Restaurants Build Communities

Urban revitalization is driven by restaurants. A complete destination has places to see and things to do, items to buy in interesting shops, and interesting places to dine, because people will venture to on-the-edge neighborhoods for acclaimed food. Steven Gartner, a developer in Center City Philadelphia, believes that the revitalization of urban retail begins with small local restaurants started by great chefs or visionary entrepreneurs who know great chefs.

These pioneering eateries are followed by larger restaurants that require a higher investment and draw a bigger audience from a wider geographic area. Once there is a base population of diners to provide the foot traffic, locally-owned retail shops and art galleries arrive, followed eventually by national chains (causing rents to rise sharply). Gartner says local residents prefer independents that support their economy and culture over the more ubiquitous chain eateries.

Another urban revitalization advocate and consultant put it this way:

"Without restaurants, where are people going to find a restroom? If they can't go to the restroom, they won't be able to linger and spend time in your commercial district. Patrons of your commercial district will end up being very purposeful - when they visit, it is for a specific reason, and they leave when they are finished, without taking the time to explore and patronize other retail and service businesses in your commercial district. Today, you need to give people a reason to come into the city. They're not going to come into the city to shop, but they will come to the city for restaurants ... and that's the first step."
Nobody claims that restaurants are the only answer to all urban ills. Development may raise at least as many problems as it solves, but looking at examples in Philadelphia, Washington DC and New York City, there is no question that restaurants are playing an integral role in the revitalization of America's cities.

Restaurants are also becoming a crucial ingredient of shopping center development. When West Plano Village opens outside Dallas in 2010, restaurants will account for nearly half of all retail space. That's a big change from twenty years ago, when restaurants only made up 10-15 percent of leasing. In some new developments, restaurants even serve as anchor tenants.

Developers say a popular restaurant can generate as much or more sales than a department store without using as much space. "Clearly, restaurants are a strategy to increase traffic," says one developer. "Nobody pulls traffic twice a day like restaurants do. The repeat business is stronger with food than with any other form of retail."

Restaurants Drive the Economy