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Business Observer Friday, Sep. 13, 2019 10 months ago

Shopping districts seek new marketing strategies

Shopping centers in the region look to improve the tenant mix.

Property owners in downtown Sarasota and St. Armands Circle are looking to shopping malls for inspiration on marketing vacant spaces in the commercial districts.

The Downtown Improvement District and St. Armands Business Improvement District have both discussed hiring an outside firm to promote available real estate in hopes of attracting quality tenants. The strategy calls for marketing each area as one unified destination — a tactic designed to get each district on the radar of businesses beyond the Sarasota area.

The DID recently heard a presentation from the man who helped devise the concept: Paul Rutledge,  Tampa-based senior vice president at commercial real estate brokerage firm JLL. Rutledge got in contact with the St. Armands BID after the group expressed a desire to more effectively market the retail space on the Circle, according to a story in the Sarasota Observer, sister paper of the Business Observer. 

Rutledge believes the ideal strategy would mirror one used by malls. If leaders promoted the entire area as a singular entity, property owners could pool resources — in this case, tax revenue the BID and DID generate — to enhance their promotional outreach. Rather than looking at one property, a potential tenant could look at entire district. 

One major difference between a shopping center and these Sarasota districts, of course, is the number of property owners. Malls tend to have one owner who can strategically plan the retail mix. St. Armands Circle has over 60 different property owners.

Rutledge, who acknowledged getting varied property owners to team up could pose a challenge, proposed a 12-month, $120,000 contract to the BID for promotional services. The price drew some concern from BID members, who proposed teaming up with the downtown group to split the expenses, according to the Observer story. 

Real estate broker Ian Black with Ian Black Real Estate, speaking at the Sept. 3 meeting, balked at the notion of hiring an outside real estate firm to promote local properties. He suggested the plan represented a taxpayer subsidy of JLL’s entry into the Sarasota market and says a national firm lacks the knowledge of downtown and St. Armands that local real estate companies offer.

Black, at the meeting, added his company already takes similar steps to market its properties and reach interested tenants. Rutledge countered that a larger firm, such as JLL, had more points of contact than local companies. For Black, that's not necessarily a good thing. “We’re different,” Black said. “We’re eclectic down here. That’s what sets us apart.”

BID and DID board members are interested in exploring the concept. In addition to concern about current vacancies, both groups hope the marketing angle could help improve the character of each district. “It’s not about getting national tenants,” BID Chairman Gavin Meshad said. “It’s about getting a better quality of tenants.”


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