Augusta leaders need to address two things before downtown can bring new retailers to the city’s urban core: better parking management and restoration of the business improvement district.
That’s the advice of Chuck Branch, partner in Retail Strategies, which is in the midst of a downtown retail study for the Downtown Development Authority.
“You can bring national retailers, who are looking at 50 to 100 to 500 different sites, and bring them to a market, and it not be ready for them to make that visit,” said Branch, who gave DDA members an update Thursday at their monthly meeting. “The interest is out there. It’s getting them to take that next step.”
Since last May, Alabama-based Retail Strategies has been conducting an in-depth market analysis, vacant property catalog, retail recruitment and other related efforts to spawn a retail Renaissance downtown.
The three-year contract will cost between $40,000 and $60,000. The DDA is trying to raise $30,000 of that amount from the private sector. DDA Executive Director Margaret Woodard said Thursday that $27,500 in private funding had been donated.
An immediate focus of the study is targeting a new grocery store. Branch said multiple grocers are interested, but don’t want to move forward before something is done with the dated Kroger store on 15th Street.
Additionally, Branch said two new “quick-service restaurant concepts” have chosen sites along the medical corridor, but he would not provide any names. He also noted that there are three mixed-use developers “entertaining” downtown.
Demographic research done by the firm showed population figures are expected to stay relatively flat within a 3-mile radius of downtown. Last year, there were 43,835 residents living within that circle. The projected population for 2018 is 44,651.
In 2013, there were 11,304 households making an average annual income of $30,554 in the “immediate trade area” of Augusta, a smaller section that extended from Reynolds Street down to Gordon Highway and Deans Bridge Road but didn’t go past Bobby Jones Expressway. It also included portions of Harrisburg that ended before the Summerville campus of Georgia Regents University. By 2018, the number of households in that area is expected to slightly rise to 11,484, with an average annual income of $35,321.
Branch’s data showed 2,400 businesses and 32,370 employees currently operating in that section.
Branch encouraged the city to look at adding tax breaks for developers, noting most of downtown is eligible for new market tax credits.