Pontiac erases empty storefronts with free rent program

Why would retailers move into a downtown area where there are few office workers? And why would an office relocate to an area where there are few retailers?

Two reasons: they do it together, and they get a year’s worth of free rent to do it. The solution may be in the Rising of the Phoenix program in Pontiac’s business district, a program between renters and landlords to offer a year’s worth of free rent in exchange for a multi-year lease.

Phil Wojtowicz, a member of the Pontiac Downtown Development Authority’s economic restructuring committee, said the idea came about after visiting with brokers in Pontiac to discuss what can be done to improve the vacancy rates and to move some of the vacant properties, either by selling or leasing. “At the initial meeting, we just basically listed all the impressions that people have of Pontiac, positive or negative,” Wojtowicz says. “We were mainly interested in the negative impressions, because those are the ones we have to deal with on a daily basis in order to get people to come into the downtown area and do business.”

They found many of the perceptions, including Pontiac’s crime-infested reputation, as inaccurate; in fact, they found, Pontiac’s not far from other nearby communities, especially during business hours. “The crime statistics for the downtown area relatively low,” he says. “Pontiac itself has issues, but the DDA is a pretty safe place to do business.”

Wojtowicz explained that the Rise of the Phoenix plan is a blueprint to re-tenant Pontiac and increase business activity by luring tenants to open, relocate, or add a new location in Pontiac. “What we’re trying to do is get a synergistic opening between so there’s a lot of new tenants, retail and office, so they help each other out,” he says.

He said they’ve received tremendous response so far, mostly retail, but with a smattering of office openings as well. Among the retail he believes the business district needs are things like dry cleaners, ice cream stores, clothing stores, and maybe a grocery store — services not only important to residents but visitors, too.

The program offers strength in numbers, as it would be more difficult to fill the space piecemeal rather than through an organized program with retail, offices, and landlords all on the same page.

Wojtowicz points out Pontiac’s good location, on M-59 and Woodward, and near I-75. He says offices looking for space can find rent at half or a third of price of the surrounding cities. “In today’s economy that’s a true way of growing your bottom line,” he says.

While hammering out details for the Rise of the Phoenix plan, Pontiac also put more cops on the streets through their auxiliary police force, and hosted two street cleanups. The city also re-energized the Pontiac Business Association, which had been dormant for several years.

Source: Phil Wojtowicz, member of the Pontiac DDA’s economic restructuring committee
Writer: Kristin Lukowski