Media Will Scrutinize Its Retail-only Ordinance A Livelier Downtown Is The Goal. Some Oppose The Rule.

Posted: February 02, 2001

MEDIA — Determined to stay afloat in the age of the mega-mall and super-size outlet store, the borough more than a year ago took a step it hoped would put some spark back into downtown.

Vacant first-floor properties in the main business district were reserved for retail use only - a measure Borough Council thought could help Media avoid an office-park fate by drawing in a diversity of shops and restaurants and, in turn, keeping customers in town after Delaware County Courthouse hours.

But the ordinance, passed in December 1999, has not sat well with some business and property owners, who say it unfairly dictates how they use their properties.

And they ask: After more than a year in effect, what has the ordinance really accomplished?

"It's a nothing ordinance," said Bill Gross, owner of the 79-year-old borough staple B. Gross Men's Wear. "It doesn't mean anything and it hasn't done anything. Retail has to come in on its own."

But the question that should really be asked this early in the game, said Councilman Paul Robinson, is, "Have there been any negative effects? And I don't believe there have been."

Borough officials say a year is not long enough to determine whether the ordinance is working. They have decided to bring in a neutral party to take a look at the ordinance, talk with the business community and residents, and determine if the borough is on the right track.

Thomas Comitta, a town planner and landscape architect from West Chester, will meet with the group at 6:30 Monday night in Borough Hall.

Council President Joan Hagan said that while the ordinance needs to be in place for some time to determine its success, she is open to Comitta's recommendations.

Under the ordinance, nonretail businesses can move into space only on the second floor or above in the area - roughly State Street from Orange to Gayley Streets. Businesses, such as banks and offices, that now occupy first-floor properties can stay, but storefronts empty for more than 90 days can be reopened only as shops.

The ordinance includes a resolution giving landlords rebates on property taxes and licensing fees if they cannot fill their vacancies with retail tenants in 90 days.

The ordinance, borough officials point out, does not work on its own. The borough has hired a contractor who is seeking retail businesses for downtown.

"There's no reason why places like Media shouldn't bloom, or rebloom, I should say," said Larry Houstoun, a principal of the Atlantic Group, an urban development consulting firm that has done two reports for the borough on downtown revitalization.

"It's in the middle of money, and what you have to make sure is that you're selling things that people want to buy. And you've got some stores in Media that are doing that very successfully. You just need more like them."

Opponents of the ordinance say the town's business mix should be left to develop freely and on its own.

"I just think that the marketplace ought to dictate who is on State Street, not a zoning ordinance," said Jeff Cadorette, vice president of business development at Media Real Estate, a significant property owner in the borough.

Cadorette, also on the board of the Media Business Authority, suggests offering brokers financial incentives to draw in retail. "Make them work harder to bring in retail rather than going at it through the back door and saying, 'Here's what you can't bring in.' "

Barry Green, a prominent business and property owner in downtown Media, said the ordinance has not kept him from finding tenants. He recently filled one of his State Street properties with a gift boutique.

"We've been trying to live with it and work with it," said Green, who owns Philip Green & Son Inc., a real estate and management company. "And we think it's good for the town. If we can find the right retail tenants, we certainly would rather have that to help keep the town alive and active."

Joann Klimkiewicz's e-mail address is jklimkiewicz@phillynews.com.

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