Sit-down restaurant, live music lounge and a bakery are among the most desired new businesses for Dudley Square, according to a survey commissioned by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) and conducted earlier this year.
Peg Barringer, whose firm FinePoint Associates developed and analyzed the survey for the BRA, presented the Dudley Retail and Consumer Survey results June 14 at a public meeting of the Dudley Vision Advisory Task Force.
More than 1,300 people responded to the survey, which was offered online, by e-mail, face-to-face by hired survey workers in Dudley Square and on paper at several area businesses and agencies.
Three versions of the survey targeted different groups of interest: neighborhood residents and users of Dudley Station (“commuters”); current Dudley Square employees; and Boston Public School employees. The BPS employees are slated to relocate in 2014 to the municipal building now underway on the Ferdinand site. One of the purposes of the survey was to capture their spending habits and types of businesses they might patronize once they arrive in Dudley Square.
Barringer described general themes that emerged from the data.
There is a clear desire for social gathering and browsing spots, she said. Besides restaurant, live music venue and bakery, top choices included healthy food café, sandwich shop, burrito cafe, sports bar and ice cream/yogurt shop. In addition, a number of respondents “wrote in” coffee shop, specifying a desire for evening hours, seating and Internet access.
Another finding was that employees in Dudley Square and commuters coming through the bus station are important customers. They shop and eat in Dudley Square as much as or more than local residents do, the survey shows.
Only 18 percent of residents said they go to a Dudley Square restaurant/cafe weekly; for Dudley Square employees, that figure was 46 percent. About half of the residents, commuters and current employees said they shop at Dudley Square stores “once or twice per month” or more, with slightly higher percentages for employees and commuters.
Residents who took the survey tend to spend their shopping and dining dollars outside Dudley Square, Barringer noted.
Nearly one-third of the residents said they “rarely/never” go to Dudley restaurants. Yet more than half said they go to a full-service (sit-down with table service) restaurant for dinner twice a month or more. The top five full-service restaurants Dudley residents said they patronize are Friday’s, Olive Garden, Applebee’s, Legal Seafood and Cheesecake Factory — all outside the Dudley area.
For shopping, they are more likely to go to South Bay, Downtown Crossing and Copley/Prudential than Dudley.
Some of this “sales leakage” could potentially be captured, Barringer said, if existing or new businesses in Dudley begin offering the products and quality people are seeking.
She estimated that the 500 incoming BPS employees could bring $1.6 million annually in sales. Businesses or types of businesses that BPS employees currently use downtown might do well to consider opening up shop in Dudley Square.
In addition to food businesses, survey respondents indicated they would patronize establishments such as dry cleaner, clothing outlet store, bookstore, bowling alley and gym/yoga studio.
The study results could help guide planning for the massive amount of new retail space expected to open in the Dudley area over the next several years.
Development projects in Dudley Square, on Melnea Cass Boulevard (parcels 9 and 10) and Tremont Street (parcel 3) could add a total of some 600,000 square feet of new retail space in addition to offices, residences, community spaces and a hotel.
Ken Guscott, longtime community advocate and developer, asked if survey respondents had suggested parking garage as a desired business. The answer was no, but Guscott made the point that parking is much needed in Dudley and could be a smart business opportunity.
Other questions and comments focused less on the survey than on the issue of how to ensure small, locally owned businesses have opportunities to vie for the new retail spaces. The city has given no promises of subsidized rents in the new municipal building.
Task force member Joyce Stanley, executive director of Dudley Square Main Streets, said rents are high in Dudley already, making it very difficult for new entrepreneurs to afford space. Even national chain businesses are finding the rents inhospitable: Foot Locker vacated its Dudley Square space recently when the monthly rent jumped from $3,000 to $15,000, she said.
Maureen Anderson, senior project manager with the city’s Property and Construction Management Department, said local entrepreneurs unable to afford rent in the new municipal building may be able to start out as a pushcart or kiosk operations in the large indoor lobby area.
“That has to be an option,” agreed Stanley, “if we’re going to put [startup businesses] in this new space.”
Community member Bridgette Wallace suggested the city reach out to business incubators that could provide training and support to help local entrepreneurs get a foothold with their ventures before the new retail space is up for grabs sometime in winter 2013-14. As an example, she cited CropCircle Kitchen in Jamaica Plain, a nonprofit incubator that offers kitchen space, training and support for budding culinary entrepreneurs.
Sarah-Ann Shaw, a task force member, expressed support for Wallace’s general idea.
“It’s extremely important that there is a strategy built into all of this that allows people who have stuck it out here to have an opportunity here,” Shaw said. “Otherwise we could end up with a lot of people who don’t live here providing the services. That’s not what we want. We want people who live here to be able to make their livelihood here.”
Anderson said the city can “fashion a plan” for types of businesses they would like to see in a development, but they are still legally obligated to consider other types of businesses.
She said the planners have always seen a sit-down restaurant as part of the ground-floor retail component of the Ferdinand site. “We’re going out of our way to make sure the proper venting and plumbing are there to enable a restaurant,” she said.
“We’re completely open to whatever type of business the community supports,” she added. “We’re trying to get some feedback from the survey and from listening to the task force and to you, to see what’s desirable and what’s feasible. It has to be feasible.”
For information and updates on the Ferdinand site project, see dudleyvision.org. For information on resources and assistance for entrepreneurs in the city, see businesshub.boston.gov.