Sunday, June 1, 2008

Last Week's Meeting on Downtown Development

Sorry for being so tardy in publishing a summary of our last meeting. Since Sunday I've been in Ecuador leading a course module for Centenary with my wife Janine, and I'll be here with the family until the end of July. (Writing now from a lodge at 14,000 feet above sea level below the world’s highest active volcano! Ah, the wonders of wireless internet.)

So, I won't be summarizing meetings for a while, but I hope to be able to keep contributing to our group from down here.

The meeting we had almost two weeks ago now was helpful, particularly to those of us trying to understand how our downtown can be improved, and how the ideas we develop in our "ABetterShreveport" network could help.

First, I want to thank Chris Jay and the other folks at Robinson Film Center for letting us use a room for our meeting. After Mike McSwain had to cancel hosting the meeting at his offices, Robinson it turned out to be quite appropriate a place to meet. After all, one of the things we want to do is bring in other attractions to downtown that will compliment Robinson and bring pedestrian traffic to their area, and we want that to happen before it's too late, as it has been for many a failed Texas Street business venture before Robinson Film Center.

We organized the meeting to learn what we could from Gregory Kallenberg about what his experience doing development work working for Whole Foods means for getting something like that in Shreveport. One of the things we learned is that stores like WholeFoods are unlikely to come here because our upper income population isn’t big enough. Moreover, such places are even less likely to locate in our downtown, since they tend to establish stores in areas that already have a high number upper income shoppers, as well as a capacity for significant parking. That resonated with what Don Shea, head of our Downtown Development Authority, told me once: that retailers don’t lead, they follow. The shoppers have to be there first, in other words.

That said, a vision of downtown development that would be within our grasp was articulated at our meeting by Stanton Dossett. He described the strategy used by Fort Worth of bringing in local, smaller retailers through incentives and local government leadership. It’s an example of the kind of public-private partnership that can really work. But Stanton and Greg and also pointed out ways in which that partnership can become dysfunctional and taken off course if the participants aren’t “on board” with the vision of what is supposed to happen. From what I understood, a common problem is developers and retailers calculating profit rates and economies of scale that are unrealistic for a given point in a downtown development process.

Some of the other things that were discussed were… [o.k., gonna finish this later. ]

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