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Public Corruption in Chester County, PA

I believe an unlikely mix of alleged drug trafficking related politicos and alleged white nationalist related politicos united to elect the infamous “Bloc of Four” in the abysmal voter turnout election of 2005. During their four year term the drug business was good again and white nationalists used Coatesville as an example on white supremacist websites like “Stormfront”. Strong community organization and support from law enforcement, in particular Chester County District Attorney Joseph W. Carroll has begun to turn our community around. The Chester County drug trafficking that I believe centers on Coatesville continues and I believe we still have public officials in place that profit from the drug sales. But the people here are amazing and continue to work against the odds to make Coatesville a good place to live.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Robert Gibbs of Gibbs Planning Group speaking in Coatesville at the “Plan the Keystone” Coatesville Train Station meeting

At the Olivet Methodist Church, Coatesville, PA. , August 19, 2010.
What follows is a lightly edited transcription of Robert Gibbs presentation.  
The full recording can be heard below.
 “I’m an economist, my assignment is to forecast how many types of new stores and what types of stores are realistic to bring into the study area. I work in a lot of communities where people do master plans and people get around a table and say we’d like to have a restaurant, we’d like to have, this and we’d like to have that and the planners plan it. And then the real estate community can’t do it because it’s just not supportable by the economics. So, I feel very pleased to part of this community because they wanted to know that first before they did the planning…
We have done a very exhaustive study which will be a public document, which is the kind of document we do for the private sector.  A lot of our clients are retailers and restaurants. They hire me to scout out locations so that they can open new stores.  And a lot of my clients are shopping center developers with whom I‘ve built new shopping centers. They buy real estate based on what I tell them to do. And if I’m wrong they don’t hire me again.
Our process is to define a trade area, or a catchment area, which is to define where people are coming from to shop here, or they could come from. In Coatesville it’s a very classic roughly 5 mile radius. We think that people that live within that 5 mile radius should account for about 60% of your potential sales.
We then define what’s known as the secondary or total potential trade area, which is that bright green and your market extends about 15 miles out. Beyond that I think it’s very unlikely that people will drive much further than that on a regular basis to come to Coatesville.
Within that 15 mile radius there are 57,000 people, earning a median household income of $58,000 per year.  Those are very significant numbers because one of the most basic site selection criteria shopping center retailers use, restaurants, clothing stores use is known as the 50, 50, 50 rule…
They like to see 50,000 people, earning $50,000 per year and they like to be on a highway with 50,000 cars per day. If you have 2 of those 3, most retailers will consider your site a suitable site.  Your city has all 3, which is highly unusual.
You also have the advantage of being a hole in a donut.  Coatesville is surrounded by a lot of shopping centers and a lot of retailers. And this is unusual; you are surrounded by really beautiful towns…
So you have these beautiful towns and shopping centers around you but very few retailers are coming to your downtown. Which I love, because that means you have a captive market, the people that live within the 5 mile radius are driving further than normal. And there’s a new term in our industry called a retail desert. You are technically a retail desert. Because the people live here; everybody that I saw is wearing shoes, you look pretty well fed, so you are out eating and shopping. That’s significant in Coatesville especially because almost 30% of people that live here have 1 car or less in their household, so they don’t have easy access to transportation. A lot of people said they have no cars-bus riders.
There are also a lot of very vibrant and very interesting stores downtown.  Many of the store’s owners they we met told me if they could they would expand but for one reason or another they can’t. But the market potential is here for them to expand.
You are not really working as a shopping district. You are a collection of individual destination shops, purpose driven shops. People drive to the florist or they drive to this or that, but very few people drive here park and then walk around for an afternoon to go shopping. In fact I think almost nobody does here. That’s unfortunate but that’s fixable. because you have the urbanism, you have a historic town that is a very walkable town.
We are trying now to imitate you in parks. Exton Town Center for instance, is trying to imitate you… People drive there they park their car and they walk around for an hour and a half and they’re in “Coatesville”.
You actually have all the hard parts. You have the demographics, you have the market void, the potential and you have the historic walkable town that we can’t recreate.  As much as we try were not able to recreate it.
You also have some fairly good demographics. For example the median household income is $58,000 in our study in your 5 mile radius. That’s higher than the American median household average income of $54,000 and you’re even higher than the State of Pennsylvania’s which is $52,000. So even though a lot of people when I came here, they said, ‘Bob, this is one place where you are not going to get much support for business.  It’s a fairly modest income’ and there are a lot of people here with modest incomes. But as collective group you have very strong incomes.
