I also asked a few questions during the Q&A and I swear they were not rhetorical questions but either A) issues I go back and forth on and could argue either side, or B) was honestly interested in their opinion.
The first two questions were primarily for Jack as he was the surrogate representative of downtown. One was, "was it worth compiling all of the necessary subsidy/public investment to Forest City and the Mercantile area or could that $$ have been more effective split into several areas of downtown?" Long story, short Jack's answer was that it was best invested in one place. I think I agree with him, but again, I'm of two minds on that.
As I wrote yesterday, the danger w/ Keynesian "urban defibrillation" is that if you don't get over the tipping point where the market is then profitable on its own, you risk the public side having to be an overly large participant in private development again and again. This could be underscored by one of the tweets below where Clauchner said they actively look for deals with at least 15% public participation, be that in infrastructure, public improvements, or some form of financial partnership. There is not an overarching qualitative statement to be made about that as each of those component parts that the public side can participate in can be wise and executed well, or very very misguided.
The second question revolved around Tim Headington's development in and around Main Street. That was, "since you mentioned median incomes are trending down in downtown, is Headington's super high-end retail play missing the market and is it sustainable? Furthermore, does his investment badly skew the market expectations with regard to land value?" Again, Jack said it can only be a good thing that somebody is willing to invest in downtown. Others chimed in and said they hoped Headington was willing to subsidize in perpetuity. /shrug
My last question was to the entire panel. This one could be construed as rhetorical since I know how I would answer, but I was interested in their take. I asked, "you've spoken quite a bit about luring national credit retailers and the fundamentals that it takes to get them into deals. What competitive advantage do small, local businesses have, if any?"
The consensus from the panel was that the competitive advantage of small business is market differentiation. That's true, but a bit vague. If I were to summarize my thoughts on the subject, it would be that small, local retailers primary advantage is in the relationship with their customers and the ability to thrive as a third place, primarily due to their nature (the successful ones) as places of both economic and social exchange. Think Cheers. Relationships are established between proprietor, their staff, and their customer base. And this dynamic really only works in walkable, neighborhood environments. A lesser competitive advantage could be that smaller businesses are more willing to go into more unusual, less formulaic buildings and spaces.
However, this implies one of the bigger elephants in the room that wasn't specifically addressed. That's the differentiation between neighborhood-scaled retail (which we don't have enough of) and regional retail (which we have way too much of and is highly competitive, cannibalistic, and unstable). More specifically this duality is an issue facing downtown. Is it a neighborhood or do we envision it as a regional draw? Can it exist as both without one negatively affecting in some way the other? On a much grander scale, think of Times Square, which isn't just a regional center of gravity but a global one. New Yorkers hate it and avoid it at all costs.
Tweets in reverse order.