Monday, March 11, 2013

Put me on a task force, I can tell you what you already know.

Back when the (now former) Houston Downtown Macy's announced their plans to close Houston was inundated with much wailing and gnashing of teeth. "Something!! Must be done!" said the champions of moving everyone within the region inside Loop 610 so Mayor Parker, with an eye clearly turned toward what many believe will be a rather tough re-election battle, decided to do something by creating a "downtown retail task-force" charged with figuring out ways to " to increase the amount of retail and supporting parking in downtown".

This task-force, as you might expect, fired up those of a central planning lean and calls were sent far and wide asking for fellow travelers to vote early and often in support of downtown retail.

Not surprisingly then, we find out today that Houstonians (GASP!) want more downtown retail and that over half of the 1,776 respondents stated that they had, in fact, shopped in downtown Houston for something, at some time and that almost all of them would "definitely" shop downtown were their stores selling things they want to buy and were it 'convenient' for them to do so.

As you can imagine, this news has our local media in a tizzy over the prospect of 1675 (that's 94.5% [roughly] of 1776 in case you were wondering) people spending their money downtown and away from established retail locations such as the Galleria.  Strangely, at the time of this writing, Houston's former newspaper of record is mute on the subject.

Ignoring the histrionics and Hosannas being sent the way of downtown retail I think the study is important for a few reasons:

  - It, inadvertently, revealed part of the problem.  The study showed that there were "74,000 residents within two miles of the urban core".  While this may sound like a good thing you have to realize that's less people than one would find in the City of Conroe.  Study proponents can talk all they want about people living in the city center but, in a region where there are 4 Million plus residents, 74,000 is statistically null.

 - It, again inadvertently, provided somewhat of a population size for Houston's central-planning faction. Considering that the people most likely to vote in surveys of this type are "activists" who really have either an axe to grind or a skin in the game, and considering that 5.5% of the population said they wouldn't vote downtown, if you strip away the duplicate votes that are inherent in any online poll you end up with an approximate figure of around 1,000 voters who say they would actually shop downtown.  Yes, these are rough, and unscientific, numbers but they sound about right.  So you have 1,000 people in a region of over 4 Million (That's .025 percent of residents for those of you keeping track) who are attempting to drive market behavior in a direction the hard numbers are revealing it doesn't want to go.

Look at the facts.  Houston Pavilions, struggling financially and, except for some big concerts at House of Blues and some busy happy hours at the high-end bowling alley, fairly empty.  Macy's, shuttered and not coming back. These are the hard financials that the Houtopians ignore, instead choosing to focus on some pie-in-the-sky futuristic shopping mecca that's just never going to exist.

What's important to note here is that this is the first, inevitable, step in the process.  In order to exist Mayor Parker's Downtown Retail Task Force had to prove that they had a reason FOR existing in the first place.  Given that reality was there ever any chance that they were going to find differently?  "Nope, sorry, downtown is a retail black hole" was never going to be the answer and it never will be, as long as Houston continues to elect politicians with no concept of market forces and who are fixated on turning Houston into something it's not.

So, put me on a task force pretty please, because I can guarantee you that I can find 5,000 people of whom 100% would say they'd be willing to shop downtown.  If you just want to hear what you want to hear and not the truth you could pretty much put anyone in charge.

It just won't matter.

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