How would Central look with concentrated housing?

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It was like being in the TV show “Numb3rs” only without all the cool graphics and chalkboards. But when New York retail consultant Michael Berne came back to “play with blocks” on Central Avenue March 6, algebra reigned.

The evening, arranged by Northeast Community Development Corporation, started (theoretically) with a model of the retail area as built now. Participants could add housing units to see what increased density might look like. The goal was to demonstrate what is called for in the latest Central Avenue plan, and see if participants, who were largely people who’ve been previously involved in the plan or economic development activities, liked what they saw.

The exercise was designed to show participants how they could express acceptable choices and explore different variables in the retail equation. For example, to support retail in all of the square footage that could be retail, one way to bring in enough shoppers would be to build lots of housing within walking distance of the Avenue.

Some of the elements used in the formulas:

• Retail sales per square foot: A “vibrant” commercial area produces $200 per year per square foot. Malls average $450 to $900. Central Avenue was assumed to get $130 per square foot based on retailers typically spending 10 percent of their income on rent, which averages $13/ft. in this area, Berne said.

• Capture rate: Assumed to be 10 percent of the available money in the area within walking distance. As an aside, Berne said the highest capture rate by product category in Northeast is liquor.

• Amount of square feet available for retail: 150,000, by comparison, three-quarters of a Super Target. The Quarry has 400,000 square feet, Berne said.


• Number of individuals within walking distance, the “immediate” area: 2,500. Within a “primary” area that takes in all of Northeast and part of North Minneapolis: 50,000 potential shoppers.

• Housing units per acre needed was based on household size and housing occupancy rates from “ESRI” data and a figure of 126 acres within walking distance.

There were some technical difficulties with the presentation – some of the existing buildings hadn’t been placed before the new units were added. A suggestion was made that the already-built be distinguished from the additional units by having a different color. But the purpose was served, as folks started to verbally play with the other variables.

A new angle explored: Look to a broader market area and encourage shops and services that would be destinations for those shoppers. That would require more parking and advertising in order to reach those shoppers who have choices of where to shop.

Then, the question was asked, “when you say there’s 150,000 square feet of retail, what do you consider retail? Most of the avenue is services, there’s really very little retail.” Berne answered that the square footage is the total of existing buildings’ space that could be used for retail. When he adjusted the number downward by about half, and plugged in other generally agreed to be reliable numbers such as capture rate, the amount of residents needed to keep the existing retail afloat was about the number of residents now within walking distance of the avenue. “Doo-wah!”

(Margo Ashmore is publisher of the Northeaster and active in Central Avenue planning efforts.)

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