Urban Retail Could Bring New Profits

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Mike West: On a recent morning, over two dozen land developers, neighborhood planners and government officials took a trolley tour of northeast Ohio cities and neighborhoods. It was the first voyage of its kind.

Their destination, in a sense, was working together to find, develop and fill retail shopping space in and around Cleveland. Over a dozen sites were visited, including Slavic Village, the Buckeye neighborhood and the City of Euclid.

The trip was organized by the International Council of Shopping Centers and The Cuyahoga County Development Office. They pointed to places like the rehabilitated Shaker Square as an example of growing interest in the inner city. Community planners want see more shops and real estate developers are seeking profitable locations to establish retail business.

Many inner ring suburbs are within walking distance of thousands of customers. Property in neglected areas often include government incentives for developers. Debbie O'Shaughnessy is a broker for Creative Reality who specializes in retail properties for tenants and landlords.

Debbie O'Shaughnessy: I think what you're seeing now is a lot of untapped potential, I mean, you go downtown and where's your nearest grocery store, I mean these people have no where to shop. And I think that the developers are realizing that and they're coming into the city and they're making something happen - retailers are excited about that.

MW: Barbara Jaynes agrees. She's a leasing representative for a commercial property manager Edens and Avant. Jaynes says the a growing number of retailers are returning to old neighborhoods. They have been led by projects and shops that demonstrated there are plenty of customers in minority dominated and economically troubled neighborhoods.

Barbara Jaynes: I think there's a lot of opportunity it's very positive, there's a lot of interest. There are national chains that specialize in urban areas and they are coming to cleveland now so it's pretty exciting.

MW: Those national chains include Foot Locker, City Blues and Fashion Cents. But planners admit growing interest is hard to track and statistics can be distorted. For example, planners say if a church rents space in a storefront, that counts as a retail space that's been filled even though it's not a store.

Also on the ride is Tim Block, he's the executive director of the Garrett Square Economic Development Corporation. It's his job to convince retail developers to build stores in his neighborhood. Block came to make new contacts.

Tim Block: Just to try to network and try to make some connections with people who can actually bring some development to our community, we're trying to revitalize a section of superior avenue that's been distressed for a very long time.

MW: Block says the inner city also has something to offer that the suburbs don't - financial incentives. In empowerment and buffer zones, federal loans are available and even free money if certain conditions are met. The city of Cleveland also offers Storefront Development Program loans. Block says between incentives and a growing number of new and rehabilitated homes, neighborhoods that were once ugly ducklings are looking more like financial beauty queens.

TB: They see that these people have the means to support development, they have the income, they have new housing developments going on that translate to some available dollars and I think they're taking a different approach to looking at it and not just being a poor area but and are where they can actually make some money.

MW: Michelle Mooney is the deputy director of the Cuyahoga County Department of Development and one of the organizers of the trolley tour. She expects retail momentum to grow in urban areas.

Michelle Mooney: During the 90s a lot of retailers over-expanded into the outer suburban market and in doing so, a number of the inner ring and the urban core markets were essentially abandoned, because they are still over-extended. The next logical place to expand would be in the urban corridor and the inner ring suburbs because of the still stable income and the expendable income that's available there.

MW: The federal government and many cities offer tax breaks and loan programs to help retail, but mooney feels the state could and should do more. She says everyone benefits with higher property values and more entry level jobs when retail thrives.

MM: There's been a big focus on manufacturing investments and not a focus at all on retail, now retail is like curb appeal for a residential property. When somebody is driving down a street there driving down a main street usually a retail corridor and the impression someone forms on a community is usually based on a picture they see there. So making an investment in retail is actually making a good investment in the state and the community.

MW: Passengers admit Cleveland's neighborhoods have a long way to go in revitalizing their shopping areas. They say they are encouraged but say their efforts will take patience. Mooney says even though neighborhoods and developers have the same goals, they need to talk more about each others challenges. Additional trolley tours are planned for the next spring. In Cleveland, Mike West, 90.3.

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