With the , the and in recent months, talk has turned to how to sell quality local and national retailers on Grosse Pointe.
A nearly standing room only crowd of about 40 people, from city and chamber of commerce officials and landlords to business owners and residents attended the discussion, "Promoting Economic Vitality,” Monday night at a special meeting in the . It was the first of what is likely to be regular meeting to determine what's holding The Village back and what can be done to make it a quality, lively downtown.
While the three-block business-shopping district was the focal point of the forum some panelists made it clear that the effort should include all of the Pointes business districts and that there needs to be a new spirit of cooperation among property owners and landlords to help bring business in, whether it's in their building or someone else's. The is working on that and other economic strategies for the Pointes.
"The Hill is just as much a part of our commercial development as much as they are to Mack as much as they are to Fisher…" said Jim Bellanca, a landlord in the Village and one of six panelists invited to give their views and suggestions. "We're all in this together…We need to work together. This community of five little municipalities is really an enclave we all belong to."
In addition to Bellanca, who is also an attorney and Grosse Pointe resident, the panel included Cathy Champion, realtor and board chair of the Grosse Pointe Chamber of Commerce; Chris Blake, business owner, builder, landlord, developer; Mike Kramer, president of the and owner of ; Jim Bieri, principal of Stokas Bieri Real Estate and a retail analyst who oversaw the Kercheval Place redevelopment in the Village and works on other retail redevelopments around the country; and Ronald Mucha, senior vice president and principal at Morningside Equities Group, which acquires property, creates planned communities and redevelops downtowns.
Among the points touched on:
- An uptick in interest in and inquiries about vacant storefronts in recent months and the belief that Michigan is on an economic upswing and Grosse Pointe in particular is seeing investment in business and residences.
- Parking, specifically drawbacks to meters and a preference for gated lots.
- Collaboration among business districts and cities and a need to streamline the economic development process for prospective businesses.
- How to add a residential component to downtown and capitalize on the trend of 20-somethings and retirees to live in downtowns.
- Hiring a proven recruiter of national retailers and implementing a national marketing effort.
- Hiring a professional recruiter, creating a specialty business district such as one used in Birmingham to lure nationals and quality locals and also revamping Downtown Development Authority and zoning guidelines if necessary.
- Improving rear facades, specifically the alleys behind businesses so that offices may locate there. Obscure garbage cans and utilities, renovate buildings.
- Changing residents' mindsets, encourage them to shop locally and see the wisdom in doing so for their own property values.
In a surprise announcement Bellanca said he expected to announce a tenant for the prominent corner of Kercheval and St. Clair, where a series of stores have operated, most recently Hickey's Walton Pierce, which closed about four years ago.
Bellanca told the audience that after turning down dozens of inquiries and offers for various types of businesses he has two he believes will be a meaningful addition to the Village.
The most likely to fill the 1,650 square-foot corner space is a white-tablecloth, high-end restaurant with locations in Royal Oak and Birmingham. He said he expects a letter of intent any day and had hoped to have it for Monday's meeting.
A dry goods store, a regional retailer that he also could not name, is interested and as well and would be a good fit.
"It may or may not happen," Bellanca said. He said he hopes to have an announcement within two weeks and expects Grosse Pointers "to be pleased as punch."
In other development news out of the Village the council was asked at the end of Monday's meeting for details about . Mayor Dale Scrace said an RFP, Request for Proposal - has been issued in response to interest from movie theater companies and developers, who may want to build a theater. The proposals are due back March 30. As of Monday, no proposals had been received, he said.
Some in attendance said a theater, especially in the parking lot between Notre Dame and St. Clair, would be bad for the neighborhood.
None of what was discussed Monday was up for City Council vote or any formal action. The meeting was meant as a brainstorming and information-gatheirng session and is piggybacked on the city's upcoming master plan update. The master plan update will likely focus on how zoning ordinances and economic development process is handled at the city. A public meeting on the master plan update will be held sometime in March at the , Scrace said. A date will be set soon.
Bieri is currently is working in St. Louis. He has lived in Grosse Pointe all of his adult life and says the best--and most radical--remedy would be to sell the Village, put it in the hands of one owner and then set about marketing with a retail expert.
"You have to create a story and sell it over three, four years," he said. "When you look at this place on paper it doesn't attract anybody…It's just not enough market…"
He regularly tries to convince national retailers to give Grosse Pointe a look, and they have yet to see that it could be a good move.
"There aren't many communities like Grosse Pointe. The more I travel the more I find this place to be unique," he said. "If we could somehow figure out how to have a cohesive approach, marketing it as one place…There are a lot of misconceptions about Grosse Pointe…It's not easy. There's lots of hurdles to be climbed."
Bellanca and Bob Sfire, who was in the audience and is owner of the building where Gap was located for 28 years, wanted to make it clear that the business closures are not a commentary on the Village but a symptom of national economic ills.
"Gap was closing hundreds of stores," said Sfire. He added that a Gap company representative from San Francisco told him that one thing hurting Grosse Pointe is its residents’ tendency to shop at Somerset Collection in Troy.
"The residents of all of the Grosse Pointes must change their mindset just a little," Bellanca said. "We need to remind residents that they play a major role in what makes the community a nice place to live….Quality of life includes sustaining growth in The Village, The Hill, on Fisher, Mack….It is our responsibility as citizens of Grosse Pointe to utilize their stores and the services they provide to maintain our quality of life and the value of our homes here."