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City gives retailers free rent to encourage growth

by Jesse Serwer
The city of West Palm Beach, Fla., and a local landlord have devised a novel way to drum up interest in its downtown, while also incubating local business: they are giving away free rent for a year to the company with the most impressive plan for a store on its Clematis Street shopping strip.

“We’ve got plenty of great dining, entertainment and bars— that sector is strong,” said Raphael Clemente, interim executive director for the West Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority. “What we need more of is retail. We have this great space on our busiest block that had a national brand, Ann Taylor Loft, which [recently] downsized, and we want to make sure we get retail back in it. We don’t want it to go to a restaurant. What better way to focus attention on it than to create this inventive package and make it a competitive process?”

The Downtown Development Authority and WG Compass Realty Cos., managing partner of the site’s landlord, 222 Clematis LLC, will collectively foot the bill for the first 12 months of a five-year lease term for the grand-prize winner of the “The Great Shop Showdown” contest. To enter, businesses must submit a submit a 30 to 60-second video to the competition’s Facebook page explaining their business concept and why they want to be in Downtown West Palm Beach, by July 31. A committee will review the applicants and select a pool of semi-finalists, who will be asked to submit a business plan. Three to five finalists will then be chosen to present their concepts and retail plan to a public panel including local community members.

“It doesn’t have to be a startup, or someone’s first brick-and-mortar location,” Clemente said. “It can be an existing business looking to open its first store, or its 10th location. It just has to be unique to our downtown, and purely retail.” In addition to free rent, winners will also receive a year’s worth of free support services, including marketing and PR services; start-up business consulting and a loan of up to $25,000 from First Bank of the Palm Beaches and a one-year membership with the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches. Clematis Street, a traditional Main Street that had fallen on hard times after the 1960s, was the site of a retail revival in the 1990s. But its comeback story stagnated following the opening of City Place, a major urban lifestyle center several blocks away, in 2000, and a lengthy road construction project which spurred several anchor tenants to relocate. “About six years ago we started almost from scratch again,” Clemente said. “Most of what we have coming now are one-off places and small, local chains. Not that we would turn a way a national retailer. City Place has national brands and big anchor tenants. We aren’t trying to compete with something in our downtown. We’d rather become a complementary.”

The Great Shop Showdown on Facebook

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