ULI’s Senior Resident Fellow and Bucksbaum Family Chair for Retail, Maureen McAvey, has been instrumental in leading the ULI Chicago Retail Initiative through its early stages. During a recent visit to Chicago, Maureen shared her thoughts on the challenges facing retailers and communities today and how ULI can help address these issues.
What retail issues are on your radar right now?
There are big demographic changes underway. One of the largest demographic cohorts today, Generation Y (people born between the early 1980s and early 2000s), is ethnically diverse and well-educated. Members of Generation Y are also good consumers and they are making the transition to marriage and parenthood. The question is how to serve the Generation Y community – are we meeting their needs? Another issue is the consolidation of large retailers. It will continue. Walmart is raising their minimum wage which will be good for their employees and will give the employees more spending power to put dollars back into the economy. Retailers are slow to create “omni channel” retail and have had little training in, or exposure to, this kind of delivery. Retailers are more willing to look at the small things in their stores such as design, colors and overall store layout. We can learn a lot from retailers in other areas and bring best practices to Chicago.
Based on the presentations at ULI Chicago’s Retail Workshop in the Fall of 2014, what stood out as unique to you about our suburban retail challenges?
Some retailers are trying experience-oriented retail or consolidating smaller retail locations into larger centers. Chicago suburbs have large avenues and no sidewalks which doesn’t help pedestrian-oriented retail. Also, communities don’t want to put apartments in retail corridors to create density of consumer population. Suburban communities lack the technical assistance or economic development staff to re-program vacant retail space. ULI can provide guidance on how the suburbs can use TIF financing or other government programs to spark development.
What aspects of Chicago’s suburban retail environment are similar to other cities/communities you have seen/studied?
Typically one sees retail along an entire arterial of a community. This is pretty common. A new trend is putting in other uses along the arterial and then heavy retail and possibly retail with mixed-use at the intersection. But we’re not seeing this yet in Chicago. Also, everyone struggles to figure out parking, getting in and out of a retail center as conveniently as possible, and a place that has ambience and a unique experience.
What upcoming projects are you working on?
I’m starting a creative financing effort next month. We’ll look at 8-10 projects around the country and ask, how did it get started, what type of project it is, how did it get completed? We’ll look at other projects that didn’t get started, that never went ahead, and determine why. There are retail pockets everywhere throughout the U.S. that are doing well and many that are not doing well. We need to take the lessons learned from the successful projects and share them with others.
Read the newest ULI Retail Report, Retail in Underserved Communities, authored by Maureen McAvey and Bridget Lane, ULI Chicago Member and Director, Business Districts Inc.
Authored by K.C. Wigle, W.E. O’Neil Construction Co. and ULI Chicago Communications Committee member