Sunday, March 30, 2008

Downtown Woes

I have been getting increasingly worried about the health of downtown Racine. Largely this is due to the numerous retail vacancies on Main Street. Several businesses have departed over the last year or so. By itself, this is not unusual or even cause for alarm, but the problem is the departing businesses are not being replaced by new businesses.

Many of the departing businesses are retail shops of one sort or another. Restaurants seem to be doing well and apartments are hard to come by, so it seems that the problem is primarily found among retailers.

I don't know exactly the reasons for this problem, but I suspect that increased property values may play a part. Many buildings have changed hands in the last few years and the cost of buying a building downtown has increased quite dramatically. If a building owner hopes to profit from his investment, he will invariably begin to raise the rent. The problem is that many retailers can't afford the new higher rents and they end up closing. New businesses can't afford the rent either so they don't bother.

Recent building buyers may have payed too much for their buildings. Ultimately, they will either need to sell their buildings at a loss or lose money by lowering the rent or by having no renters at all.

My hope is that this will play out without causing too much harm to what I believe to be a wonderful downtown.


Caledonia Unplugged said...

Seems to me that if there were more reasons to come to downtown to shop (not including Dimples, of course,) these retailers would be seeing higher profits and higher rents wouldn't necessarily put them out of business.

I'm sorry, Denis, parts of downtown are looking nice, but there's no reason for most people to come down there aside from the special events.

Downtown needs REAL retail stores and fewer art galleries.

DRC needs to take a trip across the pond to Saugatuck and follow their business model for an incredibly successful lakefront downtown.

eric said...

Downtown looks to me to have plateaued - I've seen this cycle in other cities, growth and leveling - businesses open and close in the same buildings for a few cycles, then something causes population and/or economic growth. Given the state of current financial markets we're less likely to see new investment for a while, kyboshing the metra-rail and tearing up 6th Street won't help either. As has been mentioned by Mike Burke in RJT, some destination attractions would be helpful - especially those that operate year round. Movie theater, or move the theater guilde downtown. The other problem is that operations after dark are limited somewhat by safety perception problems.

concrete katie said...

I do not correlate Racine with Saugatuck. Racine is a mid to small size city with a formidable big city manufacturing past. Saugatuck is a warm weather resort with summer cabins mostly for the wealthy white. Chicago Art Instutite has their summer programs in Saug. Years ago I would go there in the summer with a beau who could afford the luxuries of eating out at good restaurants and lying around on the beach during the daytime. Today it is a trendy place where you can buy lots of things if you have the money and if you like things.

Racine is trying hard to be a resort but people don't really have summer homes here, they have boats and when I first came here that's all I heard about was the boat people. They were going to save downtown. Then it was the corporate folks who were going to save downtown. Now, what is it? Putting highways through the city?

If downtown Racine is ever going to be healthy it is going to have to be relevant for the people who actually live here year round.

The only good thing about all the vacancies, Denis, is that at least we who came here because of a plan that did not materialize don't have to listen to all the "vibrancy" propaganda. It is time for DRC and City Hall to get real and listen to people such as myself who came here because of the potential we saw and the plans we were shown only to discover that there is only one way of thinking here. People who think differently such as a Jim Spodick or such as myself are really not welcome so after awhile we go away because you cannot make a living on a street that has no pedestrians.

Anonymous said...

Jim Spodick seems to screw up everything he touches and your "art gallery" is just a vacant building with a chunks of concrete in it.

concrete katie said...

How kind of you Anonymous 601. For your information I make a better living by not having hours at my shop and concentrating on showing at other galleries. If you actually look in the window you will find me working hard. I have to because my property taxes have gone up 500% in the 8 years I have been here. This is a good reason why the working artist will not be settling in the downtown. Working artists struggle. I have loved my building but it makes more sense for me now to go where I can have a sculpture garden and not have to be slammed by people such as yourself.

I am sure Jim Spodick would love to sell you a building. I probably would not sell you mine because I hope there will be someone coming along who will see how nice this building is for a studio and you don't sound like a creative person to me.

What are your ideas for Racine and its downtown?

Caledonia Unplugged said...

concrete Katie - wake up! Racine has a formidable manufacturing PAST - Past being the operative word. If you can't see the opportunities for downtown Racine to emulate the resort-type atmosphere of Saugatuck, you're not seeing the obvious.

Granted there will be more business in the summer, but with shops (and last time I visited Saugatuck - just last year) and attractions for everyone.

And if the powers that be (DRC, RCEDC) would even get off their butts and begin a real marketing campaign for Reefpoint, you'd see activity nearly double in downton Racine. Unfortunately, there's a resignation to failure amongst our so-called leaders in the area with regard to the marina..

