Downtown GH Gears For Competition

    GRAND HAVEN — Two major retail developments planned locally, combined with the developing retail corridor minutes away in Muskegon, lend a sense of urgency to an upcoming study on the future direction of the downtown Grand Haven business district.

    The city’s Central Business District Development Authority last month secured a $20,000 grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. to pay for a $40,000 study of the downtown and drafting of an economic development plan. The Loutit Foundation will provide the $20,000 local match required under the grant.

    The study, conducted by the consulting firm HyettPalma of Alexandria, Va., comes as downtown Grand Haven faces new competitive threats.

    Wal-Mart Stores Inc. wants to build a superstore just south of town and a Detroit-area real estate investment trust recently received city approval for plans to redevelop the former Meijer Inc. store at U.S. 31 and Jackson Street for The Home Depot, a national home improvement chain.

    Downtown Grand Haven, which presently enjoys high vacancy and low turnover rates, also faces growing competition from the regional retail corridor, anchored by The Lakes Mall, emerging along Sternberg Road and Harvey Street, just across the Ottawa-Muskegon county line.

    “The challenges we face are many right now,” said Cherie Hall Talbert, executive director for the Central Business District Development Authority and the merchant association Downtown Grand Haven Inc.

    The goal of seeking the state funding for the HyettPalma study is to position the downtown Grand Haven business district “with all the tools necessary” to meet the new competition that’s ahead from the big-box retailers with deep marketing budgets, Hall Talbert said.

    “We’ll see people hopping in their cars and going up and down U.S. 31 and they forget there is a really cool downtown that offers all these goods and services,” she said. “We want to be ready for our downtown to withstand the new challenges.”

    Hall Talbert expects the HyettPalma study, which the firm will conduct this summer and complete in the fall, to offer ideas for marketing the business district and specific recommendations for growth.

    HyettPalma will conduct a detailed market analysis, determine long-term assets and challenges of the downtown, and formulate an “aggressive” economic development plan, according to the MEDC, which created the “Blueprints for Michigan’s Downtowns” program with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority and Michigan Municipal League.

    Grand Haven is one of 11 communities statewide the MEDC chose last month to participate in the program.

    “Michigan’s downtowns are at the heart of our state’s ongoing economic success,” said Sabrina Keeley, the MEDC’s acting chief executive officer. “These blueprints will give these communities another excellent tool to ensure their economic vitality for years to come.”

    The HyettPalma study is essentially a follow-up to a similar effort the firm conducted a decade ago for the business district, which today consists largely of specialty retail shops, restaurants, professional offices, and upper-floor apartments and condominiums located adjacent to the city’s popular waterfront.

    Having HyettPalma take another look at the downtown will help the Central Business District Development Authority and Downtown Grand Haven Inc. determine how well their current marketing, recruitment and retention strategies are working, Hall Talbert said.

    “You always need to have a freshly updated look at things. Is there something we’re missing in our efforts?”           

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