We’ve found that today, there is an opportunity for you to capture $17.6 Million in additional retail sales in Coatesville. By the way, the people that live within that radius are spending are spending $900 Million a year shopping… They’re almost spending a $1 Billion a year. We think you could very conservatively capture $17 Million a year... And after double checking the figures myself, I think you could actually do three times that. I think we are being very conservative. I think you could do much better than that.
By 2015 we think you could capture almost $47-$48 Million a year and it wouldn’t surprise me to see $100 Million of the potential retail sales.
What that means is today there is room for 68,000 square feet of new retail in Coatesville, which would more than double what you have, would actually triple what you have.  That would equal 30 or 40 new stores. That would grow to 256,000 in about 5 years.  Which you could technically, very conservatively support 60 to 80 stores. I’m not telling you to grow by that much. I’m just saying the market is there should you choose it and should a bunch of things happen, which I’ll talk about later.
What kinds of retail would work here?
We think very much neighborhood service type retailers, cafes, delis, restaurants. There is a very strong demand for a hardware store here. You could actually support 2 hardware stores here. Home and garden supplies are very strong…
You will be able to support 6 to 8 new restaurants by 2015. Today you can support 5 new restaurants. And I’ve been to all of your restaurants. Not to take anything away from them. They are all nice restaurants. I’ve eaten in every one of them, I think. But there’s room for more. There’s room for them to expand or for more new restaurants to come here.
The next question I get asked is; well if you’re such a genius and there’s room for more retail, why isn’t it here? It doesn’t just go where there is demand.  It’s a very precise system.  For example, the site selection vice president for Chili’s restaurant doesn’t drive around all day in every small town in Pennsylvania and look for a “for rent” sign and then call and see if he can do a deal and bring Chili’s here.  They go though their friends, they go through brokers…
What might happen is; the president of a book store will be told by Wall Street that if you want your bookstore stock price to stay high you have to open 100 new stores and he’ll say, ‘yes, that’s exactly what I was planning to do anyway. Thank you very much and he’ll call up his president and say, ‘you have to open 100 new stores within 2 years otherwise you’re fired. He’ll say, ‘that’s exactly what I was thinking to do, thank you very much.  And he’ll call up his friendly broker, CB Richard Ellis, Cushman & Wakefield, whomever and say you better open 5 stores in Pennsylvania. Can you get me 5 sites that work? And he’ll say yes and then that deal happens.
I have a hunch, I can’t prove it, but I have a hunch that the brokers in this area are red lining parts of Coatesville. They may be saying you would rather be on I-76. You would rather be on the 30 bypass way.  Which isn’t unusual because they know the property owners, they can do the deal with 2 phone calls and an email  and they don’t have to get out and work that hard and so for a lot of reasons, that happens…
We think you can support another pharmacy…  You’re going to get a Walgreens  soon, which is very positive. I’m very excited about that and I want to see Rite Aid expand.  There’s room for 2 pharmacies here.
In my opinion, Coatesville has all the very hard elements.
You have a highway with a lot of traffic on it, which is a positive…  One of the long time business owners said the downtown started to decline when the bypass opened, which happens all over the country.  But you still have Lincoln Highway with a lot of traffic. You’ve renovated you’re streetscape.  There is a very nice streetscape with new sidewalks new streetlights and all state of the art. And they kept on street parking.  We have to have on street parking for on street retail. And they have parking meters, which you don’t need right now but when you get more retail you will need.  You have some extremely beautiful buildings.  A project being built, what is it?”
Coatesville City Manager Ted Reed, “Riverwalk”.  
Bob Gibbs, “On the flats site on the northwest corner of 82 and Lincoln Highway they’re building a play fountain for children… It’s actually under construction.  And Walgreens is coming here very soon…
What do you have to do, to have this retail?
First of all you have to decide that want it. In a lot of communities they don’t want retail…
You have to have 4 things happening…almost at the same time in order to have the retail:
1.      1-You have to have the market demand, which I very strongly believe you do.
2.      2-You have to have suitable properties. You have to have properties in which the rents reasonable, which the landlord is willing to rent for the right amount of time.  Usually they like 5 year leases, with 5 year options. You have to have properties that are bonded, that meet the building codes that have the right amount of electricity, the right amount of heating and cooling in which the roofs don’t leak. You have to have buildings that are very suitable.
3.      3- You have to have the experienced leasing team. As I said earlier, it’s very unlikely that any good tenants will just stop here and do a deal on their own. You have to get a third party and the County has a County agency. The Chester County Economic Development Council is helping you with that. Or you can assemble your own business requiting team if you would like.
4.       4- And, you have to have effective government.  I believe you have a very effective government right now…

