08/26/08 — Survey: Downtown Goldsboro a 'no go'

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Survey: Downtown Goldsboro a 'no go'

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on August 26, 2008 1:42 PM

People aren't visiting Goldsboro's downtown district.

That's the main finding of a recently completed survey by the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp., and one that officials said surprised them.

"The biggest shock is how people rated downtown," promotions coordinator Lara Landers said. "They aren't coming down here."

In late July, the DGDC handed out consumer surveys to downtown businesses, city and county employees and people attending the Center Street Jams, asking questions ranging from how often they shop in the downtown area to where they do most of their shopping, to why they come downtown at all.

And, Ms. Landers said, many of the answers were similar.

"They pretty much said the same thing," she said of those who filled out the surveys.

Nearly 1,000 people took the survey, with the majority living five to 10 miles from town, and most of them rated the downtown "fair" -- the median answer between good and poor.

The survey also showed that people normally come downtown three to six times per month, and that the top three reasons they visit the area are to work, eat and bank.

The survey also asked people to rate parking, friendliness of salespeople in downtown shops, price of merchandise, variety of goods, quality of goods, attractiveness of the area, attractiveness of buildings, business hours and safety.

Of those, safety took perhaps the biggest hit.

"We asked them to rate safety, and everybody put poor," Ms. Landers said. "If anybody took the time to look into the statistics of crime in the city, it's one of the lowest places. The county has a much bigger crime statistic.

"Most people are still going by how it used to be, and they can't get past it to come downtown and check it out for themselves. It's one of the safest places in Goldsboro."

Parking, variety of goods and quality of goods also rated poorly, with friendliness of salespeople, price of merchandise, attractiveness of area, attractiveness of buildings and business hours all rating fair.

Also included in the survey were questions regarding the importance residents placed on issues of historic character, cleanliness and maintenance, focus on local customers, patronizing local business, tourism, public improvements, advertising and regular business hours.

Again, the answers surprised DGDC officials.

"How people rated the importance of certain things to improve the downtown area wasn't what I expected either," Ms. Landers said. "People didn't think that historic character, more special events, more jobs for locals or improving tourism were important."

The results showed that the seven areas most respondents felt would most improve downtown are cleanliness and maintenance, a focus on local customers, more patronage of local businesses, public improvements, more advertising and regular business hours.

The DGDC also had a Esri survey completed that analyzes the "leaks" in the downtown circuit, or where the downtown stores are losing money to and how much, Ms. Landers said.

Those results showed that downtown establishments are losing about $3.6 million within a one-mile radius of the downtown area -- most to general department store merchandise. Within a one-mile radius, the area is losing $22.7 million, with $13.3 million of that lost primarily to grocery stores and $6.7 million lost to electronics and home furnishing stores.

The Esri survey also showed that the downtown area could support an additional 10,000 to 20,000 square feet of retail space, Ms. Landers said, which could, if advertised and marketed properly, bring in an additional $1 million to $3 million in sales over a three- to five-year period.

The DGDC plans to use the results of both surveys to help bring more businesses to the downtown area.

Mrs. Landers said she has heard many people say they want a certain restaurant or store to come to Goldsboro, but the problem is, she said, "a lot of businesses and industries won't even look at (bringing their company to a city) until you have certain needs from its residents."

And so, she explained that for DGDC purposes, these results will be used by its economic restructuring committee to put together a better business incentive package.

"We want to bring more businesses downtown, but we don't want to just fly by the seat of our pants," Ms. Landers said.