Aggieville is not on Downtown Lawrence’s horizon.
According to a new study out of City Hall, bars and restaurants are now the dominant businesses in Downtown Lawrence, but there are new signs that they won’t take over every nook and cranny of the district.
“There are some numbers here that really confirm downtown is an entertainment district,” said Roger Zalneraitis, the city’s economic development coordinator and author of the new report. “I think it also is clear that we’re not going to end up with 80, 90, 100 percent bars and restaurants downtown. It won’t be just an 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. district.”
As several prominent retailers have left downtown, fears that the area would turn primarily into a late-night entertainment district — like Aggieville in Manhattan or Power and Light in Kansas City — have increased.
The new report — which examines sales tax receipts from downtown — found some early signs that bars and restaurants may be nearing a saturation point in downtown.
From 2007 to 2009, the report found that the number of new downtown bars and restaurants outpaced the growth in sales. For that three-year period, the report found that sales tax collections per downtown bar and restaurant declined by 3 percent.
“This suggests there may be some cannibalization of sales occurring between bars and restaurants downtown,” Zalneraitis wrote in the report.
Those numbers were coupled with data showing some traditional retailers had seen good gains on a per-store basis.
A broad category — books, sports, music and hobby stores — saw a 10.3 percent increase in per store sales tax collections. The “other retail category,” which includes everything from barber shops to boutiques posted a 6.5 percent increase in per store sales tax collections.
“This implies that for some types of retailers … the value of locating downtown may be increasing, while for restaurants and bars, it may be decreasing,” Zalneraitis concluded.
But the report also clearly shows bars and restaurants are the biggest player — by far — in the downtown retail world. About 49 percent of all sales tax collections in downtown came from bars and restaurants in 2009. No other category came close to that, including:
• Sport, books, music and hobby stores: 19 percent.
• Clothing stores: 19 percent.
• Other retailers: 13 percent.
Allison Vance Moore, a commercial real estate agent with Grubb & Ellis/The Winbury Group, said restaurants and drinking establishments still are showing strong interest in downtown. But she doesn’t believe that means downtown is becoming more of a college-oriented party district. Instead, she said part of the increase is in response to more apartments and living units downtown.
“I think it really is a sign that it is becoming more of a 24/7 district,” Moore said.
Some longtime downtown retailers said a shift hasn’t yet occurred, noting that at least three new restaurants have opened on Massachusetts Street in the last six months. But they also said they wouldn’t be shocked to see changes in the future.
“I don’t think anybody can really predict it,” said Win Campbell, with Winfield House, 835 Mass. “But I think market conditions at some point will tell the food industry that we have enough restaurants down here to serve our needs.”