Archive for Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Retail Rorschach

Regardless of what you see in a new retail study, a creative look at Downtown Lawrence should be part of the plan.

October 16, 2007


Studies on retail development are sort of a Rorschach test for Lawrence residents. What you see in the study depends a lot on the predisposition you bring to the table.

While some local leaders say a new study by the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department indicates the city is building too much retail space, others say it shows Lawrence needs to do a better job of attracting retail dollars.

There may be some truth to both points of view.

The retail vacancy rates in Lawrence may not be alarming, but they bear watching. Property that stands vacant for any period of time is in danger of contributing to blight, which can require expensive solutions down the road.

The other notable statistics in the study were the "pull numbers" in other communities in the area and across the state. Lawrence is well behind many other communities when it comes to drawing shoppers from outside its borders.

The reasons for this disparity are obvious and, in most cases, nearly impossible to fight. It's no surprise that cities like Hutchinson, Salina and Manhattan have much higher pull numbers than Lawrence. They serve much larger geographical areas. Shoppers come to those cities because it is the closest place to access the stores they want. It's also impossible for Lawrence to match the wider variety of retail options that attracts shoppers to larger cities like Topeka, Overland Park or Lenexa.

As local officials are starting to realize, duplicating retail outlets available in Topeka and the Kansas City area may keep some Lawrence shoppers at home, but it won't do much to draw shoppers from out of town. Rather than looking at how much retail Lawrence should have, we must look at what kind of retail is being offered. What draws shoppers from out of town are unique stores or an especially pleasant shopping opportunity.

Enter Downtown Lawrence. Saying that downtown is the only chance we have to boost retail sales in Lawrence may be a bit overdramatic, but downtown certainly offers enticing potential. Unfortunately, much of that potential isn't currently being met. Some solid retailers are thriving downtown, but too many Massachusetts Street storefronts are empty or being occupied by marginal businesses that have minimal staying power.

Trying to choke development in other parts of Lawrence to "protect" downtown is one strategy. A far better idea is to find ways to make downtown more attractive to prime retailers. It's not just a matter of planting more flowers. What do retailers and want? More parking? Tax breaks? More police patrols? More public transportation? What do shoppers want? More sales? More promotions? Longer store hours?

These and many other questions need to be asked by leaders who are willing to be innovative in formulating a vision for Downtown Lawrence's future. Looking at the numbers in another study may provide some guidance, but coming up with dynamic plans to make/keep Downtown Lawrence a destination retail center will depend more on our creativity than on our ability to crunch numbers.


Richard Heckler 10 years, 7 months ago

  • Later shopping hours say 3-4 days a week might help.
  • Making a best place to live survey really doesn't mean much. Lawrence as a rule is not on those lists that I have searched.
  • Lawrence finds itself ranked #17 among art communities however the powers that be do not see art as an industry while some college cities do.
  • Lawrence seems to be attractive for cycling activities...why not more.
  • Why not expand on education as an industry?
  • Why not focus on a hot new green collar industry? Before other communities snatch it up? *There are not enough retail dollars in Lawrence to support or match the metro areas that surround Lawrence which are not that far away.
  • Some of what is at 31st and Iowa should have been located downtown to draw support for the unique shops....Old Navy maybe. Some national names have always made up downtowns.
  • There are not enough retail dollars to support all that is slated at 6th and Wakarusa unless other retail locations die such as 31st and Iowa. Retail at 31st and Iowa will become a dinosaur sooner than later.
  • Lawrence is a victim of about 25 years worth of bad planning. When the cornfield mall plan died that should have sent a message. The real estate community wasn't about to admit defeat and now look where were at. *Grocery stores,hardware,gas stations,auto repair and drug stores need to be available throughout the community but 3 or 4 major shopping areas in a small town make no sense at least not for the taxpayers.

pace 10 years, 7 months ago

I like downtown. I do not want to pay with my tax dollars to help develop some giant cornfield mall and watch downtown die. Dolph has pushed this donkey for 40 years. Large cornfield malls generate more advertising than individually owned downtown businesses. We have large box department stores if you don't want to go downtown. But the cornfield mall plan kills the hub and then it dies. It is a poison pill. Cornfield malls always use taxpayer money and tax subsidies to establish the traffic routes and water and sewage capacities. . None of been presented in the last forty years that didn't require tax payers money. The tout is they will pay it back by paying sales tax. I don't want a poison pill cornfield mall built with my tax money. I like downtown. That said, the stores should stay open till 8 or 9 and the parking meters should be active till 9 at night anyway.

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