Convenience, ease of access could attract business

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Associated Press

Posted on February 8, 2014 at 12:01 PM

Updated Saturday, Feb 8 at 12:01 PM

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Gulf Coast has room for more retail business, demographics show, but Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes said poaching stores from one city to another is not the way to go.

Crossroads Shopping Center in Gulfport recently lost retailer Bed Bath & Beyond to the newer Promenade shopping center in D'Iberville, which sits at the interchange of Interstates 10 and 110. The retailer's media relations department did not respond to questions about the move, but Hewes said he learned the store was offered a better rental arrangement at The Promenade.

"I don't think that's healthy when you're taking in the same retail market," said Hewes, who has promoted the concept of "One Coast" since he took office in July.

"I think there's enough to go around if we do it right. Certainly, we would like some of that new activity."

Harrison County and the entire coast, in fact, have room to increase the area's "sphere of influence" over shoppers, as they call it in the retail industry. Interstate 10 appears key in an industry in which growth is generally flat.

Convenience is everything in the retail world. Interstate 10 and its major intersections are natural locations for shopping centers.

As D'Iberville continues to develop around The Promenade, Biloxi and Gulfport have targeted more I-10 real estate within their boundaries for retail development.

"Interstate 10 changed behavior and made everyone more mobile," said Greg T. Bradley, assistant clinical professor in the College of Business at the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast and president of The Bradley Research Group.

"Quite honestly, we don't have a fully developed Interstate 10 corridor. I see a day when we continue to develop here. Certainly, the city of D'Iberville is moving in that direction.

"Instead of moving north to south, they're starting to move east and west on Interstate 10, which will increase our sphere of influence," Bradley said.

More retail centers along Interstate 10 means more people from surrounding areas will come to the coast to shop, he said.

"If you live equal distance between Hattiesburg and The Promenade," Bradley said, "where do you shop and why? That's the big question."

A bigger concentration of major retailers draws from a larger geographic area. For years, coast shoppers headed to New Orleans or Mobile. Those old habits continue to some extent, but as more retail develops along Interstate 10, the shoppers will have fewer reasons to leave South Mississippi.

Niche shopping areas in downtown Ocean Springs and Bay St. Louis also help draw more visitors.

Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties have room for retail growth, statistics show. The "pull factor" measures retail influence in a county or other specified area.

"A pull factor with a value greater than 1.0 indicates the retail businesses in the county are drawing in consumers and their dollars from surrounding areas," writes Corey Miller, economic analyst with the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning.

"On the other hand, a pull factor with a value less than 1.0 means residents of the county generally patronize more retail businesses outside the county."

Miller has analyzed pull factors for Mississippi counties.

The 2012 pull factors for the coast show Hancock at 0.81, Harrison at 1.19 and Jackson at 0.69. The numbers indicate New Orleans is still drawing shoppers from Hancock County. Jackson County residents shop Mobile and Harrison County attracts shoppers from outside its boundaries.

Retail development, however, is somewhat stagnant. Recovery from the recession — and the increasing popularity of Internet shopping — have dampened new construction.

"It's still pretty tough out there," said Chris Gerlach, director of public policy research for the International Council of Shopping Centers. "We're not back in the mid-2000s where everything is growing like gangbusters.

"In terms of shopping center development, it's very slow. There's almost no new development for shopping centers. The money that is being spent by owners and developers is mainly being spent to rehabilitate and refurbish existing centers."

He said high-end retail is doing well, as are dollar stores, but the middle class is not spending as it once did. Outlet centers, he said, also are experiencing growth. Gulfport is home to Gulfport Premiums Outlets off I-10 and U.S. Highway 49.

In addition to anchor tenants and other popular retail shops, developers are working to attract restaurants, entertainment options and service providers such as hair salons, gyms and even doctor's offices.

"Creativity is the name of the game, absolutely," said Jesse Tron, an ICSC spokesman. "Since the recession, because there were issues with vacancy rates, landlords have had to be very creative with how they structure their tenant mix."

Shopping center developers also see tourism as a big part of the customer mix on the coast. They particularly want to draw on the traffic casinos create.

"There's a high volume of traffic," said Dan Summerlin, director of corporate relations for CBL & Associates Properties Inc., developers of The Promenade and potentially another site off Interstate 10 in D'Iberville.

"You're not just building a shopping center for the existing community you're building for people who are coming in for the weekend or the week."

Edgewater Mall has long capitalized on the tourist trade, beginning with its unique location on the Biloxi waterfront. The mall's occupancy rate, said General Manager Terry Powell, is just over 90 percent — up from 2012.

The mall capitalizes on its indoor venue with events year-round. The popular Sand Sculpture Contest has sculptures on display at least through April.

Biloxi's position as a tourist destination creates a strong draw for retailers, Community Development Director Jerry Creel believes. Unlike D'Iberville, Creel said, Biloxi offers retailers no incentives to move to the city, except in areas along the waterfront where property and insurance are expensive.

"We believe that we're the regional draw for this area," he said. "I believe Biloxi draws people from other areas of the state and the country.

"There's a way here that everyone gets their part of that tourism or shopper's dollar."

Gulfport is marketing itself these days as a festival city. The city is advertising for an economic development director who Hewes hopes will help set Gulfport's agenda for attracting retail, including incentives that will be offered. The city's waterfront and downtown area received a post-Katrina boost with millions in spending for harbor and downtown facade renovations.

Hewes said, "We're looking for strong commercial and retail development to round out our portfolio."

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Information from: The Sun Herald, http://www.sunherald.com

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