Officials continue to cast nets far and wide hoping to draw new businesses to the city.
Athens Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Lisa Denton said r360, a retail recruiting firm hired by the city last year, continues to contact developers and businesses to attract larger stores.
“He gave me an update on the Karns Development, which is the property on East Tyler Street, the old Mamie Stafford house,” Denton said. “That is continuing to move forward and they are expecting some letters of intent from some businesses. It’s not any I can disclose yet.”
The Stafford house is in the 1000 block of East Tyler Street.
“He’s also working with a couple of other developers about some information about Athens, hopefully to develop some interest on their end,” Denton said.
The Athens City Council and Athens Economic Development Corporation board chose r360 in June 2016 to try to keep shoppers’ dollars from leaking out to Tyler, Corsicana and Palestine. Additional retail sales mean more sales-tax revenue for the city. During the last reporting period, the state’s comptroller reported that Athens received almost $472,000 in sales-tax revenue, down almost 7 percent from the same period a year ago.
The r360 president, Chuck Branch returned to Athens in February and met with city and AEDC officials on the Athens market. Branch said the Athens retail trade area covers an area of almost 1,153 square miles, with an estimated population of 85,772. The average household income is $58,000.
The study also reported on “leakage,” which is possible business that is leaving Athens because of a lack of various types of retail stores. Types of stores experiencing the most leakage were:
– General merchandise – $35,810,579.
– Supermarkets – $33,751,233.
– Full-service restaurants – $24,491,140.
– Home centers – $23,136,381.
– Department stores – $21,808,650.
The r360 activity also includes contact with three national brands regarding the JC Penney space. Penney closed its Athens operation at 1111 E. Tyler St. in the Athens Village in July.
In May, Denton said, she accompanied r360 officials to the International Council of Shopping Centers trade show in Las Vegas.
“I had meetings with seven different developers out of their booth and gave them some information on properties. Hopefully with the data that we’re providing them and our gap analysis, maybe we can spark some interest.”
Denton said Athens can’t compete with places such as Tyler for companies that require a much larger population than Athens’ 13,000 before considering coming to the city.
“There are some that will only come to a retail trade area with a population of 100,000-plus, but there are some, like Applebee’s, that look at a smaller market. We are far enough away that we can sustain them here. I hope they do well there and see they can also have a smaller footprint here.”
Despite the increased emphasis on retail businesses, Denton said Athens hasn’t slowed efforts to bring more manufacturing companies to Athens, like it did when HVAC decided to re-locate to the city from California.
“We just came back in August,” Denton said. “We went to northern California this time. We had six really good visits.”
Denton said she hopes those meetings will result in companies making at least three or four site visits to Athens.