Steamboat Springs Wealthy baby boomers with an appetite for quality food could be the key to filling Steamboat Springs' burgeoning downtown commercial district, Carl Steidtmann said Thursday.
Steidtmann is the chief economist and director of consumer business for Deloitte, an international accounting firm. He also is a full-time resident of Steamboat Springs.
Steidtmann, who regularly consults with Fortune 500 companies, said commercial space in Steamboat's downtown district is poised to increase by 90,000 square feet. He's convinced Steamboat's historic commercial district will undergo a retail renaissance.
"I really like the word 'renaissance,' it's both cultural and commercial," he told a small audience at the Routt County Courthouse. "Retail construction is booming all over the country, so what's happening here is not all that different."
However, Steidtmann said the reinvention of Steamboat's downtown isn't assured of being a smooth process.
"Ninety thousand square feet is a huge increase in capacity," he said. "If it's not really well thought out, it could result in bankruptcies and some people not being in business any longer. I think it's going to be a serious challenge for Steamboat, making this space profitable in the community."
The solution to overcoming the challenge may be found in catering to an affluent group of middle-aged residents who are becoming more sedate, he said. The same people are motivated to spend freely for high-quality foods and restaurant meals. That trend is the number one topic on the minds of people in the food industry this year, he said.
Before downtown Steamboat tackles its challenge, Steidtmann said, it must answer a couple of questions.
"Who is downtown Steam-
boat's target customer?" Steidtmann asked rhetorically. "What is Steamboat's anchor tenant?"
The target downtown customer is not likely to be winter tourists, he said. Developers of new commercial space at the base of the ski area will do everything in their power to ensure their guests never leave that commercial district. Summer tourists probably aren't a great demographic fit for Steamboat's downtown commercial district going forward.
Nationally, second-home owners tend to occupy their vacation homes for just two weeks annually. However, a significant number intend to transition into full-time retirement in their second homes.
Locally, the 2005 median per capita income of $53,000 compares favorably to the national average of $28,000, Steidtmann said.
"We're fat cats" he pronounced.
All retail mixes start with an anchor, Steidtmann suggested, but downtown commercial districts like Steamboat's are different from shopping malls where a Nordstrom's might be the anchor tenant. He suggested the growing trend of baby boomers seeking higher quality natural and organic foods might be a good match for downtowns that rely on restaurants and natural markets to anchor their districts.
The fresh seafood that pulls people to Seattle's Pike Place Market is one example. Another is Columbus, Ohio, where the casual farmers' market has evolved into a daily, year-round affair housed in a permanent facility.
"I think food is the anchor for downtown and a permanent (farmers' market) facility would be a huge asset," he said.
missioner Nancy Stahoviak said she believes, in the future, residents will be drawn to downtown to shop during special events, but may not choose to shop there routinely.
"I think Main Street (businesses) need to decide whether they want to serve the local population or the second-home owners," she said.
City Finance Director Don Taylor urged the audience not to underestimate the economic influence vacation-home owners are wielding in the local economy. If, as they age, Taylor said, their average time in Steamboat increases from two weeks to four weeks, their spending would double.
"I think there is tremendous growth coming from that sector," he said.
Main Street Steamboat Springs Director Tracy Barnett acknowledged that, from its inception, her organization's focus was on returning local shoppers to downtown, but that strategy has not been carried through.
"That's not the way it's working out," Barnett said.
Jenny Wilson of the women's clothing store Moose Mountain Trading Company, said her business has flourished by targeting baby boomer mothers and their daughters, both residents and visitors.
"We have a relationship with our part-time residents she said." The store has been able to keep a larger inventory on its shelves by supporting its traditional sales with a substantial Internet presence.
Steidtmann said, ultimately, he has faith Steamboat's downtown will be revitalized, but that there remain issues to work through.
"There's a wonderful Persian saying: 'The dogs bark, but the caravan passes,'" he said. "If I look at Steamboat today, there are a lot of barking dogs out there."