|Empty stores blight city core|
|The Press - News|
|Written by Jim McGauley|
|Wednesday, 10 August 2011 14:26|
The ongoing recession continues to exact a stiff toll from small businesses, and as a result, from commercial landlords who often watch in dismay as tenants bite the dust.
The “for rent” signs go up on shuttered doors, and they’re staying there.
Nowhere in Baker County is this offshoot of troubled economic times more noticeable than downtown Macclenny — the US 90 strip from the courthouse west to SR 121 (South 6th) — the core downtown. It’s not yet a ghost town, but it’s trending that way.
For sure, the glut of available commercial rentals is apparent elsewhere — on side streets off 90 and west through Glen St. Mary, where the former Mercantile Bank building recently went black.
One west Macclenny strip center — the Raynor Shopping Center — has nine empty stores of 14 total.
The largest concentration, however, is in the city core. A recent storefront count showed 16 of 49 addresses vacant, some as recently as last month and some of them empty for two years.
And they’re not just “for rent” signs. A handful are “for sale or rent.” And the market for both is very soft with no sign of a turnaround in the foreseeable future.
Ed Barber, who in 2006 completed an extensive revamp of the old Crockett Building downtown into a cluster of small offices, said two are vacant, as is his storefront that has housed several restaurants. The slumping economy since he re-did the building is affecting him, but Mr. Barber believes his “mini-office” design is helping through the downturn.
“When I built this, it was designed to rent out to small, office-centered businesses who need an address and a place to work,” he explained. “We designed in a conference room any of them can reserve, we have adequate private parking — all the conveniences of a larger office at a fraction of the rent.”
As a result, his tenancy rate is modest but steady.
Not so with others, though.
For Sandy Hiers, who has managed commercial rentals for Oscar and Susie Gray further east toward the courthouse the past 13 years, rental prospects in their five storefronts are more dire than ever.
“It’s the economy. I never really had many problems [renting] in the past, and we’ve had good luck with long-term tenants,” she said. “Now, it’s hit and miss. I might get two inquiries this month and go four months without hearing anything.”
Their largest single tenant, Baker Community Counseling Services, recently moved to renovated office space in the old jail. Its departure brought her number of vacancies to four.
Jack Baker, co-owner with Mark Lee of three offices at the northwest corner of US 90 and 5th St., says he’s fortunate to find a new tenant [Let Them Eat Cake bakery] to fill the void left by the demise of Designers Daughters in the corner space. The other two sit idle.
And thus it is with rental space large and small, from the Padgett House at the corner of 90 and North 5th to the mostly vacant corner cluster of spaces owned by an investment group that once owned the defunct Baker County Standard. The two-story structure has been vacant and for sale for nearly two years.
The City of Macclenny is also aware of the situation on the downtown strip, and City Manager Gerald Dopson insists it is committed to do what it can to improve amenities to make the climate more attractive to business.
“I don’t have much insight from the perspective of marketing, but we will commit to continued improvement of the streets, and the landlords have responded well,” said Mr. Dopson. “We have it in this year’s budget for more street lamps along US 90 on both sides to 121 and decorative stamping of the sidewalks. Next year we’ll go [with the street lamps] on 228 to McIver.”
The dilemma for landlords in this strained environment is the sagging economy pulling against the funds needed for property taxes and other expenses to keep their holdings in shape, with little or no prospect for rental income — at least for the immediate future.
And absent of the pull of higher traffic counts that exist on both South 6th (121) and South 5th (228), it’s likely those “for rent” and “for sale” signs downtown will be around for a while.
|Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 August 2011 14:54|