By Scott Sullivan
A Douglas retail and housing market study released Monday shows both have unmet potential and details ways the city might better meet them.
The 402-page document, commissioned by Douglas Dec. 3 for as much as $29,000 — assesses downtown, waterfront and urban neighborhood developments.
In it, LANDUseUSA planning consultant Sharon Woods provides data and blueprint options for Douglas leaders — who themselves will change with manager Bill LeFevere’s impending retirement — to choose among, pursue and adapt where needed.
The city — with eyes on the now-acquired former Haworth site, new public marinas at Wade’s Bayou and Point Pleasant, plus more — hired Woods to “acquire information and develop a comprehensive strategy that will provide a foundation for informed decision making.”
Woods, who founded LANDUseUSA in 2008, has 28 years of professional experience and has personally conducted 65 target market analyses in the last five years across Michigan.
The document leads discussing her methodology: an analytical approach plus fieldwork and stakeholder interviews held during local visits. It compares and assesses empirical external and external models.
The housing market “reflects a paradox,” the study says. “It is difficult to measure the in-migration of low-to-moderate income workers when there are no current choices to attract them. They simply cannot afford to live in Douglas; and there is nothing available to rent even if they search.”
Woods adjusts by “measuring the market ‘bonus’ that could be achieved by intercepting households demonstrating an inclination to live in the neighboring City of Saugatuck, Saugatuck Township, Fennville and other (nearby jurisdictions).”
It sees a minimum market potential for at least 10 new-build, for-lease housing units annually, involving new households moving into Douglas seeking new choices with 12-month leases. Of these, three should be accessory dwellings, four townhouses and three urban lofts in or very near downtown.
An “aggressive scenario” including internal movers might add as many as 10 for-lease units yearly. Such an approach, says the study, “will depend on developing new and missing housing formats that are truly unique; plus aggressive advertisement within the local market.
“It is an unusually bold and sometimes risky approach, so developers are advised to test its limits with caution,” the study says.
Similarly, Woods identifies a market potential for 10 “attainably-priced” residential units annually that could be owned or leased by seasonal nonresidents.
There is further potential for at least 20 new-build for-sale units yearly, among them 10 small- to medium-sized houses, five cottages arranged around a courtyard and five attached cottages, says the study.
This could be doubled assuming a “bonus” that new projects are very effective attracting households now more inclined to move into neighboring jurisdictions.
“In practice,” says Woods, “it must be supported by the development of housing formats that are truly unique and aggressively advertised throughout the county. Again, developers are advised to test its limits cautiously.”
The study also discusses nonresident market potential and luxury waterfront estates, the latter $800,000-plus detached mansion-style houses that comprise a “niche” market up and down the Lake Michigan shore “and should be planned only in locations that offer the most spectacular views and settings.”
Rents and values studies show that smallest Douglas units, say a 300-square-foot loft or accessory dwelling with vista views, might be able to capture rents of about $2.11 per square foot, or roughly $634 per month. A similar unit that does not have a view or lake breeze might capture $1.58 per square foot, or $475 per month.
The rent per square foot will decline as the total unit size increases, notes the study. “Among lofts and accessory dwellings, units larger than 1,150 square feet are not recommended,
“This is intentionally designed to keep monthly rents attainable and tolerable for year-round residents with lower-to-moderate incomes,” it continues. “These target markets include working singles of all ages, and they fill essential roles in the service, restaurant, hospitality, merchant, artisan and entrepreneurial industries.
“In order to provide attainably- and tolerably-priced for sale units,” the study goes on, “small townhouses should be developed with as little as 500 square feet. The smallest, without views or lake breezes, could begin at $160,000; larger units could be $280,000. Units with views and lake breezes would have a price premium, with the largest ones commanding as much as $400,000.”
It recommends footprints for detached houses also be small, starting with 500-square-foot cottages and 750-sf. tiny houses. Few, if any, should approach 1,600 sf.
“These,” it says, “may be zero-step, barrier-free patio homes designed as age-in-space hosing for early retirees, empty nesters and active seniors, plus single homeowners of all ages.
