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Thursday, Sept. 16, 2010 05:29 pm

Plugging leaks in MacArthur’s market

Draft master plan and analysis for MacArthur Boulevard released

Draft plans for revitalizing MacArthur Boulevard suggest enhancing the facades of existing structures to make the corridor more appealing. Planners used the Midwest Title building as an example of potential improvements.

MacArthur Boulevard is missing out on about $87.7 million of potential annual retail sales, according to a market analysis performed as part of the corridor’s redevelopment strategy. 

The figure represents annual sales leakages – the difference between what residents are likely to spend and the total sales that area’s businesses actually capture – for the area within a one-mile radius of MacArthur and Ash. For the area within a half-mile radius, the annual sales leakage is $41.6 million.

While nearby residents have buying power worth about $296 million, much of their money goes to other parts of the city. “That is a huge amount of potential sales. If you could just get 5 or 10 percent more of that … it could go a long way,” says Kennedy Smith, with the real estate market consulting firm CLUE Group (Community Land Use and Economics). Smith last week spoke at the last of three community workshops for MacArthur Boulevard redevelopment plans. “There are significant retail leakages in almost every category. So a lot of this $296 million in sales that neighborhood residents are making is in fact leaving the neighborhood. … The golden opportunity here is to find ways to recapture some of these sales.”

MacArthur Boulevard can capture those sales by adding new product lines at existing businesses, by creating new businesses or by doing both, Smith says. Her recommendations, subject to change as development consultants continue to tweak the plans, include adding a few more restaurants, redeveloping the old movie theater site with entertainment businesses, and building upon comparison shopping and home improvement shopping clusters. 

Smith’s suggestion for a grocery store, a category in which MacArthur Boulevard misses out on about $45.8 million in sales, garnered scattered applause from community members attending the workshop. If a grocer won’t come to MacArthur Boulevard, residents themselves could invest in one through a co-op or by selling investment shares, Smith says.

But bringing in the dollars from area residents should only be part of the MacArthur Boulevard business strategy, she adds. Unique businesses already on the corridor attract regional shoppers, making MacArthur Boulevard a sort of destination. And with an average of about 25,000 cars traveling the street each day, the corridor’s high traffic nature provides significant potential for commuter sales.

“They each need their own marketing strategy because the people who fall into these categories are completely different … and they perceive it in different ways,” Smith says. For both neighborhood residents and commuters, the community should try to enliven the area’s physical environment. Art embedded in the sidewalk would enhance the pedestrian experience while optical illusions on fences, for instance, would give commuters a sense that the corridor has something more to offer.

“You can really have some fun for not a lot of money and begin to create a buzz that this community is a really cool place to be,” Smith says.

The corridor also needs to consolidate its commercial centers, says John LaMotte, one of the planners with the Lakota Group, hired to lead the revitalization strategy development. The draft master plan calls for strengthening commercial development at three nodes – at the intersections of South Grand Avenue, Outer Park Drive and Stanford Drive. “We need to harness it and concentrate it and not spread it out all over the place,” LaMotte says. 

LaMotte calls the draft plans “a concept and a vision” that shows the possibilities for the corridor. “The principles of the plan will hold up,” he says, listing key aspects including shared parking behind buildings, fewer curb cuts, better architecture and space near commercial venues for visitors to sit and enjoy the boulevard. “Start to look at this holistically.” 

Contact Rachel Wells at rwells@illinoistimes.com.


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