Ghost Mall? Vacancies becoming more noticeable
At City Council's Monday meeting on February 2, a PR campaign was unveiled by the Downtown Business Association (in a display behind the Councilors) that will place signs with affirmations about the Mall brick project around the Mall, including an a large banner on Market Street, with such phrases as "We're hitting the bricks so you can too," "Walking is cool," "These bricks are made for walking" and "We'll have you back on the bricks in no time."
The campaign is meant to encourage folks that the Mall is still open for business, despite the barricades and construction going on. But will such affirmations be enough?
"I'm concerned about the struggling merchants on the Mall in difficult economic times, and the ongoing construction," Cynthia Schroeder, owner of the downtown clothing store Spring Street, told Councilors on Monday. "The merchants are taking a terrible beating from the construction...the Mall is like a ghost town right now."
Schroeder said she was worried about the number of vacancies on the Mall and hoped that the City would spend more money to stimulate occupancy and help landlords better promote the Mall.
The City handed out $50,000 to the DBA in November, and on the consent agenda Monday was an additional $50,000 for continuing downtown marketing efforts. Of that first payment, DBA president Bob Stroh said that $13,000 had been spent over the holiday season, and that $37,000 would be spent in the coming months on seven "block parties" to "celebrate the new Mall."
"Merchants are paying top rents when the Mall was at it's prime," Schroeder continued," and some of the landlords, including mine, have agreed to possibly lower the rents." Schroeder added that downtown merchants didn't want corporations like Starbucks and McDonald's moving onto the Mall. "We like the small stores, and want to keep it that way."
Council quickly approved the additional $50,000, but there was no discussion about the growing number of vacancies on the Mall.
On a recent stroll down the Mall, an out-of-town visitor the Hook spoke to was moved to comment on all the empty storefronts. "I don't remember there being so many empty spaces the last time I was here," the visitor said.
Indeed, during our own stroll on the Mall, the Hook counted at least 12 vacant retail and office spaces.
In addition to familiar locations that have been vacant for a long time, such as the former A & N and Order From Horder locations on the east end, and three locations between First Street and the Wachovia building, the former C-Ville Weekly offices, Sage Moon Galley, the Ryan Homes office (particularly strange, as it appears that the large furnished office had been abandoned, with contact information taped to the front door), the second and third floor of 106 Fifth Street, Migration gallery, and a location beside Lee's Hallmark shop are just a few of the places for lease.
Updated 2/5/09 1:12pm