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Decatur Downtown Development Authority approves agreement for retail recruitment

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Decatur Downtown Development Authority approves agreement for retail recruitment

The Baby Kroger located at 720 Commerce Drive in Decatur. Photo by Dean Hesse.
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Decatur, GA — The Decatur Downtown Development Authority approved an agreement with Retail Strategies on Nov. 10 for retail recruitment.

The goal of the agreement was to focus on recruiting a new grocery store to the city, but DDA members said the scope of work should focus on filling other empty spaces in the city.

The agreement is for an amount not to exceed $25,000. With the unexpected closure of Baby Kroger in December 2022, the city has been grappling with trying to recruit a new grocery store into the space or another location in the city.

Developer Pope and Land is planning to purchase the property at 720 Commerce Drive from Stein Investment Group and redevelop the site as a mixed-use project.

The city partnered with Retail Strategies for a training last year when some city staff traveled to Birmingham, Alabama, to talk about a recruitment plan, and do a training on how to do research and how to reach out to retailers the city is targeting.

“We have that under our belt, but we also recognize there are some special areas where we need some additional assistance,” Planning and Economic Development Director Angela Threadgill said. “One of the ideas around extending our partnership with Retail Strategies is…their professional services for limited recruitment to assist in finding and recruiting a downtown grocery. Under their scope of work that they are proposing to work with us on is looking at five different sites within downtown but also around the East Decatur Station area as well.”

Threadgill added that the scope of work would focus on recruiting a grocery store, but Retail Strategies would also look at other retailers and spaces to fill gaps in downtown Decatur and the city’s commercial districts.

Retail Strategies would look at five sites and up to 10 prospective retailers. They would reach out to at least 20 retailers to get feedback and understand their criteria for site selection. Retail Strategies would then share their findings with the city.

The term of the agreement would be six months.

“Of course, we would be getting progress updates and also learning from them what they have heard in terms of retailer feedback,” Threadgill said. She added later that there are some prime ground-floor retail spaces in the city that are currently vacant.

“We would be working alongside those brokers and property owners, making sure we can assist in the potential leasing of that space to promote those spaces,” Threadgill said.

DDA Chair Conor McNally worried about the timing of the contract and that it could be years before the Baby Kroger site is redeveloped.

“What I don’t want to do is spend $25,000 on an effort to try to get a grocery store when that project, if it truly is a redevelopment project, that’s not going to see any activity for a very long time,” he said. “If that’s really what the goal of this is, I think we need to think about the timing.”

McNally added that a grocery store could be part of the scope of work, but shouldn’t be the primary focus. The city has a need outside just a grocery store.

“We have a lot of empty and vacant spaces, and having the help of a group like this to help us recruit new tenants to fill those spaces is a worthwhile thing for us to do,” McNally said.

While the city would love to have a downtown grocer, it was there and failed, DDA Vice Chair Noah Peeters said. He also noted that there’s a Publix on the edge of the city limits and many grocery stores nearby in North Decatur, like Sprouts, Whole Foods and Walmart.

“I understand the idea toward long term recruitment, but I think that what we all imagine may not be right for the monopoly board that we have downtown,” Peeters said. “Rather than directing most of this effort towards that, I think some time spent on understanding that competitive landscape and whether or not we think a large format grocer is going to come in downtown is probably another way to look at the grocery recruitment.”

He was also concerned about having long term fallowed spaces in important parts of downtown and that efforts may be better off focusing on trying to fill other gaps, like the Starbucks space.

DDA Member Lisa Turner also wondered if the board and city is “barking up the wrong tree.”

“The question is do we even need to stop looking? We don’t have that answer yet. If there’s no grocery store because we just don’t meet the needs of a grocer at any level,” Turner said.

Threadgill add that the process would help the city understand the needs of retailers and the city would get feedback from potential retailers about downtown Decatur and their site selection criteria.

“If we’re hearing from certain grocers about their criteria, we will be able to share that with you as well as the community as to the difficulty of getting a downtown grocer,” Threadgill said.

The city is also not looking to recruit a large format grocery store in downtown Decatur, but rather a smaller scale grocery store.

“There are certain brands that are looking at urban concepts and so that is what we would be going after, not large format,” Threadgill said. “We don’t have the space for that. We don’t have the land for that.”

Retailers also plan their growth one to two years out, and the city wants to be part of those early conversations as a potential place for businesses to expand to.

“We need those early conversations,” Threadgill said. “I understand that six months, we’re not going to have a quick turnaround and a business open up in six months. This is about creating those early conversations and talking with the retailers so that we can then plan two years out, because that’s where they are right now.”

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