New urban retail specialists developing a plan for Cincinnati's center city

In August 2009 Cincinnati-based Brandt Retail Group formed a new urban retail division that focuses on urban commercial districts.  The group identified an opportunity in an otherwised under-served retail market and wanted to take advantage of it with the urban retailing experience of Kathleen Norris who serves as the Vice President and Director of Urban Focus for the Brandt Retail Group.

"You have to recruit strategically and you have to have a plan in place to be successful," explained Norris.

Brandt Retail Group's strategy is currently unfolding at the 580 Building which recently underwent an extensive renovation in 2005 heralded by Downtown Cincinnati Inc. President David Ginsburg as an indicator of a healthy downtown, and an investment on one of downtown Cincinnati's most heavily traveled intersections.  The plan is to create Cincinnati Restaurant Row along 6th Street in the Backstage Entertainment District.

Since the renovations were completed the retail spaces have experienced mixed results.  The high-end Oceanaire Seafood Room opened and then closed after filing for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, and will soon be replaced by Bartini.  Mr. Sushi opened at the beginning of 2010, but the rest of the spaces have sat empty as the creep of Fountain Square and the Backstage Entertainment District continue to work east towards Main Street.

"We have been very fortunate to have been offered the opportunity to work with several spaces around downtown, but we really feel like we can make the 580 Building into something special for the city," said Norris.  "Once fully occupied, this stretch of 6th Street between Walnut and Main will become one of the most vibrant in the city."

Norris believes this can happen thanks to the Aronoff Center for the Arts, the Contemporary Arts Center, 21c Museum Hotel and the proposed Cincinnati Streetcar that will run on both Walnut and Main streets.

"In most cities the arts center area is surrounded by a high density of restaurants," explained Norris.  "We want to take these spaces and get something done for the landlords and the downtown community."

Presently there are five spaces ranging from 2,100 to 3,500 square-feet - all of which boast large outdoor seating areas along 6th Street.  The outdoor dining space is something that Norris sees as a real opportunity for not only these retail spaces, but for downtown in general.

"We have been very slow to capitalize on the fact that we have 7 to 8 months of pretty decent weather here, and I think people will really enjoy having additional outdoor spaces to eat and relax downtown," said Norris.  "I think these spaces are very attractive and it is our goal to have all of Restaurant Row filled with people sitting outside for Opening Day 2011."

Writer: Randy A. Simes
Photography by Scott Beseler
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