But you have hit on a key component - Racine does need to be relevant to the current residents - given the demographic, do you really believe a downtown filled with art museums is relevant?

Denis Navratil said...

Calunp, I must disagree about the merits of downtown, though I do agree that more and better retail stores would be quite helpful. Even though I work downtown, I also tend to socialize downtown more than any other public area by far. I suspect that I may not be totally objective here, but if downtown is not the best area of Racine to congregate, eat, drink, shop, etc... then what area is? Uptown, West Racine, the Mall area? The mall area has far more retail and national chain restaurants and such, that is for sure, but to me it is basically the same as every other city in the US in many respects. In other words, it lacks uniqueness, character, charm. This is not to say that downtown is great - it is not - but it is the only place in Racine that could be great IMHO.

Re Reefpoint, I think you know more about that than I do. It would seem to me that Reefpoint should be full every year as the ammenities near Reefpoint seem far better than at other nearby marinas.

Kay, I think 500% tax increases can also be included as part of the problem downtown.

concrete katie said...


I would start with a grocery store. How about at the Century Market building.

I would make the riverside public in the downtown. I would try and get back some of the land ceded to the County on the lakefront.

I would provide free parking and remove meters on all streets but Main Street.

We need a newspaper-media store.

We need two-way traffic and we need to slow it down.

We need start up programs. People who buy buildings and fix them up ought to be given tax breaks or at least not have their taxes go up 500%.

We need more diversity and less micro managing by corporate people who do not know their own residents unless they meet them at balls.

There needs to be a real chamber of commerce.

There should be a retail plan for all areas - Uptown, West Racine, Douglas Avenue,Downtown and State Street with input from everyone who has a storefront who wants to have input.

I have friends who live in Saugatuck and I was there last year too. It is not Racine. It is a summer colony and I will always like it but it does not remind me of Racine. Do you live downtown here?

Anonymous said...

Who cares if racist Downtown Racine fails? never sees any black folk In Downtown Racine shopping anyways...perhaps the racist fabric of Racine will hurt the white folk.

You think?

Denis Navratil said...

anon, there are several vacant spaces in downtown Racine. Anyone who wants to open a business downtown is free to do so regardless of their race. Stop peddling this unsubstantiated nonsense about racism downtown. I don't know of a single business that does not want more customers. And nobody cares what color their customers are anon.

Anonymous said...

First Fridays, and Octoberfest, and Harbourfest...

...just how many blacks do you see at those?

I have been at these...I could count them on 1 hand.

concrete katie said...

Anonymous 5:31 does have a valid observation. And this is one of the reasons that the downtown has not reached this 'critical mass'. If Racine were a macro version of Saugatuck it would have only a handful of ethnics....but it is not. This city has a large and growing black and spanish population. It now attracts asians, too, thanks to Michael Choi's restaurants, and Sticky Rice. Cera (Tequila Bar) is trying hard and so is the Argentinian Tango place. I cannot speak too much for Main Street because I do not know it as well. Saugatuck's demographics are white because it is white. Racine is a big urban mix. Instead of trying to cater to those who are not here Racine would be better of accepting who and what is here and celebrate it. If the downtown could encourage more diversity, it would be healthier and less angry. Here is where youth comes in because I see the integration among the youth - I see it in the nuptial announcements in the paper and I see it when I am walking about. So one of the things I think the downtown needs is physical activities for youth along the river. I also think that a training school such as Bucketworks should be here downtown in some big unused building. I think Sangho Cho's Martial Arts School should be engaged to teach the martial arts maybe through RUSD.

Anonymous said...

Last I checked, there were no police in the borders of downtown keeping out racially diverse people. Maybe First Fridays and Party on the Pavement are just not their cups of tea?

Anonymous said...

Colt steps up

Where to start?

Is there a marketing program for Racine yet alone Downtown Racine?
As I have talked on my Blog Talk Radio show that can be found below

The cash that the DRC is spending is NOT bringing folks downtown
Why is that?
Poor media marketing? Is WRJN the station to use or a reward to a DRC member?
Why can you not find ads about first friday's in say The Insider or the Racine Post? With readership of the JT at an all time low one would think that the DRC would look for other media, but that would mean that someone at the DRC knows about marketing.
My first though is that the business owners NOT J Wax needs to control the DRC since it is the busness owners that live or die downtown NOT J WAx who is playing with a toy
but with Sam dead who toy is it?

