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Kannapolis council talks downtown marketing at retreat

CHINA GROVE — Frank Warren provided a detailed snapshot of 50,000 residents in the area surrounding downtown Kannapolis during a Kannapolis City Council planning retreat Thursday afternoon at Pity’s Sake Lodge.
Warren, a real estate economist with Kimley-Horn and Associates in Charlotte, discussed five different areas affecting the downtown: demographics, employment, housing, retail and office.
In 2011, City Council approved a Center City Master Plan, which is in the process of being reconsidered and reprioritized. In his remarks, Warren presented the following statistics:
• The city’s primary market area is a 3-minute drive time. The secondary market area is a drive time of seven to 10 minutes.
• In the primary market area, there is a 16 percent decline in seniors who have chosen not to age in place.
• Tracking for income, the largest group in the primary area are households earning less than $15,000 per year. The majority of those household members are over age 55. In the secondary market, the largest group is households earning $50,000-$74,999 per year.
• The area has a total of 14,495 jobs, with one-third in the primary market area and two-thirds in the secondary market area. Some 22 percent of those jobs are in retail, 12 percent in health care, 7.5 percent in hotel and restaurant and 9 percent in construction, all with a wide range of wages.
• Home ownership is still on the decrease following a peak of 69 percent in 2006. It’s now estimated at 64 percent, although Warren said that number could drop to 60 percent. Nationally, every 1 percent is equal to more than 1 million households. That means a lot more people are renters, he said.
• The residential target market, Warren said, includes workers at the N.C. Research Campus, many of whom are seeking short-term rentals; other downtown employees; students; empty-nesters; active seniors.
• Under retail, Warren noted that 14 retail centers serve the combined market area. A vacancy rate of 3.6 percent is well below the 8.1 percent vacancy rate for the Charlotte region. Older centers, he said, are “surprisingly well occupied.”
• Warren said that, through the year 2022, there is downtown forecasted demand of only 28,000 square feet of retail space — about the size of a Food Lion, he said. “The bottom line is, it’s not a lot.”
• Warren presented myriad restaurant opportunities for downtown, citing eateries such as Go Burrito in Salisbury. “I don’t understand why we can’t do this in downtown Kannapolis,” he said. Other categories on his list: pizza, pubs, casual dining, barbecue, ice cream/yogurt shops, coffee dessert shops and Thai/Vietnamese/sushi restaurants. Again, Warren used Bangkok Downtown Thai restaurant on Innes Street as another Salisbury example. “If Bangkok Downtown can make it on Innes Street, the potential is there.”
• Warren believes another opportunity is the presence of a microbrewery downtown. They serve as hangouts for the desirable Millennials, as well as a destination for tours.
• Other downtown retail opportunities Warren touched on included special fitness locations, personal services such as dry cleaners and hair salons, hardware stores, bicycle sales and repair, artisan studios and galleries, performing arts studios and pop-up tenants who are seasonal or short-term.
• Including the research campus, the Kannapolis area’s market share is 57 percent of the county’s total office space. There is a forecasted demand of 225,000 square feet of office space between 2012 and 2022.
Warren and council members spent a good deal of time on how to attract members of Generation Y or the Millennials, the age group of adults ages 18-35 which with 80 million people is the largest demographic group in U.S. history.
Warren noted the following additional statistics for the Millennials:
• 50 percent urban, 25 percent suburban, 25 percent small town or rural
• 37 percent are renters, 25 percent are homeowners, 24 percent live with parents
• 38 percent don’t use credit cards
• 91 percent buy online
• Favorite stores are discount stores, pet stores, pop-up stores, popular apparel stores, restaurants and gyms
• Are social, savvy, diverse, connected
Warren said that combining the downtown’s unique assets with a creative vision, a tireless champion and patient capital is a formula for long-term success.

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.

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