The recently completed 9th Street revitalization work presents the first step of a long range version to transform the downtown into a welcoming place for locals such that a community atmosphere will encourage them to spend more money with local merchants as opposed to going outside of town.
And creating a gathering place plaza and finding ways to fill currently empty lots will aid in creating a community feeling, indicates a multi-page study by consultants Urban Systems outlining current business activity and shopping habits and what might be accomplished.
It crucially notes that local residents who need to travel to outside communities for various professional services then tend to shop at those locations.
“One of the most significant challenges for downtown Houston is that residents shop in other communities because they are forced to leave to obtain professional services,” reads the study whose authors used interviews, survey results and economic data to examine the current business and shopping climate.
“Should Houston attract additional professional services in the future, it could help mitigate the amount of retail leakage in the community and spur demand for new spaces in Houston.”
Having the kind of office space required by professional service providers and, just as important, the kind of housing professional service providers are looking for would aid in attracting professionals to the community.
“Another key consideration for attracting new professional practitioners is that relocation decisions are often made at the household level, meaning spouses of professionals will also need to find work in the community. As many spouses are also professionals, the importance of attracting and providing space for professional services or all types is critical,” the study affirmed.
But the study did find local shopping loyalty.
“Interviews and survey responses did show strong support of local businesses and showed a strong preference for purchasing things locally. The current gaps in the retail market mean that residents who would like to spend locally in certain categories do not have an outlet locally,” the study stated.
Its authors did note that inspite of and despite the COVID-19 pandemic, brand new businesses, some of which required new construction, have opened.
“The establishment of new businesses is a good indicator of potential latent demand for retail services,” the study pointed out. Encouraging local development and activity in downtown Houston could further bolster the local business community to start new endeavours and give residents and visitors more to interact with as a result.”
The study also reached back years to examine previous surveys of business and shopping activity to then compare those results with its own findings gathered last year.
“Residents overwhelmingly reported changing their shopping habits while seeking professional service in other communities,” the study found.
“The significance of this phenomenon is underscored by the emergence of Terrace as one of the preferred shopping destinations since the previous  retail leakage survey.”
Study authors also considered the number of empty lots downtown, providing suggestions for why they remain undeveloped and what might spur construction to better build on the downtown as an active and occupied public space.
Some owners may be waiting for conditions to improve so they can obtain a better price and some potential purchasers may have shied away because they believe asking prices are too high.
“The supply of empty lots was mentioned as a significant concern during interviews with stakeholders in the downtown and was identified in the downtown beautification plan as a significant limiting factor to the future of downtown Houston,” the study indicated.
“While most of these lots are privately held, there may be opportunities for the District to incentivize their development.”
Incentives could include targeted inducements, one of which the District already has by allowing business owners a sliding scale of tax relief for physical improvements done on properties.
And while the study was focused on business activity and local consumer spending, it did survey other aspects which have the potential to increase the number of residents and subsequent economic impact.
One of those was increasing outdoor recreational infrastructure appealing to professional service providers.
Already there have been improvements in networks for mountain bikers and cross country skiers.