While researching downtown’s independent businesses for this issue’s “Heights Highlight,” the New Heights staff was introduced to Ellen Brown, co-owner of the Old Tampa Book Company and respected, vocal member of the Tampa Independent Business Alliance (TIBA). Since one of our goals is to encourage community participation in the magazine, we asked Ellen to personally share her thoughts with our 20,000 readers from an insider’s perspective. – Jay McGee, editor
What do you get when you mix new high-rise condos with historic urban housing; then line the streets with one-of-a-kind boutiques, shops, galleries and restaurants? For some cities, like Austin, Tex., Chattanooga, Tenn. and Charleston, S.C., it’s a successful formula for revitalizing a once dilapidated downtown district into a location visited and enjoyed by residents and tourists from near and far.
It’s also a formula that appears in Tampa’s 2005 Vision & Action Plan, which was sponsored by the city and the Tampa Downtown Partnership ((TDP) an organization created by the city to promote downtown revitalization). This sits fine with me, but my concern lies in the methodology being used to implement the plan and the types of businesses it will attract.
Many city officials shaping downtown share a philosophy that “retail will follow roofs” and that only minimal government participation is required. To that end, their focus has been to encourage developers to build condos.
But now that SkyPoint Condos has been built (and occupied) and the Element is in its construction phase, what kind of retail businesses will follow? More to the point, what kind of businesses do we want to follow?
Let’s not pretend there isn’t a difference between ubiquitous national chains and unique, independent stores. There are plenty, but perhaps the most prominent is the latter’s commitment to the community over the stockholder.
According to the Washington Post, an increase in independently-owned local businesses would boost downtown Tampa’s economy. There is a more personal reason for this than potential tax revenue or income streams from built, bought or leased commercial space. Because independents invest their own time, money and emotion into the city to grow their business, they are more likely than national chains to spend their money to support other local businesses, charities and community institutions.
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Rae Anna Conforti and Michelle Jordan
Prudential Tropical Realty