Wednesday, January 06, 1999

City crafts retail roadmap

Downtown courting Nordstrom

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati business leaders are mapping out a plan they hope will bring new specialty retailers downtown and serve as the magnet to draw an upscale department store such as Nordstrom to Fifth and Race streets.

        The city wants downtown to become home to retailers such as Eddie Bauer, J. Crew, J. Peterman, and Restoration Hardware, a San Francisco-based home goods store, said David Ginsburg, senior vice president of Downtown Cincinnati Inc. (DCI).

        And if Seattle-based Nordstrom knows which stores would be nearby, city leaders think the tony retailer will feel more comfortable committing to the Queen City.

        “I think it's very helpful to be able to tell the people you're recruiting, "This is the direction that we're going,'” said Mr. Ginsburg, who has been working with DCI's Retail Development Task Force on the plan for the past six months.

        Even if Nordstrom doesn't need such a plan to make its decision, the retail roadmap could help justify the financial subsidy the city likely would have to pay to get the department store, said John Boorn, chief executive officer of Madison Marquette Realty Services downtown.

        City leaders have long thought Nordstrom could be the right bait to lure shoppers away from suburban malls and into downtown. The chain is a favorite among shoppers who seek out its trademark good service and mix of exclusive and popular brands.

        A thriving downtown needs a “critical mass” of retail, Mr. Ginsburg said, because it makes the city's core more attractive for office and residential developers.

        “The whole point is: For a downtown to remain viable, it has to attract tenants and businesses that are unique and one of a kind to the region,” said Cincinnati Economic Development Director Andi Udris.

        Downtown boasts the region's only Saks Fifth Avenue and Tiffany & Co. stores, but the city's core needs at least one more department store to create that “critical mass,” Mr. Udris said.

        He wants suburban shoppers to be able to ask, “Is it worth it for me to get in the car and drive 15 minutes?” and answer, “Absolutely.”

        Nordstrom operates stores in Indianapolis and Cleveland, and the retailer announced just last monththat it plans to open a store in Northeast Columbus late next year in the mixed-used development called Easton.

        Nordstrom likes a viable market, but it also likes to surround itself with strong competition.

        In Columbus, it will share space with Virgin Megastore, Cheesecake Factory and Gameworks. In Cleveland, at the suburban Beachwood Place, its neighbors include Saks Fifth Avenue, the Galleries of Neiman Marcus and Pottery Barn.

        At Indianapolis' Circle Centre, Nordstrom is a stroll from Parisian, Eddie Bauer and FAO Schwarz. But not all nearby retailers have to be top-drawer for Nordstrom. Also at Circle Centre are T.J. Maxx, the Gap and Bath & Body Works.

        Still, Nordstrom gives the mall pull. Christy Glesing, a spokeswoman for Indianapolis Downtown Inc., a city marketing and development group, said 50 percent of the mall's sales are generated through visitors and convention-goers.

        “It's the only Nordstrom in Indiana, so that was very crucial because people would otherwise go to Chicago,” she said.

        Brooke White, a spokeswoman for Nordstrom, said the retailer likes to be in “destination centers” and near strong retail competition, but declined to name specific chains.

        “There's lots of fine retailers out there, and there's not one specific mix that works for us,” she said.

        What does work, she said, is being near a retailer that exists in only one location in a market, creating a draw. In Cincinnati, Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany & Co. and Pottery Barn (at Kenwood Towne Centre) serve as examples.

        But Nordstrom officials specifically mentioned Restoration Hardware and Crate & Barrel, another home goods store, to developers as stores they would like to have nearby if they were to come to Cincinnati, said Herman Renfro, an Indianapolis developer who worked with the city early last year to try to lure Nordstrom.

        Some retailers have told local development officials they will commit to downtown if Nordstrom does.

        Mr. Ginsburg wouldn't say whether the retailers he named were among those, but he said many retailers over the years have told him they would come to Cincinnati if the city could get the right department store downtown.

        Mr. Ginsburg said the downtown retail plan isn't quite finished and hasn't been presented to Nordstrom or any other department store yet.

        Such a presentation, he said, would be up to Eagle Realty Group, the real estate arm of Western-Southern Life Insurance Co. that will develop the site at Fifth and Race streets.

        Western-Southern spokesman Herb Brown would not confirm that the company is talking with Nordstrom, much less say whether the company intends to present the plan to the retailer.

        “I don't want to get into the strategy,” he said. “We don't want to play it out in the public.”

        Whichever retailers the developer talks to, it will be important to show that the city and DCI, the downtown marketing group, have a unified strategy for downtown, Mr. Udris said.

        After all, DCI's opposition to Mr. Renfro's riverfront development plan was instrumental in Cincinnati City Council's decision to kill the plan last April. The city is just now embarking on a new riverfront planning strategy.

        Avoiding that kind of battle will be crucial to turning this new retail plan into a reality, Mr. Udris said.

        “Plans look great when they're sitting the shelf,” he said. “But they look better on the street.”

        John J. Byczkowski contributed.


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