SECOND IN A SERIES
By TOM HONIG
It's enough to make a business person salivate: the new Santa Cruz Retail Market Study says that the city is capable of picking up some $237 million in additional sales annually just by changing a few policies and attracting new retail to Santa Cruz.
Also capable of salivating would be those who operate or support some of the many social services in town: that additional business would mean a lot more tax revenue for the cash-strapped city of Santa Cruz.
All this is part of a report by retail expert Robert Gibbs, who has completed the study for the city recently and spent several days last week meeting with a number of business and local government representatives.
As described here earlier, Gibbs reported that a huge amount of local dollars -- as much as $1.8 billion annually -- is leaking over the hill to places like Valley Fair and Santana Row.
However, a number of Gibbs' recommendations are sure to make a number of Santa Cruzans sweat a bit.
--Item: Gibbs reports that much of the growth can come from chain stores in the downtown area and even more "big box" stores somewhere up on the Mission Street side of town. Certain segments of our population -- even mainstream Santa Cruzans -- aren't completely comfortable with the addition of chain stores. Yet Gibbs concludes that these chains would actually help support many of the locally owned retail shops now in business here.
--Item: It's hard for anyone other than locals to find their way around. It's been widely reported that Gibbs suggests changes to Pacific Avenue to make it a two-way street. He also has found that directional signs are confusing and the main shopping areas -- Pacific Avenue, Soquel Avenue and Mission Street -- are actually hidden away from visitors.
--Item: An old subject, well told: vagrants downtown. This is hardly a surprise to anyone in Santa Cruz, because vagrancy on Pacific Avenue has been discussed for years. But what isn't going to change is this: the County Jail, the County Hospital, the Homeless Shelter and a number of other services are all located in Central Santa Cruz. And people leave these facilities daily, so they're right here in downtown.
--Item: A large number of people work outside the county. Simply put: you make more money in San Jose than you do in Santa Cruz. And people shop near their workplace -- often more than they do at home. Until more jobs come to Santa Cruz, that won't change.
--And: There's a perception among large retail executives that Santa Cruz is a tough place to do business. Strong codes and stringent permitting has created that image outside of Santa Cruz. Local officials insist that red-tape has been cut and that the city is easy to work with, but that word somehow hasn't reached the retail world. Add to that a political climate in which some community members fight growth of any kind, and it's easy to see why that tough reputation is out there.
But here's where the Gibbs report is valuable. It's good information, based on solid research not easily refuted. The report -- available right here -- ought to be the basis of a good communitiy discussion.
No, we don't want to base every decision on its economic impact. But the city of Santa Cruz needs more revenue, and Gibbs has provided a roadmap on how to get there.