HBA hopes to revitalize West Broad

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Messenger photos by Whitney Wilson Coy
These buildings are on opposite ends of the same block on West Broad Street. This section of the street, in the Hilltop area, is the subject of a market analysis being contracted through the HBA and funded by the city of Columbus, in hopes of bringing it back to life.

Once upon a time, West Broad Street was a happening place. If the Hilltop Business Association has its way, it will be again.

In August, the HBA contracted Boulevard Strategies, a Columbus-based economic development consulting firm, to compile a market analysis for land use on the Hilltop portion of West Broad Street running from Highland Avenue to Demorest Avenue.

This study was funded through a $15,000 grant from Columbus City Council as a way to identify potential opportunities for growth in the area.

Christopher Boring, president of Boulevard Strategies, presented part one of an interim report on his progress to HBA members and Hilltop residents on Oct. 18 at the Hilltop branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library.

“This study is really just a way to get the word out that there is a huge opportunity for business in that area,” said Boring.

Boring has used several different methods for collecting information, including in-person interviews with business owners and residents, surveys, field observations, and information obtained from various state and local departments and organizations.

The Columbus retail market

Before looking at West Broad alone, Boring first studied the Columbus retail market as a whole.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Columbus experienced an explosion of new construction from which it is still recovering. The city witnessed the development of new malls and entertainment venues such as Polaris, Tuttle and Easton.

According to Boring, the venues grew faster than the population, creating vacancies.

In 2002, the vacancy rate in Columbus reached its highest point, 12 percent, the fourth highest vacancy rate in the nation that year. Although that number is expected to decrease to 10.5 percent by 2010, it is still higher than the national average of 8 percent.

Changing market

As the times change, so do the ways people spend their money.

According to Boring’s report, as baby boomers age, the market is adjusting in response to their needs. This is evident in the growth of the medical retail industry.

Also, the success of open-air malls, or “lifestyle centers,” is encouraging the development of similar facilities, leaving existing enclosed malls, such as Westland and the City Center, behind.

Boring’s research suggests that these lifestyle centers are successful because they acknowledge the importance of time and convenience.

Challenges

Boring stated that the three most important variables in retail real estate are “Parking, parking and parking.”

“Parking challenges threaten the vitality of urban corridors and suburban downtowns throughout the region,” said Boring in his report.

He offered that this can be remedied by enforcement and management of existing spaces, new technologies and encouragement of alternative transportation, including walking.

Internet influence

Boring does not feel that the steady increase of online shoppers has a negative effect on urban corridors.

According to his research, Boring stated that 41 out of the top 50 rated Internet retail sites are owned by traditional chains.

While it does have an impact on storage space and inventory, the Internet actually helps existing retailers to reach a wider market of customers.

Hilltop Trade Area

The Hilltop Trade Area, an area defined by the boundaries of the Greater Hilltop Area Commission, has a population of about 67,000 people from about 30,000 households, says Boring.

This makes the population density of the Hilltop 20 times higher than that of Columbus as a whole.

Local retail demand

Boring’s studies found that many of the retailers on West Broad fall into the “convenience goods and services” category and target only those living and working on the Westside.

Thirty-two of the corridor’s 52 retail businesses serve the everyday needs of residents. Boring cited Hilltop Marketplace, Walgreens and Gearhardt’s True Value Hardware as the area anchors. The majority of remaining spaces are mini-mart/carry-outs, hair salons and fast food.

He estimates that residents in the Hilltop Trade Area will spend $525 million on retail purchases in 2007.

He added that those living in the Hilltop will spend an above average portion of income on everyday basic goods such as food and medicine due to a lower income per-capita.

Boring added that Hilltop residents also spend more money youth-oriented categories such as children’s clothing and entertainment.

Resident spending

With all of this money being spent, why aren’t the Westside businesses more successful? Because only 5 percent of the retail spending by those living inside the Hilltop Trade Area is captured by businesses on West Broad.

Boring’s study found that those living and working in the Hilltop area spend an estimated $55 million annually on dining an entertainment. Only $1 million of that is spent at Hilltop businesses.

This means that residents are leaving the Hilltop area to spend money.

Market outlook

Boring spoke with several area business owners and managers. Sixty-two percent of those interviewed felt that national retail chains are their biggest competition and that they primarily compete with “big-box retail” in Grove City and Hilliard.

Almost half of the businesses interviewed admit that business is worse this year than five years ago.

If these conditions do not improve, the Westside could see an additional 70,000 square feet of vacant space.

To be continued

Although Boring’s study is not yet complete, too much information has been gathered to fit into one evening.

Boring will present the rest of his findings, including possible strategies and tactics for going after new businesses, at part two of his presentation on Oct. 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the Hilltop Branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library

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