New initiative in place to revitalize downtown Battle Creek

Prospective retailers who want to locate in downtown Battle Creek have a new tool to get them up on their feet.

Battle Creek Unlimited has launched the Battle Creek Downtown Partnership and asked it to reinvigorate the downtown. The first tool it has been given is a new Retail Acceleration Program, designed to reduce the downtown's 35 percent retail vacancy rate.

The program will help fledgling retailers with assistance paying their rent. In return, they must participate in training and mentoring, and maintaining specific hours. They also must complete a business plan, as businesses that have plans are most likely to succeed.

“The planning process will help them discover what is required to meet their sales goals, and whether those goals are attainable,” says John Schmitt, consultant with the SBDC.

Each participant will work with an existing downtown business owner who will act as a mentor, helping them navigate the early years of operation after they have opened their doors.

Battle Creek Downtown Partnership also is working with the Battle Creek Area Chamber of Commerce to provide ongoing training for the participants.

With the announcement of the program, applications are now being accepted, says Rob Petersen, Downtown Development Director for Battle Creek Unlimited. Meetings are already under way with those who have expressed an interest. There is funding to support three or four businesses over the next 12 months.

The program is designed to encourage retailers who will bring something new to downtown--unique, hard-to-find and one-of-a-kind items. Petersen says that downtown's succeed when they attract businesses that sell unique or unusual items that people like to touch and feel before they purchase them, which they cannot do if they are buying online. "We still like to engage all five senses," Petersen says.

To bring back the downtown will take some redevelopment of spaces that currently is not move-in ready for retailers.

Petersen says the former J.C. Penny property is a good example. The building is about 15,000 square feet and most retailers need only about 1,200 to 1,500 square feet. With an anchor tenant and a number of smaller retailers the property could be brought back into the retail mix.

“Our goal is to see downtown Battle Creek grow,” says Team Active owner Mike Wood, who participated in the planning process for the program.

“Retail is the psychological barometer of a downtown’s health,” says Peterson. “There can be great things happening all around, but if the storefronts are empty, people perceive downtown is not doing well.”

Source: Rob Peterson, Battle Creek Unlimite
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