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Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

Downtown presents a challenge

By Timothy Cox
A city-authored marketing analysis of the downtown district shows that reinvigorating the city's center will be a challenge.
The analysis was based on information compiled by city officials and consumer surveys filled out by city residents. The marketing analysis is part of the city's effort to earn state grant money for downtown revitalization projects.
The downtown area lacks "first line" stores that would lure shoppers to the area, the study concludes.
"We noticeably lack any first line clothing stores, sit-down family restaurants and unique boutiques/shops," the analysis says.
The document says most people now visit the downtown for service-related businesses and government offices. "Many people come to downtown Celina only to conduct governmental functions, see their attorney or insurance agent or maybe go to the library," the analysis reports.
Because most of those businesses and offices are closed in the evenings and weekends, a "retail void" has been created in the downtown, the analysis says.
The post office generates the highest downtown traffic followed by banking, gasoline and auto repair, according to the survey results.
The analysis recommends a retention, expansion and attraction strategy to grow the downtown business base. The consumer surveys showed 78 percent of respondents visit downtown at least once weekly, which means there is a viable customer base.
Survey respondents said they want to see more family and upscale dining establishments downtown, clothing stores, unique boutiques and an ice cream shop. Improvements respondents said they want to see downtown are attractive storefronts, competitive pricing, consistent, common business hours, public restrooms and more special events and activities.
The analysis concludes that the local government must work with downtown business owners on a comprehensive revitalization plan that covers physical appearance, economic development and promotional strategies.
"A true public-private partnership needs to emerge," the analysis says. "Both the city and various non-profit organizations need to be committed to implementing the Main Street approach to downtown revitalization."
The city has the potential to be a destination for "history buffs, shoppers and recreational tourists while still serving the retail and commercial needs of its citizen population," the document says.
The study turned up other nuggets of information about the downtown, its businesses and its customers. Among the findings:
• There are 125 buildings in the city-designated downtown district. Only 10 percent of those buildings are owned by absentee landlords.
• Sixty-eight percent of downtown buildings are owner-occupied.
• The first-floor vacancy rate in downtown buildings is 7 percent. Second floor vacancy rate is 50 percent; most of that space is residential.
• There are 10 religious or nonprofit buildings and businesses in the downtown district.
• Regarding downtown parking, 47 percent of respondents said facilities were adequate; 53 percent said there is not enough parking.
• About 50 percent of downtown businesses have been open 25 years or more. About a quarter of the storefronts have been open for six to 20 years and the rest have been open five years or less.
The analysis was completed by city Community Development Director Kent Bryan, city administrative assistant Joan Wurster, county/city chamber of commerce Director Pam Buschur, Retail Merchants Association President Michelle Dieringer and development consultant Ron Puthoff.
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Additional online story on this date
It's been 26 years since a St. Marys softball team advanced to the state final four.
For this year's Roughriders to advance to the championship game for the first time in school history, they'll have to contend with a team looking to capture the gold after coming very close last season. [More]
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