Sunday, September 13, 2009

Retail Recruiting- IDA Conference Part 1

I am in Milwaukee, Wisconsin this week at the International Downtown Association Conference. The conference, hosted each year by a different city U.S. or Canadian city provides lectures and conversations on downtown retail development, safety and security, creating great public spaces, parking management and urban design. I’ll be reporting over the next couple days on what I learn.

It’s comforting to know that when it comes to downtown retail, Tacoma is not alone. Milwaukee, a city of nearly 600,000 people has blocks of vacant store fronts and towers of vacant office space just like us. However, Milwaukee is taking bold steps to combat their downtown vacancy rate and rejuvenate their street life. In addition to a city branding campaign and functional wayfinding system, Milwaukee has hired retail consultants, CivicVisions not to just revitalize downtown retail, but to transform downtown through strategic retail recruitment.

We all know that amenities attract people, but it’s attracting the right mix of amenities to downtown that’s tricky. To do this, Milwaukee’s consultant CivicVisions suggests:

· There is not quick fix to retail recruitment. A downtown retail strategy is a long-term plan that is implemented over three to five years or more.

· Define a distinct geographic area of downtown to attract retail to. Do not try to attract new retail everywhere at once.

· Hire a trained retail recruiter who is familiar with our community and committed to it, has plenty of retail and merchandising experience, and is good at both building relationships and selling the community’s vision.

· Identify the type and quality of businesses you want and be discerning about the ones you go after. Businesses attract other like-businesses, but the wrong business can inhibit recruitment of the ones you want.

· Property owners must be part of the solution and help to develop a strategy that incentivizes the right mix of retail services and amenities.

· Fa├žade updates that modernize buildings and improve merchandise displays will likely need to be part of the strategy.

This makes sense to me. Maybe it’s time for Tacoma to try out a retail recruiter again…


  1. First, welcome to Milwaukee. Secondly, I just wanted to say that although we do have a bit of a retail problem in Milwaukee, the article made it kinda sound like Milwaukee is a ghost town, which isn't true. If anything we've seen a slow filling in of storefronts over the past 10 years. For example, the Third Ward has been amazing, the block in your photo is of Milwaukee St (in East Town), which was completely vacant 10 years ago is now pretty much full.

    Finally I hope you enjoy your time in Milwaukee.

  2. Your right Milwaukee is by no means a ghost town. There are very exciting projects and stores poping up all over the place. Miwaukee is a great place to visit and Tacoma could learn a few lessons from how the City is successfully addressing retail recruitment and innovative development.