The number of downtown shops has increased in recent years, but more storefront space is needed to encourage further development, according to a report from the Downtown Raleigh Alliance.
Since late 2010, the number of retailers, restaurants and businesses has grown downtown, along with a boom in apartment construction.
But a closer look at the retail figures shows a limited number of storefront vacancies for further growth. Just 2 percent of downtown’s storefront stock is vacant and ready to rent, the report said.
That matters if downtown is to be a truly bustling place, according to the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, which advocates for economic development in the area.
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“Retail is part of making a complete downtown. If you want people to live downtown, you can’t just have bars and restaurants,” said Bill King, planning and development manager for the group.
King said many of the mixed-use buildings under construction downtown include ground-floor retail space, which should give new shops more opportunities.
To increase storefront availability, the group also recommends providing loans to help landlords or tenants repair or retrofit existing spaces. The money could come from reactivating the city’s downtown loan pool program, according to the report.
King said small retailers often want to be located downtown but don’t have the financial resources to remake an older building.
“If you want to have interesting, unique retail, we need to help them fill that gap a little,” he said.
The city’s downtown loan program originally loaned $300,000 to small businesses downtown.
Those loans later were transferred to the Raleigh Area Development Authority, which is developing a loan program for businesses throughout the city, said Wallace Green, head of the authority.
The report says the city’s downtown has one of the largest concentrations of independent retailers in the region.
It found that 32 new retailers have come to downtown since 2010 and remain open today. Those shops compose 63 percent of downtown’s retail base.
However, in late 2014, the storefront vacancy rate was 1.9 percent for places both available for lease and in a condition that a shop could move into without total demolition.
The survey area includes 110 blocks, roughly bordered in the north by Peace Street, in the south by Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, in the west by Boylan Street and in the east by Bloodworth Street. The survey does not include Seaboard Station, Person Street Plaza or Cameron Village.
Other recommendations include:
• Encourage building owners to lease or sell buildings that are not on the market.
• Make use of “pop-up” retail to temporarily fill vacant storefronts.
• Identify office users who may be interested in moving off the ground floor.
• Recruit a grocery store or major retailer to help drive more traffic downtown, an effort that could require financial incentives.