“None of the developments, projects or communities should be designated for ages 55-plus,” the study goes on. “Instead, they should be developed with diversity in mind, and appealing to a range of couples and singles of all ages, incomes and walks of life.
“Similarly, senior independent living and assisted living apartment complexes are not recommended — at least not until a small hospital (or urgent care center with emergency services) opens in the market.”
“Retail is not dead,” the study says, just changing. “The reality is that shoppers are demanding an enjoyable shopping experience that engages all of the senses, and conventional big-box formats have failed to deliver.
“Consumers are abandoning conventional chains and finding more enjoyable experiences online and in traditional downtown districts. They are also exploring town centers and other urban places in search of unique merchandise, high service, convenience and added value with restaurants and entertainment venues,” it continues.
The study identifies potential in Douglas for:
- A hardware store (up to 14,000 square feet).
- Pharmacy (up to 8,000 sf.).
- Automotive parts and supply store (up to 8,000 sf).
- Five-and-dime or general store (up to 8,000 sf.).
- Camping and kayaking outfitters store (up to 4,000 sf.).
- Small hobby and game stores (up to 2,000 sf.).
- Party supplies, costumes and event planning (up to 3,000 sf.).
- Ready-to-assemble furniture (up to 6,000 sf.).
- International specialty grocery store (up to 3,000 sf.).
- Apparel and fashion accessories (up to 3,000 sf.).
The document notes new retail anchors and merchants can be either downtown or along Blue Star Highway; but recommends any new buildings developed along Center Street be guided by a new downtown subarea plan regulating placement and ratios of parking, on-street parking, sidewalks, build-to lines, scale and height, facade treatments, exterior materials, etc.
“These types of guidelines can help ensure the new stores are helping create a sense of place and enjoyable shopping environment, and will help prevent the development of formats that undermine the city’s unique character.”
It recommends retail strategies to improve the mix of specialty food choices that meet needs of year-round and seasonal residents, plus guests and vacationers.
“One or two new restaurants are supportable in the market,” the study says, “but only if they offer unique cuisine, theme and entertainment value.
“Only one restaurant is recommended at a new municipal marina, and it should be matched with at least one new restaurant in the downtown. The city should also anticipate interest from national chain and fast-food restaurants, and ensure that regulating plans and ordinances are in place to address that possibility.”
Entertainment venues consistent with the city’s Waterfront Plan might include programming new marinas with day cruises, fishing charters, boat rental and novelty boating venues.
The study suggests incubating a vineyard within or close to the city, plus adding a chapel and commercial kitchen that can be rented for special events and catered by the vineyard, local chiefs and/or restaurants/delis.
It recommends trolleys and bike-share programs be added at the marinas and docks, plus display boards of maps guiding patrons along clearly-marked routes.
“The city’s antique market, musical events and any future farmers market should stay in the downtown and not be relocated out to a new marina,” says the study. “These amenities are needed to convert visitors into shoppers for downtown merchants.”
For the latter, Woods recommends best-business practices including:
- Maintain diligent and reliable store hours, often staying open until 7 p.m. or later.
- Maintain reliable days of business, including Sundays and throughout the season.
- Proprietors should park remotely, never taking a space from a prospective customer.
- Always speak positively about the downtown and cross-promote whenever possible.
- Provide unique goods, convenience, high service levels and experience — not low price.
- Convenience: easy to find locations, two-way traffic, front door parking, walkable setting.
- Convenience: synergistic benefits of retail clustering, and avoiding retail fragmentation.
- Service: phone orders, in-store orders, social media communication, cross marketing, etc.
- Unique: artisan and hand-crafted products, locally made or grown, made in the USA.
- Experience: scents contemporary music, tastings, rest areas and restrooms, etc.
Woods, who appeared at a stakeholders’ open house Monday in city hall, promised to remain available to locals to answer questions and as a resource. “I have an investment myself in seeing this succeed,” she said.
The complete study may be found on the city’s website ci.douglas.mi.us.