First-floor retail: Incentives, not regulations
A thriving village with shoppers, families milling around, and convenient parking — the dream for a small retailer looking to set up shop.
But is that what Ridgefield is currently offering?
According to downtown landlords, not exactly.
“By putting in a regulation forcing people [landlords] to try to find people [retail renters], I think it’s counterproductive,” said Wayne Biddle, owner of 426 Main Street, at a May 11 meeting that aimed to discuss ways to increase first-floor retail options in the village.
“I think you need to think of ways to improve the situation so that the market wants retail.”
First Selectman Rudy Marconi also attended the meeting, alongside Planning and Zoning Commission Chair Rebecca Mucchetti and members of the town’s Economic and Community Development Commission (ECDC).
Marconi, appealing to Biddle’s ‘if you build it they will come’ logic, told the room of shop owners and landlords that a new incentive package was in the works to attract prospective Main Street retailers.
Even better, he told them, parking availability — a lightning-rod topic throughout previous discussions — would improve through a proposed expansion of the all-day parking lot on Governor Street in front of the Boys & Girls Club.
It wouldn’t be a parking garage, Marconi assured the room.
“The survey said that the people didn’t want a parking garage,” he said, referring to when the Chamber of Commerce asked residents if they’d be in favor of a multi-level parking facility in town last year.
“But we feel we need to do something — maybe not a parking garage, but we need something.”
Both Marconi and Mucchetti said a real estate tax abatement would not be offered, but that a property tax abatement could serve as an incentive for new retailers, and would not cost the town much.
“The problem is that when you say property tax, everyone thinks real estate tax,” said Marconi. “And we’re not talking about real estate tax.”
The business property tax refers to the money paid on equipment such as computers, desks, property fixtures — not the building itself.
The ECDC will be working to put together a package of incentives to offer potential retailers.
“Once we identify who they [retailers] are, we present a package as well as all the demographics and success stories that we have in Ridgefield,” said Arnold Light, ECDC chairman.
The package includes a brochure they’ve already made with discounts and offers to town amenities, such as the Parks and Recreation Center, the Ridgefield Playhouse, the golf course, and more.
It will also have the property tax abatement — which is still up for approval — and a waiver of some planning and zoning permit fees.
Biddle said he always strives to rent to retail businesses on the first floor of his properties. He told the room that he looks at other towns and determines what businesses would do well with a second location in Ridgefield.
“We figure out what retailers in other towns might be good to have a store here, and we specifically go to them and say, ‘There’s a hole here. You would do well in Ridgefield,’” he said.
But Ridgefield is not like Westport or Greenwich, he said.
The big chains don’t have a market here, Biddle argued.
Marconi countered that the incentive package will focus on attracting small, mom-and-pop stores that can succeed and grow on Main Street.
Another thing landlords can do is set some stipulations on the lease, enforcing certain business hours, and requiring storefront lights to be on in the evening, even if they’re closed for the day — making the environment more inviting for diners and shoppers.
A formal presentation with all the suggestions and the incentive package will be presented to the Board of Selectmen Wednesday, June 21.