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Big retailers would be lucrative to downtown Delray, but are they welcome?


DELRAY BEACH — Downtown Delray Beach can support large retailers that would bring in millions of dollars a year, a study shows. But at risk, city leaders say, is the unique charm of its beloved Atlantic Avenue.

“With this amount of retail, you could have somebody build a new Mizner Park or CityPlace right at the express way (Interstate 95) and Atlantic (Avenue),” said Robert Gibbs, a renowned urban planner who the city has paid to study the downtown. 

Since May, Gibbs has collected data on downtown retailers, restaurants and other businesses, and says the area around Atlantic Avenue can support thousands more square feet of retail and restaurant. He presented these findings to the city commission Monday.

Downtown Delray is prime real estate for big-box retailers. The area generates more than double the national average in retail sales per square foot, Gibbs said.

“You probably will get a lot of pressure from very large format, large leading retailers here,” Gibbs said.

But are they welcome in Delray Beach?

“Everything you’ve just projected eviscerates that which makes this street unique,” Mayor Cary Glickstein said.

Gibbs is tasked with collecting the data. It’s up to the city what they do with the information. Delray leaders could, Gibbs said, use the information to stop the large retailers from opening up shop.

Those businesses have the potential to capture $221 million in sales in Delray Beach, Gibbs’ research shows. 

The study breaks down the best uses of space downtown. That information could help guide landlords in leasing or renting space to the most profitable tenants. 

Gibbs’ study also confirmed a long-suspected hunch about downtown Delray Beach, which has lost many of its small, family-owned businesses to large retailers or chains restaurants: Rents are too high.

The rents downtown are “among the highest we’ve seen in the country,” Gibbs said. Where most tenants spend 10 percent of their profit on rent, Delray Beach retailers spend between 16 and 20 percent.

Some of Gibbs’ other findings:

  • Parking downtown has affected retail sales and can be improved.
  • Some shops close too early to capture potential sales. 
  • Most downtown retailers get a bulk of their business from tourists. “(Tourists) spend more time shopping than they do going to recreational activities,” Gibbs said.
  • Delray Beach is among the best in the country in terms of “character and walkability,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs will continue to study the downtown, and craft suggestions to increase sales and further improve walkability.


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