The block where the old Ludington Recreation was located is crying for development but I am afraid that we’ll get an office suite or something else that is not retail. We need to draw people into the downtown to work, but also to play and live, it is just not vibrant but it could be.
First thing is that I would make sure that the old Newberg’s Shell Station is left i place, the building has too much character to rear it down and the current business there is just what the block and downtown needs. After tearing down the rest of the block all the way to the corner I would put up a new building with an early 20th century look to it that spans the whole block.
The storefronts in the building would be about 1,000 square feet, say a 20×50 and they would set back from the avenue and be in line with the old Shell Station. It would make a great green area and encourage people to linger downtown. Wonderful place for a hot dog vendor, or someone selling balloons. The end of the block at the Western corner I would make a line of smaller shop sites that were in the 10×10 to 10×20 size.
If someone wanted to specialize in sunglasses how much room would they really need? The rent? will the kicker is that I would charge say 15% of total sales. There is an inflated sense of the value of the real estate in downtown Ludington and the cost of the rent basically kills many businesses that cannot make a year round commitment to high rent in a business environment that is really only profitable 5 months of the year for many.
The poor off-season business climate also keeps us from bringing in and encouraging businesses that would offer a service or product that would benefit the community as a whole but they can’t make it year around or it may be a business that should only be open 6 months out of the year full-time. A percentage of sales makes it easier for a business to stay in place during the lean months of the year, makes it easier for new businesses to start-up.
If you want a vibrant and lively downtown then an eclectic group of businesses is a vital part of making that happen. Now a 1,000 square foot store is not much but it can be enough to provide a start, and an income for a new small business owner. I would put an apartment above each of those businesses and make that available to the proprietors first.
So now you have maybe 20 new storefronts and maybe a dozen living quarters for these new business owners. If they are living there and are vested in their businesses they are going to be more involved in all aspects of the downtown including shopping in the stores near them and running events.
Not having a bowling alley in the downtown area is I think a great loss and we should have that and other types of businesses that draw people into town for recreation, but I would not put it on the main avenue, not anymore. That is what I would do with the SW 200 block of West Ludington Avenue.