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Friday, February 23, 2024

State Street’s new look: More retail could be coming

The preliminary recommendations for the city’s retail impact study include suggestions for changing the perception of parking availability, addressing homelessness downtown and possibly adjusting regulations. 

Tangible Consulting Services and Perkins+Will prepared an interim report of recommended policies and strategies for improving retail downtown. The interim report is a draft of the final report that will come out of the downtown retail impact study and was presented at the Overture Thursday night.

The report recognized three “core issues” and two “emerging concerns” regarding retail on State Street, the Capitol Square, King Street and the general downtown area. It drew on a survey that was based on more than 1,100 respondents.

There were several substantial recommendations in the State Street part of the report. The report suggested restricting food and beverage businesses to only 50 percent of block-level storefronts. That suggestion came as Mayor Paul Soglin, who originally advocated for the study, has suggested a moratorium on State Street liquor licenses and recently tried vetoing some licenses that Common Council has passed. 

Outdoor restaurant seating is also taking up too much of the sidewalk width, according to the report. It argues that pedestrian zones should be at least 10 feet wide, allowing a couple to pass another couple. Currently, the walking area is limited to six to seven feet.

The recommendations could also bring a new fee to commercial renters. The report said vacant space needs to be reduced as well, possibly through adopting public regulations which would levy a fee for allowing extended vacancies.

The report also suggested providing at least one business per foot of State Street frontage, while limiting at least one third of storefronts to 25 feet or less. Smaller fronts lend themselves to local retail stores rather than restaurants, bars and national retailers, according to the report. There would also be a future restriction on combining storefronts. 

The report also took aim at reducing homelessness.

“The personal and societal needs implied by people who spend so much time on the street call for our compassion and response on many levels,” the report said.

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It also said, “This population has a significant impact on the attractiveness of the area to shoppers. Part of the impact relates to the presence of this population, particularly when they are asking for money.”

They suggested “utilizing and activating” public space through programming the space and transitioning to outdoor activities at restaurants after retail hours in order to take up more of the space.

Those suggestions for State Street and the other areas may be revised before the final report is presented in October.

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