Downtown important to all Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2009

There is a real transformation takingplace in Tampa’s central businessdistrict. Often talked about but slowto materialize, the city is finally seeingtrue change come to fruition. A downtown seen for many years as simply aplace to work is now taking on all theattributes of a new community. To complement the workplace, new residentialofferings, educational venues, the artsand public space continue to change thelandscape.

In response, retailers are now steppingin to serve this growing and diversepopulation. This is another importantstep in the process of creating a vibrantdowntown.

“The importance of the downtown iscritical to how cities are seen and oftenevaluated. It is the heart of the metropolitan area and often the impression thatdrives both corporate and personal decisions,” says Erica Waltermire, a retailspecialist in Tampa with CB RichardEllis. “The emergence of a more complete community has encouraged newretail and service entities to follow.”

Smart Business talked with EricaWaltermire about some of the key factorsin this transformation and how the retailsector is responding.

Why are retailers now interested in Tampa’sdowntown?

There are a variety of pieces that arechanging the composition of our downtown. Perhaps the most visible and withthe most impact has been the addition ofresidential options added over the pastfew years. We now have an increasinglybroader base of residents who live in ourdowntown and their everyday needs anddesired services are becoming moreapparent. Over the past three yearsalone, the downtown residential basehad grown by approximately 1,700 residents. Those needs are in place andretailers now have the ability to see andunderwrite their investment in downtown. Another driver is that expansion inthe outlying areas has slowed dramatically and so there are fewer opportunities available for new store placement.

Finally, I think the success in other developing downtown areas, such as Orlandoand St. Petersburg, reassures citizensthat the central business districts areboth in vogue and viable.

How have current economic conditionsplayed into this expansion?

There is no question that the broad economic factors are having an impact atmost every level and that certainlyincludes retail. People are being morefrugal with their spendable income andthat affects the retail sector in a varietyof ways. However, in this phase of newdowntown retail, the majority is food andservice-oriented so it is geared primarilyfor the basic staples side of demand.Cost-sensitive venues afford a responsible way to dine and also foster that all-important aspect of social interaction,which is so much a part of the urban living experience. Proximity to both workand residence is also a positive factor inthe management of residents’ time andwhere and how they will buy. As theeconomy moves forward on a more positive note, we unquestionably will see anincreasing interest from those looking tohave a presence in downtown.

Can downtown really compete with othermore established retail trade areas?

Absolutely! Greater Tampa Bay offers anumber of great trade areas served byestablished retailers from the nationalchains to local stores that carry a realpersonalized charm. That broad-basedretail platform is good for all of us.Downtown, however, has some veryunique aspects that make this market ofparticular interest and separates it fromthe rest of the trade areas. In addition tothe concentration of office and now residential properties, which we discussed,you have a number of other venues thatbring people into the CBD. Formats likethe convention center and the forumbring in consistent business and entertainment crowds. Existing and new cultural venues are an increasingly important part of downtown. The growth of thestudent population of University ofTampa adds a fresh dimension to ourdowntown. Special events like the NCAAtournaments and the dragon boat racesare unique experiences that draw participants and fans. All these and more serveto create an attractive platform on whichto conduct business for retailers.

What can we expect looking forward?

As the downtown community continues to grow so will the needs. We will seegrowth in full-service grocery stores aswell as convenience and drugstores.Higher-end eateries will find their niche.Soft goods retailers are in many downtowns, and we expect to see them enterTampa. Electronics play an increasingrole in both our business and personallives so expect to see growth here. All ofthese are part of a natural progressionthat serves to form the fabric of a community. The win-win for all is how eachof these individual pieces work togetherto create a vibrant downtown.

ERICA WALTERMIRE is a retail specialist and associate with CB Richard Ellis in Tampa. Reach her at erica.waltermire@cbre.com or(813) 273-8408.