Downtown Experience Plan Retail Strategy
DRA partnered with the City of Raleigh for a 10-year plan for downtown Raleigh that includes a retail strategy designed to help attract more stores and shopping to downtown, as part of creating a more complete and vibrant downtown Raleigh. The full plan, including other relevant recommendations on many other area such as green space, transportation, development, etc, can be found at here. The plan made several recommendations to help spur retail downtown over the coming years:
Action 1: Identify a Retail Toolkit
Additional public support could help businesses succeed in downtown locations. Several incentives could assist local entrepreneurs:
• Recapitalizing the Downtown Loan Pool Program to benefit emerging local retailers lacking access to capital. A new retail-specific fund could achieve greater impact employed in conjunction with a retail strategy. The revitalized fund could function as a below-market interest loan or grant program assisting with construction and fit-out costs. Threshold requirements should be established to ensure funds are targeted to viable businesses.
• Expediting the permitting process by waiving business license fees and expediting applications. The city could provide flexibility to uses such as pop-up shops and other temporary activation efforts.
Action 2: Target Specific Locations for Retail
The city should build upon downtown’s existing energy by focusing on blocks in the immediate vicinity of Nash and Moore Squares and on east-west connections with heavy pedestrian traffic. The city should encourage retail development along targeted corridors through streetscape improvements such as identifiable street lighting, street furniture, and improved wayfinding. The public sector should also introduce creative small-scale urban interventions such as public art installations and parklets along portions of the retail corridors lacking in vibrancy. Allowing pop-up cafes and shops, food trucks, and mobile vendors will also activate more isolated parts of the retail corridors.
Action 3: Attract Authentic Retailers
The community has voiced a preference for unique, local retail that contributes to an authentic sense of place. When the city disposes of municipally owned property, it should stipulate a preference for smaller retail spaces, roughly 1,000 to 3,000 square feet, that can accommodate these types of tenants. Organizations like the Downtown Raleigh Alliance can also help build a distinctive retail environment downtown by coordinating a tenanting strategy with property owners. In Kendall Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for example, a broker-led strategy helped convince property owners that more authentic retail would add long-term value to neighborhood real estate. A unified approach to local tenanting can drive increased values for upper floor uses that benefit from proximity to vibrant retail. Close coordination with the broker community and major downtown property owners will be required to overcome the inclination to select tenants based purely on rent maximization. Given that the amount of upper floor space in a downtown is vastly larger than ground floor space, even modest increases in upper floor rents can more than offset reduced rents at the ground level.
Action 4: Recruit a Grocery Store
Attracting an urban neighborhood-sized grocery store is a key component of the retail attraction strategy. The success of grocery stores is dependent on a critical mass of residents and office workers. While residential development is growing exponentially, a good retail strategy should also complement the attraction of new companies to downtown that will attract more workers.
The public sector could pursue one of two strategies for attracting a downtown grocery store. The first option would be to incorporate the preference for a grocery store into property disposition. An urban-format grocer should be located on a parcel accessible to existing downtown residents and workers, as well as developments in the pipeline.
The city could help facilitate development by accepting a lower offer for the publicly owned land than would be tendered with more profitable ground floor uses. Potential locations for a grocery store using this method include:
• One of the underutilized or city-owned parcels surrounding Nash Square.
• Hillsborough Street parcels north of Nash Square.
• One of the underutilized or City-owned parcels surrounding Moore Square.
The Moore Square parcels likely represent the best opportunity for an urban grocery. With the delivery of the residential projects in the pipeline, the Moore Square area will have the highest residential density of about 6,500 residents within one-half mile versus 5,000 in Nash Square. Other factors that favor Moore Square include the vitality that will result from the square’s redevelopment; its greater distance from existing grocery options in Cameron Village; and its ability to serve existing established neighborhoods east and south of downtown.
The second option is to activate an under-utilized property, such as City Market or Stones Warehouse, as a public market, similar to Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia or Eastern Market or Union Market in Washington, D.C. This option would require the existing landowner to either reposition the property for lease or sell to an entity that would reactivate the space. A non-profit operating corporation could then be established by the city to manage the market.