Downtown Vancouver is missing the essential ingredients in attracting a large grocery store: more people with more money.
That’s the recipe prescribed by Brian Vanneman, principal of Portland’s Leland Consulting Group. But while a New Seasons or Chuck’s Produce won’t go up tomorrow, it probably won’t take a decade, either.
“As we see the build-out of the waterfront, as we see these projects come online at Block 10 and other places, we’re going to see the population increase significantly and also see incomes rise significantly,” Vanneman told nearly 100 people Thursday at the Kiggins Theatre at a meeting of Vancouver’s Downtown Association.
Interest in a downtown grocery store has been intensifying as the population and workforce have grown. About 7,600 people live in downtown’s core, and just over 8,000 work there. Unless those people get all their groceries at Plaid Pantry or hike up to Safeway on Main and 37th streets, they all have to drive to a large grocery store such as Fred Meyer at Grand Central or Safeway at Jantzen Beach in Portland.
That will be the case for the near future, though not forever, as long as the city’s core keeps growing like it has, Vanneman said.
What needs to happen — the “story to tell,” Vanneman said — is to get another roughly 10,000 people in the downtown area and bring up median household incomes there by $10,000. The current downtown median income sits at about $33,000.
Even with the increases in population and income, research shows a smaller-format grocery store would be a more likely fit for downtown than a full-size supermarket chain such as Albertsons or Safeway. New Seasons or its Green Zebra offshoot, Kroger’s Main and Vine or Target Express are all possibilities, Vanneman said.
“Those companies are recognizing business opportunities” in downtowns, he said.
Block 10, a gravel lot with potential, has been floated as a site for a downtown grocery store. The city is listing that vacant block on Eighth Avenue between Columbia and Washington streets for sale May 2. It will remain listed until July 14.
The city isn’t putting many restrictions on the sale of that property. And it will be up to a developer, not the city, to secure a grocery store and/or other tenants there.
“We have high standards,” Vancouver’s Economic Development Division Manager Teresa Brum said. “We want it to be mixed-use.”
A building on the site, Brum said, could be as tall as 10 stories, though five or six might be more likely.
In addition to the population and income needs, parking is going to be a big issue for an urban grocery store.
“Block 10 is just 1 acre,” Brum said. “You would need at least as much parking” to accommodate customers.