At the Downtown Improvement District meeting Tuesday morning, board member Mark Kauffman once again brought up the idea of restricting the amount of space restaurants could occupy downtown.
Last time, his focus was limited to the State Street garage. This time, though, he wants to consider a restriction throughout the entirety of the DID.
The goal, Kauffman said, is to prevent restaurants from overrunning downtown. He believes too many restaurants would be a deterrent for people interested in walking through downtown and shopping.
“We don't want to stop restaurants — obviously, restaurants are important,” Kauffman said. “There has to be a reasonable limit to them.”
Other board members expressed their trepidation regarding such a restriction, and Kauffman agreed that a survey of property owners within the district should be conducted before any recommendations are made or action is taken.
The idea to limit restaurant space was started in St. Armands Circle, where Kauffman said restaurants occupied 55% of retail space according to the most recent survey. Marty Rappaport, chairman of the St. Armands Business Improvement District, had expressed interest in teaming up with the DID and going to the City Commission to suggest the restaurant restrictions, Kauffman said.
A contributing factor to the desire to limit restaurant space — and encourage other types of retail establishments to occupy available property instead — was to help create a shopping district to compete with The Mall at University Town Center, which is scheduled to open in October 2014.
"The feeling in St. Armands Circle and from a lot of merchants downtown is that the salvation of downtown, once the mall opens up, is more shops," Kauffman said.
DID Chairman Ernest Ritz suggested that restaurants were an area of strength for downtown when competing with a mall. He pointed to Westfield Southgate Mall, which has recently taken a different approach to attract customers.
“They're losing their major tenants, so the first thing they thought of doing was to put in restaurants and bars and make an entertainment center,” Ritz said. “That's one of the things downtown has that I think a mall doesn't have.”
Downtown Economic Development Coordinator Norman Gollub said he will be reviewing and recommending an optimal mix for the city’s major business districts, including downtown and St. Armands Circle. The study should be completed in April, Gollub said.
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