Downtown Dynamics: Experts scrutinize what works-and what doesn’-in Up North’s cities and towns.

Downtown Dynamics

Leland has quaint, historic Fishtown but must to find a way to connect that district to its downtown shops. Traverse City? A thriving downtown, but one that needs to reach westward into shops and eateries on that side of town. And though Pearl's restaurant is one of Elk Rapids' biggest draws, it sits more than a mile from the village's central shopping district. This is just a sampling of what we heard from The Strategic Edge's Joan Primo and Jay Wedeven, experts in retail and real estate consulting, who weighed in on the region's downtowns. What does each district have going for it? How can each grow and expand? Read on…

About the Experts

Joan Primo and Jay Wedeven are the founders and principals of The Strategic Edge, a consulting firm with an extensive national and international client roster.?Established in 1989, The Strategic Edge provides experienced, professional and value-based retail and real estate consulting for developers, retailers, and municipalities. The Strategic Edge focuses on market screenings, feasibility studies, site evaluations, sales forecasting, and tenant mix and positioning strategies. Joan, a graduate of Wellesley College, received her MBA from Harvard Business School; Jay, a graduate of Calvin College, received his MBA from the University of Michigan.

Traverse City – Founded 1847


– 121 retail (63 percent)

– 48 restaurant (25 percent)

– 24 personal services (12 percent)


State Theatre, Horizon Books, Cherry Republic


– DDA and DTCA structures

– Farmers market

– Warehouse district

– Location relative to traffic arteries

– Proximity to the waterfront

– Wayfinding with detailed, up-to-date signage/maps around downtown

– Numerous dining options

– Downtown festivals and events


– Finding an appropriate anchor for the west end of the downtown

– Retaining the unique/ balanced character of strong local tenants

– Potential incongruity of tenant mix that would appeal to both residents and

ourist/seasonal residents

– Difficulty leasing to national tenants with existing regional shopping centers (radius


Experts' Analysis: Traverse City has a well-developed tenant mix, and its opportunity is clear: to be the dominant retail- and restaurant- destination for the region. Key to achieving that is keeping the downtown fresh with new, innovative restaurants and retailers, while maintaining the mix of established tenants. One key not yet in place? An anchor for the west side of the downtown. Of course, should the much-ballyhooed West End parking deck ever rise from the asphalt (see p. 15), there's a good chance Jerry Snowden's $14 million RiverWest project-a proposed mix of commercial office space, residential units, restaurant and theater-would finally rise with it. Otherwise, anchors away.

Elk Rapids – Founded 1837


– 22 retail (67 percent)

– 9 restaurant (27 percent)

– 2 personal services (6 percent)


Public marina, Harbor Antiques


– Upgraded streets and parking: one side parallel, the other side angled


– Well-identified parking with good signage

– Attractive storefronts with significant façade improvements to some

– Good wayfinding signage

– Adjacent to the waterfront and marina

– Post office right in heart of downtown


– Physical separation from traffic on U.S.-31, which allows vehicular traffic to

easily bypass the downtown

– Limited residential options in the downtown itself

– Physical separation from the neighborhood/traditional shopping area along

and on the other side of U.S.-31

– Seasonal nature of the upscale condominium residents and marina boaters

– Big-draw antique store and Pearl's restaurant are concentrated on or across

U.S.-31, away from the downtown.

Experts' Analysis: Downtown Elk Rapids might want to capitalize on its Lake Michigan shoreline and anchoring marina by establishing a more nautical theme for the restaurants and retail-either by the merchandise itself, through advertising and displays, or by architecture. The challenge, of course, is to capitalize on the seasonal opportunities, while maintaining the appeal to year-round residents. To the extent possible, the goal should be to drive traffic from U.S.-31 into Downtown Elk Rapids.

Kalkaska – Founded 1872


– 10 retail (59 percent)

– 2 restaurant (12 percent)

– 2 personal services (6 percent)


Community uses, Woodland Furniture


– Strong outdoor focus

– Many community-use destinations-post office, Chamber of Commerce,

museum and library-located downtown


– Too few businesses in the core downtown

– Critical mass downtown made more difficult because downtown is bracketed by

strip commercial centers at north and south end.

– Few tourists and seasonal residents with disposable, discretionary income

Experts' Analysis: Kalkaska does not have a dominant downtown. Their tourism is mostly sports and recreation related, with few summer residents maintaining homes in the area. Though Woodland Furniture acts as anchor, it is quite a distance from the downtown and primarily benefits from the vehicular traffic passing through to many of these northern Michigan communities.

Suttons Bay – Founded 1854


– 26 retail (60 percent)

– 13 restaurant (30 percent)

– 4 personal services (9 percent)


Bahle's, Edward's Furniture, Enerdyne, The Bay Theatre, many restaurants


– Upscale appeal of the apparel tenants

– Gallery concentration on the north side of downtown

– Strong restaurant concentration as one enters Downtown from south

– There is an area of upgraded, consistent facades

– Downtown is directly on the main traffic artery (M-22)

– Strong community and other services are directly in the downtown

(post office, dry cleaners, funeral home).


– Seasonal nature of many of the patrons

– There are several large space users mid-block which detract from the

walkability of downtown.

Experts' Analysis: Suttons Bay has a strong tenant mix, and provides a good alternative to nearby Traverse City. But as with many northern downtowns, making the most of seasonal opportunities, while maintaining the appeal to year-round residents is essential for downtown Suttons Bay. The village would do well to extend the façade improvements to other downtown blocks and buildings, to enhance the streetscape, and to incorporate wayfinding on downtown maps.

Leland – Founded 1853


– 43 retail (90 percent)

– 4 restaurant (8 percent)

– 1 personal service (2 percent)


Historic Fishtown, Bluebird Restaurant, Leland Harbor House, Mercantile Trading Company.


– Historic Fishtown is a very unique destination

– Port for Manitou Islands

– Community/cultural facilities (community cultural center, township library,

historical museum) are concentrated downtown

– Art and gift galleries.


– The seasonal nature and character of Historic Fishtown

– Parking may be limited in high season

– Historic Fishtown could be physically or conceptually better connected to

the downtown.

Experts' Analysis: Like Kalkaska, Leland is an outlier, but for vastly different reasons. Leland has many very small retail establishments, many of which are in Historic Fishtown. Downtown Leland would likely benefit by improving the linkages and gateway to Historic Fishtown along River Street and to enhance the overall streetscape.

Frankfort – Founded 1850


– 25 retail (63 percent)

– 11 restaurant (28 percent)

– 4 personal service (10 percent)


Betsie Bay Furniture, restaurants, TK hardware store, TK drug store, TK variety store, and the Garden Theater


– Proximity to and signage off of M-22 is good

– Community facilities (library, post office, chamber of commerce, city

hall) are located as one enters downtown from M-22 and on the main

downtown blocks

– Banners in front of selected businesses/stores

– Proximity to highly visible waterfront

– Residential concentration in and near downtown

– Ample parking – on-street and adjacent surface lots

– Mix of large and small space users.


– Some older buildings need repairs/paint

– Unsightly environmental issues which remain in areas adjacent to the


– Due to the seasonal nature of the community, there are a large number of

businesses closed off-season.

Experts' Analysis: The opportunity for Downtown Frankfort is to reinforce linkages to the marina and adjacent parking, to enhance the streetscape, and to capitalize on seasonal opportunities, while maintaining the appeal to year-round residents.