Monday, August 11, 2008

Downtown Dallas Ramps Up Retail Revival

Five years ago, retail broker Jack Gosnell couldn't get prospective retail or restaurant tenants to return calls about space in downtown Dallas, let alone get in the car to go and see the space.

Now he's downtown about 15 times a week, showing prospects available space, and the retailers are on a tight schedule, their dance cards full with meetings with other commercial real estate brokers.

"It's not like they're signing leases right and left," says longtime urban core retail specialist Gosnell, or United Commercial Realty. "But they are downtown looking."

The heightened interest stems from several factors, including the increasing number of downtown residents and a number of high-profile office relocations to the area, including the corporate headquarters of Comerica Inc. and 7-Eleven Inc.

It all shows the continuing importance of critical mass, with enhanced retail opportunities coming from growth on the residential and office side, said John F. Crawford, president and CEO of DowntownDallas, the business association that supports downtown improvement.

Which means the timing is right to move ahead on efforts to enhance downtown's burgeoning retail presence. It's a two-pronged effort.

First, Karen Katz, president and CEO of Neiman Marcus Group Inc., and Shelle Sills, downtown store general manager, will reach out to retailing contacts, sharing the success story of the 100-year-old store, where sales are up 7% over last year.

"The downtown dallas store has outperformed virtually all of the other stores," said Sills.

"We know the strength of our customer base and who shops in this market," Sills said, and they will share that information with retailers targeting affluent customers.

Second, DowntownDallas will function as a marketing and leasing partner to the City of Dallas, using city funds to hire a retail coordinator to focus on retaining retailers now operating in downtown and reaching out to new retailer prospects. That person could be hired within 60 days.