Blog: Retail Reinvention Forum Summary

This week I attended, “Retail Reinvention: Saving Main Street & the Mall,” hosted by the Central Coast Chapter of MIT Enterprise Forum. The panelists included Executive VP of Leasing for Caruso, Kloe Colacarro; Gordon Seabury, CEO of Toad & Co.; Exchange Collective Co-Founder, Dave Pankratz; and our very own Nina Johnson, Senior Assistant to the City Administrator, City of Santa Barbara.

As expected, the panelists were full of innovative and strategic information, but of course, the two speakers who interested me most were Kloe and Nina. Kloe used The Grove in Los Angeles, which is owned and operated by Caruso, as an example of a thriving retail center and touched on the strategic reasons for its success: cultivating new and innovate tenants that compliment one another, “deleasing” stores that have low sales volume or are not popular with their visitors, incorporating pop-up stores where both retailers and consumers can test concepts, and investing in the landscape and atmosphere of the property.

While these strategies are much easier to accomplish on a privately owned property rather than coordinating a multitude of private property owners, the real takeaway I got from her example was that the City of Santa Barbara is really going to have to be the connector piece, with a vision for downtown to improve PUBLIC spaces. When I walk around downtown I feel like it’s missing something new. When looking at how other cities are incorporating landscaping, water features, artwork, etc, I wish our downtown would take similar action to restore cultural vitality to downtown.

Thankfully, according to the presentation provided by Ms. Johnson, the City is working on some of these aspects and I hope they come to fruition soon.

Here are the points Nina touched on:
*Macy’s:  The department store retailer has 48 years left on their 75 year ground lease with the ability to assign the lease to someone else. Therefore, Macy’s is in the driver’s seat to pick someone to take over the space, and the City is encouraging them to submit a quality proposal for review. More updates to come…

*Art Incorporation:  The City is working on a revitalization project for the Highway 101 Underpass connecting downtown to the Waterfront/Funk Zone area. This project will incorporate new lighting, increasing walkway width, and interactive art to bring this main connector to life. See more information here, and the awesome Pinterest page of ideas here.

*Downtown Construction:  Frustrated with all of the construction work on our downtown streets? Well, it’s for a good cause! Southern California Edison has committed to upgrade all of the electrical systems downtown, which is very outdated. This will include more lighting for walkways, which is much needed downtown.

*Average Unit Density (AUD) Program:  A program designed to encourage developers to build a greater amount of smaller more affordable units in Santa Barbara. The program has been very popular and the City has received many applications.
Comments: While this program seemed to be a good idea to encourage the construction of new workforce housing, it has had its challenges. The only property to be completed at this time under the AUD program is The Marc on Upper State. Several more projects are under construction and it will be interesting to see the direction of this program going forward.

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