To the editor:
Hooray for my competitor and friend, Marilyn Bittenbender, for setting the record straight at the Lawrence City Commission meeting Tuesday, concerning creating a policy to utilize the McClure Study as a guide for future development.
The city needs to take a close look at the commercial market's reaction to our "smart growth" trend. The McClure Study says that by curtailing commercial development and restraining new commercial zonings, the integrity of the city and the small business owner will be preserved. While the intentions of the study may be honorable, the very people it tries to protect have struggled due to rising rents, higher property taxes and skyrocketing land prices. They have been replaced by bigger companies, many of them national retailers, with more buying power and ultimately, greater longevity.
Lawrence boasts one of the lowest retail and office vacancy rates in the country. The law of supply and demand creates a market that either allows entry level businesses to exist or denies them the opportunity to begin. Right now, with the lack of available development ground or vacant retail space, sellers and landlords can raise their prices. More and more often only the regional and national retailers with deep pockets can afford to locate in Lawrence.
A policy that calls for every development to pass a litmus test to determine its viability has the potential to make even a growth-oriented city commission hard-pressed to approve further development. That could lead to even higher prices, higher rents and a greater influx of chain stores and national users. Additionally, the study cites sales per square foot as a way to determine if a project is viable. If your desire is to raise or maintain the sales per square foot, the national retailers are the ones with the highest figures. Most national retailers use a figure of $275 per square foot in order to develop a pro forma for the store. A couple of the national retailers in the downtown area have reported sales of $350 per square foot or higher. What does this do to the formula and how will local businesses be able to compete with those projections?
Let's think long and hard before we put yet another policy in place that makes future development in Lawrence even more difficult. We could be destroying the very thing we want to preserve.