Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Florence advised: Un-Mall

Consultant tells city to upgrade retail

By Brenna R. Kelly
Enquirer staff writer

FLORENCE - Stop calling it Mall Road.

That's the first thing Florence should do to save the aging retail center of the city.

"It has a commodity connotation to it," said Stan Eichelbaum, the city's retail consultant. "It's like Thing Road."

Eichelbaum, president of Marketing Developments Inc., who is charged with helping Florence keep and attract stores and restaurants, presented his ideas to City Council on Tuesday night.

Though Florence has long been the retail center of Northern Kentucky, that position is threatened by new projects including a "lifestyle" shopping center under construction in Crestview Hills, he said.

Similar projects are proposed in Crescent Springs and Erlanger, and all are competing for retailers.

"The recruiting wars are on," Eichelbaum said.

"The next 90 to 180 days will decide Florence's level of dominance and endurance."

In order to compete, Florence needs to market itself to retailers and the public, work with owners of Mall Road's buildings, and improve the aesthetics of the road, he said.

A study completed last fall called for transforming the corridor over the next several years into a tree-lined pedestrian district with high-end retail, restaurants, a new movie theater and townhomes.

After the study, the city hired Eichelbaum to take a more practical approach to redevelopment, considering that the road is already developed and the buildings privately owned.

But Florence can show the owners how renovating their buildings or expanding them will pay off, Eichelbaum said.

City officials and Eichelbaum have also had several meetings with General Growth, owner of Florence Mall. He did not say if the company had agreed to improve the nearly 30-year-old mall.

Among Eichelbaum's other recommendations:

• Florence should market itself as an area the size of Lexington; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Des Moines, Iowa, instead of as a suburb of Cincinnati.

• Change Mall Road's name.

Suggestions include Mall Boulevard, Bluegrass Boulevard or Florence Boulevard.

• Florence needs to attract higher-end retail to keep area residents from driving to Kenwood Towne Centre or Rookwood Commons to shop.

"We want the people who live in the area to do all their shopping here," said Mayor Diane Whalen.

The next step will be a brainstorming session the city will hold later this month.

Architects from Miami-based Beame Architects will come to Florence for three days to assess the road and explore ideas for development and redevelopment.

The session will cost the city about $44,000 for the architects, their travel and time to compile recommendations.

The city is paying Eichelbaum $31,600 and a monthly consulting fee of $2,400.


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