As for the idea of downtown for the rich and white. I hear in the Spring and Summer time after time stories from good kids who get harrasted by the Red Shirts for simply being downtown their crime from what they tell me is being Black or Hispanic.
We could talk about the BS that Tina Evergreen had to put up with
why? Her events in Milwaukee are well run and make money. Unlike the Teen Club She has a secarty plan in place before she went to the City.
So why is it because she was promoting Hispanic culture?


Anonymous said...

Colt -

Before you start being active in new media, maybe you should master the old - spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

You may also want to get names straight. It was Elmergreen, not Evergreen.

concrete katie said...

Evergreen - that's our City Hall Christmas Tree that disappeared a couple of weeks ago! Chop, chop. Goodbye.

Anonymous said...

It is amazing that you people don't realize what is making our downtown fail. Everyone who comes downtown is scared away by crazy Denis or one of his minions. Move Dimples and the downtown of Racine will thrive!

Anonymous said...

Anon 106

Is that the best you can do?

Anonymous said...

Well Denis I hate to say it but the restaurants are hurting as well. January thru April is always tough but the last few months have been unbelievable. My lease is up for renewal soon. There may be another vacancy soon.

I also have to agree with you that there is no better place to gather for food and beverage than downtown. Of course the neighborhood places are fine but for something different downtown is where to go.

I also have not been aware of any racist attitudes down here. I'll take any customers as long as they have green in their pockets. (or gold, silver or platinum)

BTW, Colt/Dan I've been catching bits of that blog radio thing. Two way communication would be great. Otherwise you just sound like Rosen's show.

Green Racine said...

I will start talking calls on the longer shows. There is a chat room too but I spell/Type poorly as well all know.



Urban Pioneer said...

Downtown Is near critical mass. Dear Anon Restuarantuer. Don't give up just yet. A few more additions are coming to Main St.
I would love to see the Elizabeth Towers go up. We have the relocation of Sticky Rice/ Ginger on the Main drag. and Yes Denis Downtown is The only Place in our town with such dynamism, variety, entertainment, etc. Next winter folks take advantage of these great places when it's the least crowded!! The merchants love to cater to you!
All races are welcome of course. But should we blame downtown businesses for not Catering to the Hip Hop clientelle? The Drug trafficers, or the low income/ or welfare earners?? They have places to shop that are better alternatives. The mall for the Teen's , Bling and Shoe shops. Wal-mart for the low income budget minded customer.
Having a place that appeals to the top 20,30 or 50% of income earners. and shoppers is where I see our Downtown developing. Otherwise were just an outdoor mall! No offense to everyone else.
When I travel I don't go to visit the mall or the chain restuarants, I want a feel for the local community best found in the specialty areas, artsy neighborhoods, and the local Food houses, and pubs.

Keep in mind the personal pride in product selection, personal service and care You get when shopping at these boutiques, galleries, wine shops, etc. Not every store is designed for every customer. But there are vacant store fronts, if U have a plan please come on down, and cater to the client you want. If the Racine African heritage folk are not being catered too they will support businesses that carry products they want, and maybe even create a small "district" too. A mini "Harlem", Mid to upscale products for the Black middle and upper class.
Maybe even downtown, Uptown, State St.? Or the Mall already serves that customer quite well.
Several African American's are regular shoppers and supporters of Downtown Biz's and that is fantastic.
Whatever goes in downtown, if U like it support it. Sometimes the difference between success and failure is just a few sales a week.

Let's keep Downtown the Chardonnay and Brie set!!
I was tempted to post this as Anonymous, but Hey I'll live dangerously......My intent is to be frank, not insulting.

See You downtown, I'll be there!

Anonymous said...

Racine Downtown used to be the place where we go, we loved your shop. We love to eat, find some hats, all downtown.

What did it for us was my daughter got a parking ticket for being less than 2 inches over the front line. She was in the store less than 3 minutes, just to pick up a package of items I bought, she came out and the "meter maid" was writing a ticket, she asked why, well because she was over the line, there was NO one in the front, NO one in the back of her. I actually had a measuring tape with me and measured, 1.75 inches of the front of the car was over the line. We haven't gone back downtown shopping since and we would buy art, buy items from Dimples, dine out, uncork, etc. We considered the meter maids attitude as really nasty.

HOWEVER, that being said, now that Sticky Rice is moving to a more open place, we will come back downtown.

I don't know the answer to downtown but I do know that it has been a very long winter, some people who never go south went south this year, more took more vacations to warm areas.

Spring - really Spring could just be the answer to getting folks out and about.

concrete katie said...

