Friday, November 26, 2010

TOP STORY >> Mayor attends conference for retail growth

Leader staff writer

Before leaving on a trip to a retail-development conference in Texas last week, Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher said he had the team with him to make any possible deal.

The regional meeting, Nov. 17-19, was titled the Texas Conference and Deal Making.

Now a week after the conference there is no locked in deal, but a lot of maybes and some planned visits by retailer developers.

Fletcher, along with Jim Durham, the city’s director of administration, Jay Whisker, the city engineer, and Rickey Hayes, the city’s economic consultant, spent three days at the conference near Dallas.

“It was real productive,” the mayor said. “There are a lot of people interested in Jacksonville.”

On Wednesday, Fletcher was busy gathering aerial photos and other data various developers wanted as they consider making a move to Jacksonville.

Fletcher said it was the team’s job to get the word out about Jacksonville to all the movers and shakers at the conference. “We have a story to tell and we have to go out and tell to everyone and anyone willing to listen. Gone is the day where we could sit at home and businesses would come to us,” the mayor said.

“I think we did a good job letting them know about Jacksonville,” he added.

He said Jacksonville was the only town in Arkansas that sent a delegation to the conference.

“There are 500 cities and towns in Arkansas and with us the only one at the conference, it keeps our name in the forefront,” Fletcher explained. “We’ve got to promote ourselves----—the $700 million impact of the base, the impact of the surrounding businesses, the steady high revenues that Chili’s is experiencing.”

Fletcher said whenever a national chain said Jacksonville was too small, he tossed them those figures “And suddenly they wanted us to send them more information.”

The mayor said he came away from the conference more convinced than ever that the city needs to annex the highway corridor north of Jacksonville. “More than one developer told me at the conference that retail outlets feed off of one another and want to be close together, not spread out through a city,” explained the mayor.

As much as he wanted to, Fletcher said he couldn’t name any particular company that looks promising. “We don’t want to scare anyone off,” he said, adding that a number of steakhouses are looking at Jacksonville because of Chili’s success.

Chili’s averages more than $3 million a month in taxable prepared food receipts, according to the city’s advertising and promotion commission.

Fletcher said he also left the conference knowing that Jacksonville has to do more to bring in family-oriented activities such as a movie theater and a bowling alley. “I may propose a family-enterprise zone, which would offer tax credits and incentives to family businesses building or remodeling in downtown Jacksonville.”

The regional meeting in Dallas is one of many put on by the International Council of Shopping Centers.

The mayor said several thousand people attended the show. “Rickey Hayes, who has been to many, many of these, said the crowd was much bigger than in the past few years indicating that retailers, restaurants and other businesses may be gearing up to expand more than they have recently. That’ll be good news for us.”

Founded in 1957, the ICSC is the global-trade association of the shopping-center industry. Its 60,000 worldwide members include shopping-center owners, developers, managers, marketing specialists, investors, lenders, retailers and other professionals as well as academics and public officials.

As the global-industry trade association, ICSC links with more than 25 national and regional shopping-center councils throughout the world.