GRAND RAPIDS — As the city looks to bolster its urban core, findings from a retail study the Downtown Development Authority commissioned should point development in the right direction.
In the four core districts that make up the downtown Grand Rapids – East Fulton, South Division, the Ionia-Commerce corridor and the Government/Monroe Center area – the study found a pent-up demand for a combined 556,460 square feet of additional retail and restaurant business by 2017.
The study prepared by Gibbs Planning Group found if that demand were fulfilled, it could lead to an additional $205.5 million in sales. Further, the study suggests the downtown area could support a 12,000-square-foot green grocery market, a 25,000-square-foot junior department store and a 47,000-square-foot urban format department store.
“Really, what this study tells us is there is a lot of potential for retail development,” said Kris Larson, DDA executive director. “However, there are a number of variables that impact the viability of that potential.”
The study helps define the retail environment and can help identify clusters to build upon existing nodes of development, he said. Still, the study isn’t meant to encourage a haphazard run at downtown build-out.
“What this study doesn’t say is that the downtown can support a crazy amount of retail growth or a certain type of use,” Larson said. “You can’t prove the success of any certain use, but (this study) does help us see how we’ve got to prepare the marketplace.”
It’s important to distinguish that while the study does show the area has plenty of demand, it acknowledges some structural and environmental challenges still pose obstacles to absorbing that demand in the near team, he said.
In a memo accompanying the study, Larson listed a number of specific challenges facing downtown development, including identifying the right brands for downtown, the placement of the retail sites, the disconnectedness of retail nodes and challenges with capital access.
The study, which came with a price tag of $83,000, is the new roadmap to seeing a more clear downtown development strategy, Larson said.