Economic Development

The Retail Chase Q&A: Timothy Angell

Timothy Angell is the deputy director for community and economic development in Des Plaines, Illinois. He also co-chairs an Illinois committee on public-private partnerships for...
by | March 31, 2007

Timothy Angell is the deputy director for community and economic development in Des Plaines, Illinois. He also co-chairs an Illinois committee on public-private partnerships for the International Council of Shopping Centers. I spoke with him about mistakes municipalities make when talking to retailers, the do's and don'ts of ICSC's spring convention in Las Vegas, and why not every city can hope to get a Trader Joe's..

--Governing Associate Editor Christopher Swope

Why are communities so interested in attracting retailers?

It brings the municipality sales tax revenue, in states where they can collect sales taxes. And it brings in property tax revenue. But the bottom line is quality of life. In Des Plaines, we just updated our comprehensive land use plan and a component of it is a market study. In terms of retail we looked at all the types of retailers in our community and surrounding communities, whether it's bed and bath stores, electronics stores, office supplies, books, groceries, what have you. We said, OK, where's the hole in the donut for us? What retail niches don't we have that we'd be very likely to fill? Our residents don't necessarily like to get in their cars and drive 30 minutes to pick up a book. They want a diversity of stores.

Why is doing that market analysis so critical?

In our area, every suburb wants a Trader Joe's. Doing a market analysis is crucial to answer the question: Here's why we don't have it. Or: Here's why we could have it.

Communities need to look at their demographics. The retailer or the shopping center owner or the commercial realtor may say, well, you don't have the average median income we'd like to see. Or we've got a store next door in another community and we don't want to cannibalize those sales. Or you don't have the daytime population we like to see.

Municipalities have really got to understand their town. They have to think like a shopping center developer. They have to think of their retail mix, the price of the land, the leasing costs, their consumers, how long it takes to get from one side of the community to the other.

Have you ever been to the ICSC's spring convention in Las Vegas? What's it like?

My lord. I went in 2001, then in 2005 and again last year. It's like no conference I've ever been to. As I was walking the trade-show floor last year, it was so crowded that if I'd tripped and fallen, someone would have stepped on me.

What local officials often do is they go to the show, like my first year, and they walk around-I'm not exaggerating, it takes a day to walk the show. They look at booths of retailers, shopping center developers, commercial realty and brokerage booths. So the first year I went that's what I did.

And I learned what I ought to do. Starting in February, communities going out there should start calling or e-mailing either the retailers they're trying to attract, or if the stores are represented by a commercial broker, call or e-mail those folks and set up a time to meet at the show. Because these trade show booths are immense. Some literally have a reception area, and you go to the receptionist and it's, "Hi, I have a 2 p.m. appointment with Jill Smith." And they literally have individual suites in the booth. So you go in and shut the door and have a conference right there. It's immense. It boggles the mind.

What are some mistakes cities make in thinking about retail?

A common mistake a lot of elected and appointed officials make is they're around their commercial cores or downtowns during the day and don't think about what it looks like at night. And if you want retailers to stay open past 5 p.m., if you want restaurants that serve dinner and not just lunch, if you want nightlife, then you have to be concerned about details like streetscape, landscape, signage and lighting.

Another mistake municipalities make is when the economic development department is trying to get a retailer to come in, and OK, the retailer commits. Now the planning department beats them up. Whether it's the façade or the setbacks or the parking spaces, they get beat up. So municipalities have to understand that if they're going to reach out to retailers and developers there's a balance they have to achieve between economic development and aesthetics. Not that those have to be exclusive of each other.

I'd say to retailers, do your due diligence ahead. If you want to put a location in our community, call us first. Understand that we've got rules-we want the parking lot in back of the building, or we're going to ask you to have that shopping center LEED certified as a green building. Know that ahead of time.

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