 You have a very strong market demand. You are right in the above average part of what people are looking for. This is the growth part of the segment, the pay less shoes, the dollar store, and the family restaurants that are affordable and casual dining restaurants. This is what’s growing.
Nobody is building luxury high end stuff anymore. For example Abercrombie and Fitch announced yesterday that they are closing 160 stores in the United States.  It’s just too expensive. And so you’re demographic is right in the sweet spot.
You have to have suitable locations and there are certainly a lot of vacancies on Lincoln Highway and in Coatesville. I don’t know whether they are suitable. I don’t know if the landlord will rent for 5 years with a 5 year option. I don’t know if the landlord will bring up the building to code or whether they will say, ‘yea, sure; you can pay me a lot of money for rent but it’s yours.  You fix everything on your own dime.  I just don’t know. But if you have that you have the market for it.
JC Penney’s is now called JCP and they’re coming back to urban locations. They like the cities again. 
You have to have an experienced leasing team. This is expensive but it’s essential.”  Mr. Gibbs shows a photo. “This is the national show in Las Vegas. It’s through the International Council of Shopping Centers.  There are shows here locally. They know each other. They all carry around big rolodexes or big BlackBerrys. And they know how to make things happen. I think they probably don’t know about your market.  The buildings that are available here are probably not even on their radar screen. And if somebody wants to come to Coatesville and open a new store they probably have no idea that you even exist. 
It’s actually hard to get to. When I went to look at the Wall Mart yesterday to the west of you, when I was coming back there’s a giant sign which says COATESVILLE, which makes you go on the bypass. I always ignore signs because it didn’t feel right and I took business 30 instead. But everybody leaving Wall Mart that wants to go to Coatesville is actually directed to the bypass with sends them around your downtown…
If you do get a retailer here, they make very unfair snap judgments. They see a broken window or if they see litter on the sidewalk, they will say no; take me to the next town.  I take retailers around to cities. Unfortunately you are surrounded by some of picturesque downtowns in the United States. Almost everyone is ‘postcard’.  So even though your downtown looks fine, it’s better than most, way better than most; compared to the other cities around you you’re not.  So I can imagine you going through all these steps and then having a retailer come here and after he goes through all these other towns say, ‘Well, I’d rather not come here.”
Mr. Gibbs showed photos of a study of Niagara Falls in Canada, Niagara on the Lake and Niagara Falls.
“They both are in the same market area. They both have the same demographics. I was hired by a client who bought all of Niagara Falls, who bought the whole city. Shopping center developers can’t build shopping centers anymore, because nobody likes to go to them, so they’re buying cities. That’s the new thing. They are buying whole cities and making them very attractive. But Niagara on the Lake has rents that are 5 times higher than the rents on the left (Niagara Falls). And a lot of that has to do with the city government. You can see the difference in the sign ordinance for example and the flowers. All of these little things that that collectively say this is where you want to open your store and they do very well in sales…
Question, “Are you aware that merchants support the flowers?”  Mr. Gibbs, “Yes, and you have the Weed and Seed program. Which I know a little bit about and I understand you have meetings where you clean the sidewalks and you are really taking care of your community, which is unusually good. And it’s very encouraging to hear that.
So  that’s where we are at right now; you have the market demand, you have the physical character and we believe that should you want to expand the retail opportunities here that it’s technically possible.”
The results of the Plan the Keystone Charrette will be on the website. It’s a part of the continuing development of the Coatesville Train Station and the Keystone Rail Corridor.

This was recorded by me at the meeting on August 19, 2010. That recording was transcribed by me and may not accurately reflect what Mr. Gibbs said. For hard facts and numbers, I suggest that you see Mr. Gibbs report. It will be published on the “Plan the Keystone” website.  James J. Pitcherella

From the Gibbs Planning Group Homepage: 
“GPG is considered one of the foremost urban retail planning consultancies in America. For more than two decades, GPG's expertise in commercial development and sustainable town planning has been sought by some of the most respected mayors, highly regarded architects, and successful real-estate developers in the country.

A recognized leader in the real estate industry, GPG pioneered the development of sustainable and community-oriented principles of Traditional Town Planning and Smart Growth as an antidote to the sprawl of suburbia. Responsible planning, however, is more than assembling coherent urban villages or walkable neighborhoods. GPG believes that sustainable development and vibrant community life are only possible with a vital commercial life, and that new and old towns alike need intelligent strategies for their survival. Since its inception, GPG has been active in developing innovative yet practical methods for applying modern trends in commercial development to more than 300 town centers and historic districts here and abroad.

GPG's retail planning excellence lies in advising public and private sector clients on the psychology of commerce - the practical science of analyzing and adjusting all elements known to affect a shopper's mood in the marketplace. GPG is renowned for applying fundamental retail and merchandising principles for reviving retail in moribund downtowns and for instilling robust commerce in new town centers.

“The Gibbs plan has been the bible for Charleston's latest planning redevelopment efforts along King Street and in our Historic Market Square." 
-Mayor Joseph Riley, Charleston

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