Business News

A recent study of the city’s retail environment optimistically says the city may be able to support existing local businesses while increasing the diversity of retail options, as well as attract the types of investment the city wants.

Berk & Associates recently completed a $20,000 retail market study commissioned by the City Council, which is preparing a major update of development regulations. The study reveals little new to city leaders.

The study looked at the city’s downtown business district, Commercial Avenue, the waterfront property east of R Avenue, as well as the Highway 20 corridor south of the refineries.

Of the downtown area, the study says “The recent growth and clustering of restaurant activity Downtown has started to create a draw and synergy that supports all businesses in the CBD. Another positive effect the restaurant cluster has on the CBD is extending the hours of activity on Commercial Ave. into the night.”

One of the big questions facing the city is whether to allow major commercial development along the Highway 20 corridor. The study suggests that the city could take advantage of a market demand for retailing there, but there are risks.

“If a large general merchandise retailer like Costco, Target, or Fred Meyer were to locate in the City, several of the specialty retailers along Commercial Ave. and the CBD would likely experience a loss of sales,” according to the study. However, the report adds “It is possible to minimize the negative impacts by working with land owners and developers to recruit retailers that don’t compete as directly with current City businesses.”

The study warns the city that not allowing retailers along Highway 20 could leave the door open to a large-scale development on the Swinomish Tribe property or in Oak Harbor.

The report ofers this warning of Highway 20 retailing: "If the City chooses to consider retail options in this area, it should take a cautious approach to any major land use decisions and take steps to minimize risks and ensure that changes support the City’s broader fiscal needs and the community’s desired vision for the future.”