, attracting 40-60% visitors from outside the local area. In fact, these destination parks often attract tourists from all around the country and the world.

It’s not surprising then that when we take a closer look at the retail mix in and around these open spaces, we find that they’re almost directly correlated to the park type. After all, customers of the park are also customers of retail.

The Neighborhood Park Retail Mix
The neighborhood park’s main ‘customers’, or users, are families with young children, pet owners, high schoolers and young professionals (depending on the neighborhood’s demographics). As such, the retail tenant mix on the periphery of the park features more convenience-related businesses such as grocery stores, bodegas, take-out restaurants, and cafes that meet the day-to-day needs of the surrounding residents.  
Source: ESRI Business Analyst Online 2017; LOA

Sunset Park and Maria Hernandez Park in Brooklyn both have a similar share of businesses (~10%) belonging to the retail category ‘Food and Beverage Stores’ within a 0.25 mile radius. This NAICS category runs the gamut from small delis to full-service grocery stores. On the southwestern corner of Maria Hernandez Park in the neighborhood of Bushwick, for example, sits City Fresh Market. The grocery store measures about 9,000 SF and is complemented by a number of other smaller format grocery stores and specialty food stores such as Foster Sundry and La Orquidea – a specialty grocer and butcher shop and a tienda selling authentic Mexican and Hispanic produce.

Other than grocers, the local kiosks that are set up in these neighborhood parks also offer snacks like ice-cream and grilled corn for the kids in the neighborhood.

The Destination Park Retail Mix
The customers, or users, of destination parks however are very different, resulting in a very different retail mix around these open spaces. Central Park, Washington Square Park, Union Square Park, and the High Line are some of the destination parks we have here in the city. Since its opening in 2009, the High Line has experienced rapidly climbing visitor numbers year-on-year with over 7.6 million visitors estimated in the year 2015. Of this, 32% of visitors were from outside a 45 mile radius of NYC and an additional 28% of visitors were from outside the US.

The same trend in users can be observed with Central Park.  In 2011, it was reported that Central Park received between 37-38 million visitors (this has climbed to 42 million in 2016!) and of that number, 12% were from outside NYC and the greater NY Metropolitan area and an additional 16% of visitors were from outside the US.

The spillover of millions of national and international visitors have therefore drawn a wider mix of retail to the immediate vicinity of these destination parks that cater specifically to tourists who are seeking a uniquely ‘New York experience’. When compared with the retail mix around neighborhood parks, the destination parks have far greater shares of retailers selling miscellaneous items (including book stores, souvenir/gift stores), clothing and accessories, and sporting goods/ hobby merchandise. Even retail kiosks within the park and along the periphery of the park offer miscellaneous items such as books or souvenir t-shirts and tote bags.
Strand Bookstore, an iconic 86-year old independent bookstore in NYC, operates a kiosk just outside Central Park on the corner of 60th St and 5th Avenue. The kiosk not only curates its merchandise to offer books and materials related to the history of New York City and Central Park, it is also a piece of NYC’s cultural history itself. The Strand is the only surviving retailer of Fourth Avenue’s historic ‘Book Row’ shops from the 1890s to 1960s and has seen a number of artists amongst its employees including Patti Smith. The book kiosk by Central Park indeed offers tourists a flavor of old New York.
Meanwhile, at The High Line, you can find a kiosk in the park selling exclusive High Line merchandise with everything from apparel and accessories, to placemats, water bottles, coloring books, and tea towels. These items are all uniquely designed for the High Line and go towards supporting the park’s operations and programs.  

While we must acknowledge that there are still residents in the immediate vicinity of these destination parks, the share of convenience-related businesses serving them is much smaller compared to that near neighborhood parks. For example, within 0.25 mile of the High Line park at 14th Street, only 2.76% of businesses are food and beverage stores and within 0.25 mile of the East 59th Street entrance of Central Park, an even smaller share of 0.5% of businesses are food and beverage/grocery stores. Residents are therefore likely getting groceries and convenience goods 0.25 mile in the other direction, away from the destination park.

Food, drinking, and the outdoors
Source: ESRI Business Analyst Online 2017; LOA
In comparing the retail mix across both neighborhood parks and destination parks, however, one retail category maintained a constantly high share of businesses within 0.25 mile – food services and drinking places. From McGolrick Park to Washington Square Park, food services and drinking places including restaurants and bars share between 10-18% of the total retail mix within 0.25 mile radius.

The High Line Summer Terroir Pop-Up. Photo: The High Line
In many instances, these restaurants and bars are located in the parks themselves, have direct views into the parks, or are easy to take out and consume in the park. Connecting the outdoors to food and drinking, as is possible near neighborhood and destination parks, can be a winning formula for many restaurants and bars. In the restaurant industry, anecdotal accounts from restaurateurs report elevated dining experiences amongst customers by offering al fresco seating options, resulting in increased sales.

The Synergy between Retail and Parks
Even with non-food service and drinking businesses, the connection to the park and the outdoors can be a winning formula to driving greater traffic into stores. One example is Union Square Park, which hosts fitness events outside in the warm months to drive traffic to both the park and its neighboring businesses. Sponsored by and organized with local athletic apparel stores and yoga studios and gyms, the SweatFest event illustrates the possible synergies between a park and local businesses.  

Overall, it appears that parks can make great co-tenants of certain types of retail because they increase dwell time in the neighborhood or area, and can increase potential sales. However, the synergy works the other way too.
Union Square Winter Market. Photo: TimeOut NY

Retail can prove beneficial to parks by activating them in the colder months. Many destination parks in NYC that see drastic drops in visitor numbers in the Winter have introduced outdoor holiday markets with retail to drive foot traffic into the parks. Parks like Bryant Park, Union Square Park and even Central Park (at its Columbus Circle entrance) are opening their arms to retail as they find ways to maintain visitation throughout the cold months.

Finally, retail in and around parks may also have positive impacts on park safety at night. After dusk, many parks – neighborhood and destination – get dark and quiet. Having retail that opens later into the evening along the periphery of parks, and facing them, ensures that lights stay on later in the area and potentially improving the perception of safety for those walking at night.

Planning cohesively for parks and retail
Given that both parks and retail can stand to gain from being closely situated to each other, it’s important that we plan for or make it viable for the two to co-exist. This might mean ensuring that zoning near and around parks allows for various types of retail businesses and outdoor seating options to flourish or it might even mean planning for Park Concessions areas and ensuring that the application process is easy to navigate and not costly (Strand Bookstore only pays around $46,305 annually to the Parks Department for its Central Park kiosk).   

Sure the tenant mix may differ between park types, however, the park should be used creatively as an extension of the retail and vice versa.

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