Sticky Rice is buying a building and I am very happy for them. They deserve their success. However, hello hello, downtown is more than Main Street. This is really musical chairs at the expense of the rest of downtown. There is no critical mass on Sixth Street I can tell you that! There is no critical mass on Wisconsin or College either. Did you forget us Urban Pioneer? Racine isn't Cedarsburg or Saugatuck, it is Racine and I remember Crandall and Arumbula who were the original architects of the redevelopment plans for downtown repeating over and over again that you must satisfy the people who live around you - that 65% of your business will come from your immediate residents and neighbors. Catering only to wealthy people is putting the cart before the horse. Everyone who resides downtown needs groceries and everyday items and why would you move downtown and invest in this community and become a resident if you must still get back in your car and drive off to the shopping centers for the sustainable goods we all need to buy?

I like my neighbors because we are a mix of people. I keep meeting folks who were born here. What do we want to do....just move them out and say you are not welcome? I don't want to live in a horizontal ivory tower or a gated community.

Urban Pioneer said...

Hey Katie, We will miss your enthusiasm and dedication to our town. I have made it a point to support the 6th St business, mostly rest's.. these past few weeks. So I haven't forgot them at all. I consider all of the businesses in the downtown area that have some product I need first. I will support a great Grocery, I was a frequent shopper at Century Market. Spodik missed the market a bit, But I tried to buy his products first, and often made suggestions to increase the products I needed to buy.

If a Sendicks or some other high end Market comes in I'll be there! If an Aldi's goes in I won't be there.
If Racine is to find employers for our 10% un-employed of which half or nearly half are UN-EMPLOYABLE, because they have no skills, or work ethic. Their fault, not mine. Tomorrows prisoners and Homeless social leeches.
I'd love to have them move to areas with hiring shortages, where they can get a starter job, and then build on that. Waiting here in Racine for a low skill job, is not the answer for them, nor us, in the mean time they drag our city down financially and reputation. Building a Downtown shopping experience for them is counter Productive! Merchants downtown should cater to the most affluent customer they can.
Don't get me wrong I don't mean to be a snob, but having an affluent shopping destination is GREAT!!! and will help Racine employ our people, and improve our Schools, Housing, crime rate etc. etc.
The ripple starts in the middle of the pond, Make the Splash FANTASTIC and U will change the whole pond all the way to the shoreline.
Continue to provide a homeless shelter and Coddle Drug dealers you're going to continue to have Beggars and Crackheads showing up. BEGGARS and Crackheads don't bring in the kind of business I would want in a store, and worse they chase away the quality clientèle most people would want to shop with.
So all of their money is Green, But alot of it has white powder and blood stains on it, I'd rather not have that Money floating around downtown, thanks anyway.

Anonymous said...

Urban pioneer - what elitist, self serving crap.
If only people were good like you.
Read the Bible once.

Anonymous said...

Why is it that the priviledged always see the 'pther' as the problem?
Read the Bible, once again.

Urban Pioneer said...

Dear Anon, I probably shouldn't ask. But WTH?? R U talking about??
I don't think My posts were self serving at all. It is not Self serving to improve our community, nor is it racist, or Unchristian?? For 30 years no one shopped Downtown, because every nice business had moved to Elmwood Plaza, and Regency Mall. Now over the past 10 years a new distinctive breed of businesses are available in Downtown Racine. No Chain stores, or Mega corps. Small, locally owned proprietor run shops and restaurants and pub's. My intention is to help maintain that distinctive flare, and have put my $ where my mouth is. I live there; I shop there; and I play there. How about You Anon??
Praying, and reading the Bible won't pay the rent!
I always enjoy your knee jerk, vapid, and reactionary response's. Always a "b*tch" or a dig at the host, and never a real solution. Ever the pessimist! Next time how about a little depth in your commentary. And BTW, where do you shop??
Hey folks Downtown is still Half full, Lets fill it up. Lot's of opportunity. How about some of you Un-employed people use your talent and energy, and start a biz of your own, perhaps Downtown!!
I know of several Downtown Biz owners who created their own job, after being un-employed. Pray for them Anon. I'll try to see them succeed, by shopping there. After all even those Low life Clintons after years in Public housing have become Mulit millionaires, and now they don't have hitch on the front of their house!! If they can do it, You can too. The Obama's are making a tidy sum as well......Hmm Public Education is FREE, so finish school, and you will rarely be un-employed. (If You look at the Numbers for the un-employed HS grad's and upwards the number is very low). The Drop-outs overwhelmingly have high Un-employed numbers, even in the best of times. Furthermore If your un-employed right now, Move to the areas with low un-employed numbers, and be prepared to work, and you won't be un-employed!
If that is elist, then I can't help U out of your ignorance. Sorry didn't mean turn this into a Manifesto. LOL

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