Local governments and retailers together need to develop short- and long-term plans to use public open spaces to help retailers reopen, experts said on the recent ICSC Connect Virtual Series episode How Public and Non-Profit Partners Can Aid Retail Recovery.
Outdoor space is likely to become the new anchor for retail centers in the post-COVID-19 shopping environment, said Kosmont Cos. president Ken Hira, who co-chairs the ICSC P3 Advisory Board. As customers get more comfortable with being in enclosed spaces, indoor spaces meanwhile could serve as storage and staging areas, he said.
Downtown retailers will need outdoor space, too. “We created our own marketing campaign called Find Your Space Under the Sun,” said Downtown Santa Monica Inc. CEO Kathleen Rawson, who’s also chair-elect of the International Downtown Association. “It’s crucial that we can invite people back out. There’s pent-up demand.”
Rawson said cities will need to cut regulations to help retail businesses revamp to better serve changing needs. “Get out of the way as far as overregulating use of outdoor space for dining, for example,” she said. Local regulations also may need to change to accommodate rather than discourage automobiles and drive-thru services, she added. More people will be using their cars in the post-COVID-19 world, and many local ordinances that were designed to promote pedestrian activity make less sense, Rawson said. “How do we make sure people are welcomed no matter how they come to downtown?”
The Florida city of West Palm Beach has shut down some major roadways and is using its sidewalks and right-of-ways as outdoor dining and facility areas, said National League of Cities director of entrepreneurship and economic development Jennifer Steinfeld. “We’re figuring out how we can repurpose those outdoor spaces as de facto indoor spaces for the short and medium term.”
Cities and retailers must organize short-term strategies to manage the reopening process, including relaxing regulations. “If three parking stalls need to be utilized for outdoor dining for a restaurant, then that shouldn’t be a code violation,” Hira said. “If delivery or pickup needs to take place in a different fashion, then those things should be more acceptable.”
They also should communicate directly on long-term plans to address major societal and business changes that likely will result from the pandemic, he said. Examples could be relaxing overall parking requirements, being more flexible about which uses can blend on a site and closing roads to vehicle traffic to create pedestrian thoroughfares.
The full ICSC Connect Virtual Series episode is available here.
By Brannon Boswell