Cincinnati's new urban retail strategy may be right on Target

Bedolla: For them, it's about population

CINCINNATI - Target engaged.

Cincinnati Economic Development Director Oscar Bedolla had several meetings at the International Council of Shopping Centers RECon 2016 convention in Las Vegas last week. But none were more interesting than his visit with Target Inc.

Like an urban-format grocery store, a Downtown Target has been on the wish list of Cincinnati boosters since at least 2014, when Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber CEO Jill Meyer touted the idea in a speech at the annual meeting of Downtown Cincinnati Inc.

“Wouldn’t that be great?” Meyer told WCPO at the time. “When I lived Downtown, the only time I left was to go to a place like Target.”

The Minneapolis, Minn.-based retailer has opened urban-format stores in 19 locations so far. Bedolla pitched Cincinnati’s urban core as a strong option, citing a daytime population of nearly 144,000 within a mile of Fountain Square and retail-rent “asking rates” about 30 percent cheaper than Columbus.

“It went well,” Bedolla said. “We’re trying to build awareness of how much the market is growing. Obviously, for them its about population.”

Target declined to discuss the meeting, but a spokesman said it “continuously explores possible locations for future stores.” Cincinnati is not on its list of 20 new stores planned through 2017.

That list includes 11 new stores of less than 25,000 square feet. These formats have been branded in the past as CityTarget or TargetExpress, but they’re just called Target stores now. They’re known inside the company as “flexible format” stores and they tend to be located in densely populated areas. Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago are among the cities on the flexible-format list.

Bedolla stressed Cincinnati’s fast-growing residential population in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine, with 16,000 people now living near the streetcar loop that’s slated to open in September.

“We anticipate continued conversations,” he said. “It might be a year, two years. But hopefully sooner rather than later, we’ll be in a position to get a big-box retailer Downtown.”

Courting Target at ICSC is just one element of a new retail strategy that Bedolla introduced in a memo to City Council this week. That strategy includes partnering with DCI to hire retail recruiters and develop an inventory of available storefront space Downtown.

Retail broker Alex Sale applauds Bedolla’s efforts. She said the 70,000 people who work Downtown every day are “the biggest piece of the puzzle” in creating a more vibrant retail scene in the city center.

“What really makes a Downtown vibrant is 18 to 24 hours of activity,” said Sale, brokerage associate for Colliers International. “You’ve got to have the right mix for people to be buying in all day parts.”

Target, Lowes, Home Depot, Ikea, Apple and Staples are all examples of retail tenants that could draw Downtown office workers on their lunch hours or on their way home, she said. It may not be glamorous, but it would serve an audience that isn’t being actively courted right now.

“I’d love to see UDF at the Banks and in Over-the-Rhine,” she said. “Or a Simply Mac store. How many people come Downtown every day who forgot their charger?”

The shopping needs of Downtown workers are part of the Kroger Co.’s calculus as it explores potential sites for an urban-format store Downtown, CEO Rodney McMullen told WCPO in an interview this week.

“What’s the change in business population and where are people living? It’s really a combination of both of those,” McMullen said. “We want a store in the city. We’ll eventually find the right location.”

Just like Kroger, Target already draws Downtown office workers to a suburban-style store at Newport Pavilion. But Downtown's changing demographics could prompt both retailers to rethink that approach.

Bedolla said Target didn’t offer “a magical number” of Downtown dwellers that would prompt it to open an urban-format store in Cincinnati, but he’s convinced a residential population of more than 20,000 would get retailers more interested in the city’s center.

“An urban Target would work,” he said. “We’ve got the daytime population that exceeds other cities our size and the residential market is growing. Plus, people want convenience. With some of the higher-end units coming on line, people want to be able to walk out their door and find available retail.”

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