By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor
Delray Beach has no shortage of tourists, shoppers and residents frequenting its downtown daily.
But a new study by urban retail expert Robert Gibbs recommends ways the city can turn Atlantic Avenue into even more of a “world class speciality shopping district.”
“You are a world class shopping destination and you need to look like it,” Gibbs told city commissioners during a recent presentation of his 50-page study.
Paid for by the Delray Beach Downtown Development Authority, which is responsible for marketing the city’s downtown, the study is the second part of an overview of the city’s downtown retail market.
Gibbs of the Gibbs Planning Group identified the downtown’s potential for growth and ways for merchants to bring more money into their stores. He presented his findings of the first part of the study at the end of 2017 and the shopability study in February.
When it comes to the city’s ability to market Atlantic Avenue to people as a destination to visit, Gibbs said the city should follow its own rules when it comes to how storefronts look and offered ways the city can improve the overall look of the downtown.
He said the landscaping is not as good as it could be “for the caliber of restaurants and shops you have here.”
“The mulch is made of shredded shipping containers dyed red,” he said. “You wouldn’t have that in your yard. We recommend you go to higher standards.”
Other quick fixes include making the garbage cans more uniform in appearance as well as the bike racks and light poles.
“It sends a message that this isn’t a shopping district, this is just a bunch of shopping centers,” he said of the mis-matched downtown furnishings. “The trash cans are really below industry standards. They are overflowing with garbage. This is just a turn-off for the local resident and for your tourists that are coming here.”
Part of the study was geared toward addressing the topic of national chains opening downtown. Gibbs said the city should look at the one-third model for its retailers, one-third local, one-third regional and one-third national.
“We are OK with you getting national chains in the downtown area,” he said. “As long as the storefronts are designed to look like specialty retailers. Don’t disallow them just make sure that they look really nice.”
He said Delray can look toward places like Charleston, Nantucket and Carmel by the Sea for ideas on how to balance a national presence with a local flair.
“You have a code that regulates store front designs,” he said. “You have some extraordinary ones.”
For the buildings built before the code that requires a certain amount of clear, transparent glass in the storefront, he suggested implementing a grant program that helps owners pay for the cost of replacing the glass and requiring it be done by a certain date.
The biggest area for improvement Gibbs said is parking.
“Parking is the No. 1 issue people said overwhelmed them when they come downtown,” he said.
He said the city needs to implement a comprehensive parking strategy, which is something the city has struggled with doing for the past several years. The city hired a consultant to look at a parking management plan and strategy for downtown.
“Many of your adopted plans need to be implemented,” he said. “Follow what your plans already call for. A lot of recommendations we are making have been recommended by prior studies.”
He said parking times and rates need to be more uniform and clearly displayed on better way finding signage. He recommended metering Atlantic Avenue and giving a thank you note as a first offense for a parking violation and then progressively ticketing fees for repeat offenders.
He said many visitors can’t distinguish a public parking lot from a private lot and many end up with boots on their cars or tickets because the signs are confusing.
“The average shopper has limited ability to read and follow directions,” he said. “They are surprised to get a ticket. It’s too confusing.”
Another area ripe for improvement is the downtown parking garage, which can be the first impression people receive when heading to Atlantic Ave. During the study, he said the elevator in the garage was broken for five days in a row, the stairwells were dirty and the garage was poorly lit. He said that can leave a bad impressions on customers.
Other areas that raised concerns for Gibbs included the uneven brick pavers that can be as narrow as two feet in some places, worn down paint at pedestrian cross and too much outdoor dining. He said the sidewalks can feel clogged and too narrow for people in wheelchairs or pushing strollers.
These areas can be fixed with enforcement of the city’s rules, he said.
To add some new ideas, he said the city should allow pop-up shops and continue to support creative signs outside of businesses.
“The part we are recommending is the easy part,” he said. “It takes a lot of backbone to do it.”