It's no big secret that our downtown area has been in decline for some years. As I've been out doorbelling, the single most asked question has been, "What are you going to do about our downtown?"
I'm putting the finishing touches on a proposed marketing plan for the downtown business core. I've run this by a number of the merchants there, and they have all seemed to agree it's a solid strategy that will work. Here's the Cliff Notes version, but after you read it, I'd like your feedback.
I believe we need to leverage our biggest asset downtown, which is obviously the marina. The Port of Bremerton has done a study showing the average boater spends $165 per day of moorage. The problem we have, is not enough spending opportunities for the kinds of things those boaters want and need when they're in port.
What I'm proposing is that we market downtown as a destination — the "Marina District" or something like that — and do it in much the same way a shopping mall is packaged. First come the "anchors." In a mall situation, that's Macy's, Nordstrom, Sears, etc. What we'll use for anchors are the kinds of businesses the boaters need — a grocery store, a marine supply store, a liquor store, etc. From there, we go out and actively recruit the kinds of businesses that are a good, long term "fit" in terms of downtown tourism, shopping, and serving the needs of both visiting and local boaters.
We do that by establishing a marketing committee comprised of representatives from the Port Orchard Bay Street Association, and the Chamber, along with an accountant to do the numbers and make a solid business case for the folks we'll be recruiting, and the mayor acting as the chief salesman, head cheerleader, and running interference with the city bureaucracy if necessary — which by then, will be operating with an entirely new, business-friendly attitude. After all, leadership and attitude do come from the top.
I had a meeting this week with a potential grocery store operator — two fellows who own a successful grocery store in another location. I had earlier called Monsour Samadpour, the owner of six buildings downtown, and he connected me with his representative here. We showed these two grocers three different sites — two belonging to Mr. Samadpour and one in the Coe Building on the corner of Sidney and Bay St. We then had lunch at Amy's with the two owners of the store, a commercial Realtor, and Amy. A couple of downtown merchants also stopped by to answer questions and help "sell" these fellows on Port Orchard.
We learned some invaluable things from this meeting that will help us with landing other potential merchants. Those include:
• The two gentleman we met with agreed our basic marketing plan is a good one that should work.
• They agreed the potential for a successful 9,000 to 12,000 square foot grocery store exists downtown.
• For a grocery store to be successful, the parking situation needs to be addressed at two of the three locations.
• In their view, downtown IS going to be revitalized. It's simply a case of "when" not "if."
• Redevelopment of downtown, which will bring more residents to the area, will only increase the chances of success.
While I didn't expect we would sign them on the dotted line during this initial meeting, I'm encouraged by the results of our first effort. We will continue to work on this and keep you posted. I welcome your feedback and suggestions.