June 20, 2013CITY OF GROSSE POINTE — A business consultant wants Village stakeholders to double-down a commitment to retail, even as a block of three large retail spaces on Kercheval sit vacant.
"There is no shortage of retailers who look to communities like Grosse Pointe to open stores. I have 33 in mind," said Edward Nakfoor, retained recently by the Grosse Pointe Village Downtown Development Authority.
Nakfoor, of Birmingham, is advising the DDA in retail marketing.
He dislikes converting first-floor retail space to office use.
The principle extends to large property that has been vacant three years and is attracting no valued retail suitors — namely, the empty Borders Books (and before that, Jacobson's home store) building on Kercheval.
Nakfoor opposes St. John Providence Health System's $5.4 million proposal to convert the former 19,053-square-foot bookstore into medical offices.
"There's a better use than having it office space," Nakfoor told members of the City of Grosse Pointe council Monday, June 17.
He indicated it's better to let the building stay vacant for a while rather than cross the line into offices.
"All decisions you make have to be focused on keeping as much retail as you can in the Village, because you will never have those spaces back, short of building new," Nakfoor told the council.
Nakfoor spoke while the council considered rewording of the C-2 central business district zoning ordinance.
Proposed changes reserve the front 60 percent of first-floor space for retail operations. The rear 40 percent can be offices.
The ordinance specifically applies the ratio to buildings containing medical offices.
Councilman Andrew Turnbull disagreed with the retail mandate.
Turnbull doubts large, modern retailers will invest in nearly 20,000 square feet of space given the City's small size and market area.
"We're hamstringing ourselves with these requirements," Turnbull said. "We're not admitting the true environment we're living in."
The retail mandate is "onerous" to filling large storefronts, he said.
"We have a couple large, empty spaces that continue to be that way," Turnbull said.
Councilwoman Jean Weipert supports the 60 percent rule, despite the former Borders site neighboring two more empty buildings totaling 29,000 square feet.
"There's been three years at most those buildings have not been occupied by a viable retail tenant," Weipert said. "You can look at the immediate situation and say the world's changing and we have to throw everything out and rethink, or we can have a plan."
That's Nakfoor's role.
"The Village needs a plan of action to actively recruit retail," he said. "The challenge is there's not a lot of attractive spaces for retailers to consider."
He wants to help landlords and property brokers in a coordinated effort to recruit "quality" retail tenants.
"You're not going to have a department store in the form of Jacobson's," Nakfoor said. "However, Macy's was talking about opening smaller versions of Macy's stores as showrooms."
"There's a lot of concerns about what's happening in the Village," said Peter Dame, city manager. "Everyone wants to find someone to blame about why things aren't exactly the way they want them to be."
The district was targeted for major development until the recession.
Plans folded for a boutique hotel, condominiums and senior citizen assisted living.
"In 2008, I thought we had $100 million in construction starting in three months," said Mayor Dale Scrace.
"None of that is ever coming back," Dame said. "So, we have to find a way forward. (Nakfoor) is helping us. I want him to be Moses and lead us out of the desert."
The council holds a public hearing on the ordinance changes at its 7 p.m. Monday, July 15, meeting.