By Councilwoman Debra Stark, Phoenix District 3

As the landscape of commercial retail spaces changes and consumer behaviors evolve, Phoenix is exploring how to address the storefronts and retail spaces that sit vacant. Vacant properties can contribute to a negative image and can impact neighborhoods.

Earlier this year, I asked my staff to explore how we can improve and modernize our processes to encourage property owners to redevelop. Staff analyzed the number of vacant storefronts and retail spaces in our city and found that Phoenix is over-retailed: Phoenix has 40.5 square feet per capita of retail space compared with 28 square feet per capita in the U.S.

There are many reasons why Phoenix has a changing retail environment. Pre-COVID-19 trends had many consumers preferring the convenience of online shopping, resulting in many retailers becoming irrelevant. The growing influence of social media also plays a role, as consumers desire more social spaces for picture-perfect moments. And no doubt, the pandemic had devastating effects for many businesses. As the market shifts, so must retail spaces adapt to find more sustainable uses.

Working together with an outside consultant, city staff, Planning and Development, Community and Economic Development, and Neighborhood Services have developed several ideas for consideration.

Options in zoning and land use could include expanding the permitted uses list to add new uses that aren’t explicitly allowed today; reviewing and updating the uses that require special permits and use permits to operate (i.e., tattoo parlors, massage businesses, etc.); and exploring alternate solutions to parking requirements.

To improve development processes, options include reaching out to owners of struggling shopping centers to encourage redevelopment or private investment; expanding the office that administers the adaptive reuse program and helps customers navigate development processes (Office of Customer Advocacy); and better assisting customers in obtaining a Certificate of Occupancy.

To provide options for marketing and funding, staff has explored creating a vacant storefront database, making vacant properties easy for developers to identify; creating additional financial options; and expanding the Neighborhood Commercial Rehabilitation program, which helps businesses revitalize their properties.

City staff and the City Council will continue the conversation to address vacant storefronts and retail spaces. At a future time, the process will also include stakeholder meetings and public engagement to solicit ideas and input. Meeting dates and opportunities to provide comments will be publicized when they are available.