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Downtown property owners look for a brighter 2010

POSTED January 26, 2010 9:54 p.m.
While continuing to feel the repercussions of the sluggish economy, the Turlock Downtown Property Owners Association is moving forward with plans to fill the vacant store fronts and bring consumers back to the downtown corridor.
As evidenced by the numbers released during the association’s annual meeting, the property owners are making some progress towards those goals, but still have a ways to go.
“Recruiting new businesses to the downtown was our top priority last year and will continue to be a priority this year,” said Trina Walley, the executive director of the TDPOA.
The downtown corridor, which extends down Main Street from Lander Avenue  to Palm Street and a block in either direction, has about 357,677 square feet of ground floor retail and office space. Of that, 17.1 percent or 61,149 square feet was vacant in December 2009. The vacancy rate for 2009 peaked in March at 25 percent. A majority of the vacancies are spaces that have 5,000 or more square feet, which are harder to fill, Walley said.
In total, 14 businesses in the downtown corridor either closed down or relocated in 2009 and 23 businesses either opened or expanded, Walley said.
Vacant storefronts can be an “image problem” for other downtown businesses, Walley said, because it creates a perception that it’s not a vital business district.
In the annual stakeholder survey, property owners and business owners rated the downtown’s overall image and vitality at low levels for 2009. The only category to receive what would be classified as a “Fair” ranking was safety — both in perception and reality, which Walley credited to an increased police presence in the downtown and the Business Watch program.
All other categories, including appearance, homelessness and economic climate were rated as “a little worse” or “worse” by the stakeholders.
It’s not just the image that suffers from vacant storefronts. It’s the sales tax revenue, which feeds the city’s coffers, as well. Walley said the sales tax revenue generated in downtown has been on a steady decline for the past few years. In 2009, the downtown corridor made up 8.9 percent of the city’s total sales tax revenue, which is down .84 percentage points from the previous year, Walley said.
The TDPOA sees the creation of the Bridal Shopping District branding and marketing plan as a key to the area’s revitalization. Walley said the Business Recruitment Committee is close to their goal of five bridal-related businesses in the downtown that would officially launch the district.
The TDPOA is also continuing their partnership with the City of Turlock and the Alliance Small Business Development Center to host workshops for the downtown businesses that identify new low-cost marketing and operation strategies.
To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail sstafford@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.
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