TRAVERSE CITY — What worked in the summer of 2020 in downtown Traverse City and translating it to 2021 was part of a special presentation at the Downtown Development Authority board meeting.

Avenue ISR President Woody Smith presented a survey of 1,472 unique individuals on what affect modifications — highlighted by the closure of two blocks of Front Street to vehicles — affected consumer habits.

DDA CEO Jean Derenzy said the survey is an excellent tool to help “identify what worked and what didn’t work and what everyone appreciated most.”

“It’s not so much how do we do things the same, but how we do we build upon those successes and how do we work toward ... and build upon different opportunities to build a better place and a better downtown as we move forward,” Derenzy said.

“We went into this essentially trying to take stock on the summer of 2020 and to look forward to the summer of 2021,” Smith said at the beginning of the presentation.

While the majority of respondents Traverse City residents and 2020 downtown visitors (88 percent) and downtown employees (84 percent) favored closing two blocks of Front Street to cars this summer, a smaller percentage of downtown business owners and managers (73 percent) thought it “worked well” or “somewhat well.”

When asked if they “strongly support” or “somewhat support” extending the modifications into 2021, that approval was statistically lower for all four groups of respondents.

Business owners/managers reported the most favorable aspects of 2020 modifications created more open space for pedestrians, the ability to social distance and the resulting increase in health and safety measures. The availability of parking for customers and employees was the least favorable.

Derenzy said one of the takeaways was how much “people really valued place and the ability to spread out more” while being downtown during the COVID-19 pandemic. What that translates to in the future is to be determined, but an example Derenzy offered was wider sidewalks.

Adding outdoor seating to city streets and closing Front Street to cars had the most positive impact on downtown businesses, but also seemed to favor restaurants more than retail downtown.

How much downtown business declined because of COVID or because of the downtown modifications is difficult to determine. Board member and Workshop Brewing Company co-founder Pete Kirkwood said differentiating is “well nigh impossible.”

Sweet Pea’s Jeff Joubran, the lone commercial property owner in the district on the DDA board, offered his views on the subject.

“We saw our business during closure was down about 40 percent from past years,” he said. “But it’s hard. Was it the street closure or was it COVID and the pandemic? But I think the interesting thing was once the street reopened our sales have been up and they’ve been up over that amount. We saw a vast change.”

All of the DDA board agreed the amount of data and feedback provides a wealth of information for future decisions.

“We have a lot to consider, talk about and budget for,” said Mayor Jim Carruthers.

In other business at the meeting, the DDA board:

  • Discussed its Capital Improvement Plan and a list of projects prioritized with the Old Town and Tax Increment Financing (TIF) 97 districts. A draft CIP will return to the DDA board at its Dec. 14 meeting.
  • Appointed Scott Hardy to the DDA Farmers Market Subcommittee and Richard Lewis to the Parking Subcommittee.

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