Report: Detroit has fewest storefront clusters in U.S.

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Detroit’s rising rents and returning businesses have drawn attention in recent years, but one major study ranks it dead last nationwide for storefront concentration in a metro area.

City Observatory, a website/think tank supported by the Knight Foundation and dedicated to analyzing communities as well as policies, has released a Storefront Index. Developed as a tool for urbanists and city planners, it measures “the number and concentration of customer-facing businesses in the nation’s large metropolitan areas.”

Among the 51 vicinities studied, the report placed Detroit at the bottom, making Michigan’s largest municipality the “least densely stored city center” in the country.

According to the index, which used 2014 data, the Motor City boasted 411 storefront businesses within three miles of its central business district’s center, and not more than 100 meters from another similar establishment.

Only nine other U.S. cities — including St. Louis, Oklahoma City and Raleigh, N.C. — had fewer than 500, the analysis found. By contrast, “the typical metropolitan area has about 900 storefront businesses within 3 miles of the center of its central business district,” the report authors wrote.

New York had the most on the list: 9,905. San Francisco’s 5,777 earned second place. Los Angeles, with 3,173, placed third. The rest of the cities in the top 20 all notched more than 1,000 storefronts.

On the City Observatory website, contributor Joe Cortright said the index was calculated through mapping where thousands of businesses — including grocery stores, beauty salons, bars, restaurants, movie theaters and entertainment venues — were located, “then identifying significant clusters … places where each storefront business is no more than 100 meters from the next storefront.”

The report “helps illuminate the differences in the vibrancy of the urban core in different metropolitan areas,” Cortright, president and principal economist of the Impresa consulting firm, wrote in a post Tuesday. “… The Storefront Index is one indicator of the relative size and robustness of the active streetscape in and around city centers.”

Citing outside research, the authors suggest “consumer cities” are important since young, educated people returning to urban spots are lured by amenities such as cultural attractions, boutiques, restaurants and bars.

The analysis follows surging development and renewed interest in Detroit.

Last year, magnate Dan Gilbert’s Bedrock Real Estate Services announced a downtown building had been sold to auto supplier Lear Corp., which planned to launch a design studio in Capitol Park. Bedrock said it has invested nearly $2.2 billion in acquiring and renovating 80-plus properties downtown.

Meanwhile, the board of the city Downtown Development Authority was set to vote Wednesday on a deal expected to advance the proposed redevelopment for the empty J.L. Hudson’s site.

Another major business boost: the new $627 million home of the Red Wings, slated to open in 2017, is part of an ambitious plan to overhaul 45 city blocks with new residences, offices and retail.

Influential investors and new entrepreneurs also aim to spend millions reviving the New Center area.