Empty Brooks Landing storefronts

In December 2009, the Brooks Landing community in the 19th Ward looked forward to new stores that were supposed to move in by spring and promote economic growth in the neighborhood. Yet almost a year later, the stores remain vacant with “For Rent” signs still sitting in the windows. While there are 21 stores in the area with active businesses, seven out of the nine new storefronts are lacking tenants. The problem? The economy.

“Business in general slowed down, people were less willing to make commitments and they were less able to get financing,” UR Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Ronald Paprocki said. “So the business downturn has affected the pace of the leasing of that space.”

The slow economy has affected retailers across the country, but Brooks Landing, especially, has been kept from growing as the tenants would need anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 to convert the existing spaces into usable retail space.

The developer for Brooks Landing and The Sector 4 Community Development Corporation, integral in making improvements in the area, are planning for local vendors to move into the storefronts. Since the financial crisis, however, finding funding for a small business has been difficult — a factor that makes the jump from empty storefront to functioning store even more of a challenge.

“When you’re talking about a local company or a company that maybe has one location, it’s a little bit of a stretch for a bank to give additional financing if you don’t have 50 stores around the country,” Vice Chair for the Sector 4 Community Development Corporation Josanne Reaves said. “It’s a different game.”

The development in this area is being planned privately, by developer Ron Christenson of The Christenson Development Corporation. Because UR is a sizeable consumer, the University has taken an interest in its development, with students, visitors and employees living in or near the 19th Ward. Paprocki especially has worked closely with Christenson, often offering ideas for tenants. It has been compared to the UR College Town project that is being planned on Mount Hope, despite several differences between the projects. Unlike the Brooks Landing project, UR owns land there, but is currently searching for a developer. The outlook for Mt. Hope is also different from Brooks Landing — due to the location on a busy street and proximity to Strong Hospital, the retailers are expected to be more national.

For Brooks Landing, the economy has left the area empty, but certainly not forgotten. It has already come a long way from the run-down area that it was before. According to City Councilmember-at-large Dana Miller, the vendors, which include restaurants, have been identified to fill the storefronts.

Once the stores were built on Genesee Street, the prospect of new business brought energy into the area. At that point, Christenson was hopeful that businesses would be up and running as of January of this year. After 10 months, progress has been kept in the discussion stage when it comes to obtaining new businesses, but the Brooks Landing community is still optimistic that the area will be completed.

“The developer, the Sector 4 Community Development Corp and the community are working daily to locate and recruit suitable tenants,” Miller said. “We hope to make announcements in the near future.”

While this sentiment is all too familiar to those who have been following the development around Brooks Landing, community members are just looking for continued progress.

Resident Dave Etzel owns the Jim Dalberth Sporting Goods store on Genesee Street that used to be located where the vacant buildings are now. While he says business has been “fair,” the vacant storefronts are a missing economic opportunity.

“[The empty stores are] affecting business for everyone,” Etzel said. “I don’t know exactly why they haven’t been able to rent them because they’ve had a lot of people interested in them. I think maybe if the economy’s hurting they should … be a little more aggressive to get somebody in there.”

Olfano is a member of the class of 2012.

Leber is a member of the class of 2011.

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