Picking Kacey Brankamp’s Brain

Kacey Brankamp knows the ins and outs of downtown Columbus’s retail scene like it’s her job.

Actually, as retail recruiter for the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District, it is her job.

“I play a matchmaker role with business owners and available space, but I don’t ‘do deals’ or earn a commission like a leasing agent or broker,” says Brankamp.

She contends there is a large, unmet demand for retail services, but due to the long, painful and very public death of City Center, there is a negative perception of downtown’s retail health.

“With 100,000 daytime employees, nearly 6,000 residents, nearly 40,000 college students, and 9 million visitors, there are folks who would spend money in downtown if there were places to do so,” she adds.

Herewith, the 28-year-old Central Ohio native talks about the cost and size of downtown retail spaces, incentives and services available to business owners, and how Capital Crossroads is working to make downtown more business-friendly.

Question: What’s the state of downtown retail space? Does it generally need redeveloped or is it move-in ready?

Answer: It’s mixed. There are some spaces that are generally ready to lease, but obviously a tenant would want to make some improvements unique to their business. The former Brownstone on Main is a good example of a ready to lease, full-service restaurant space. There is another space just west of it at 108 E. Main St. that is in great condition, too.

You’ll also find some space that was built for a particular use that will most likely need some
redevelopment. Former banks are a good example of this. They are beautiful buildings with impressive architecture and in good condition, but will probably not see a bank tenant in the near future. These spaces could make lovely event space or upscale dining, but require significant dollars to renovate.

And then there are spaces that fall in the “needs overhaul” category. These spaces are probably not suitable for a small operator because of the cost to renovate and size.

Q: What’s the cost of downtown retail space per square foot?

A: I’ve seen listings as low as $10 and as high as $30, plus operating costs. I’d say a range of $15 to $25 is reflective of the majority of inventory. But it’s important to keep in mind that these rates are like residential home prices− negotiable. Some rates include common area maintenance fees, others don’t. So the final lease rate is part of negotiations.

Q: What size retail spaces are available downtown?

A: The size of space varies greatly, too. I know of a little space that’s just over 300 square feet and I’ve talked with a landowner who would carve out 100 to 200 square feet if the right tenant comes forward. On the other side, there are spaces over 12,000 square feet. A more common range is 1,500 to 4,500 square feet.

Based on retailer demand, there is a need for affordable starter space that ranges from 400 or 500 square feet to 1,000 or 1,200 square feet. If that inventory existed in a cluster, I think we’d see vendors from the Pearl Market, as well as established businesses that want to test the downtown market with a smaller operation, secure space.

Q: Are there parking issues to consider when locating your business downtown?

A: Sure, there are considerations with regard to parking. Many retail spaces do not include parking spaces, so business owners have to find parking for themselves and employees. There are numerous lots and garages from which to choose. Plus, alternative transportation options, like COTA and biking, reach many if not all retail spaces. Capital Crossroads SID is working on a bike facilities program that will add 292 covered bike parking spots in the next year.

The SID is also working on lifting the parking ban on meters during the 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. time periods to allow more onstreet parking. Feedback is important in this process, so if you’re a first-floor business in an area with restricted parking during rush hour and feel it’s negatively impacting your business, please contact me.

Another point to consider is that the majority of consumers in downtown are walking from the office, parking garage, home or hotel, or classroom. Workers, students, residents, and visitors are generally on foot during the day, thus not relying on parking for patronizing retail services.

There is plenty of parking downtown. The difference is it’s not a huge, free lot right in front of a store. I would encourage anyone with questions about parking to call me.

Q: Are there particular things businesses owners opening a downtown location should keep in mind regarding review boards or commissions?

A: Yes, a business owner should keep in mind that all exterior work, such as signage, sidewalk dining or window replacements, must be approved by the Downtown Commission, which meets twice a month. Even some interior work must be submitted to the commission for review. It’s best to check with the landowner or directly with city staff who manage the commission.

Q: What kinds of incentives from the city are available to business owners?

A: The city has a menu of incentives bundled as the Mile On High Incentive Plan. These incentives include a façade improvement grant with free design service, a working capital loan, and a job growth incentive to name a few. As the name implies, these incentives pertain to an area surrounding High Street in downtown.

Q: What kinds of assistance can Capital Crossroads provide business owners?

A: We offer a great deal of services in the realms of cleaning, safety, neighborhood policing, outreach, marketing, and advocacy to property owners and business owners in our district. To name a few specifics, we remove graffiti, pick up litter, provide safety escorts, and help get the word out about newsworthy happenings at downtown businesses. We try to sit down with each new business to explain who we are and how to take advantage of our services. The list can get long!

Our mission is to make downtown a place where people want to live, work, and spend recreational time. We work for the property owners and businesses, so we are guided by their needs. The rush hour parking ban I mentioned is an example of responding to issues affecting downtown businesses.

Once this was brought to our attention, we studied it and made recommendations to the city to lift it in certain places to support our street-level businesses. We rely on this type of feedback from our constituency so we know where to focus our efforts.

Plus, I’m available as a resource and advocate for retailers. Downtown can be tricky to navigate, especially finding space that’s available. This is where I can be helpful. There are lots of hidden gems in downtown.

Kacey Brankamp can be contacted by email at [email protected] or by phone at 614-645-5095.

More information can be found at www.DowntownColumbus.com.