Mike Berne is more than a report writer.
The New York City-based retail consultant and recruiter is in Wichita this week, gearing up to land several retailers for downtown.
He intends to leave Wichita with some "chain-lets" downtown, new retail businesses that are a little more than an average consultant's boilerplate report.
"What we're here doing is shedding some light on the kinds of retail we can hope for and expect in Wichita going forward," said Berne, principal at MJB Consulting and an original member of the Goody Clancy team that developed the downtown redevelopment plan.
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"We're building upon the existing success stories and niches downtown."
Berne on Friday wrapped up a week in Kansas, recruiting potential downtown businesses, working with Wichita Downtown Development Corp. officials on a database of available retail space, preparing a leasing brochure and training WDDC staff to recruit and maintain the database.
The goal is to hit the ground running on Sept. 1, recruiting the first new retailers for downtown.
The new downtown Wichita won't be another NewMarket Square or Bradley Fair, Berne said.
"When you talk about suburban greenfields, growth there is driven more by larger national brands," he said. "I'm not saying some of those aren't possible in downtown Wichita, especially with regard to dining and entertainment.
"But we're dealing more downtown with the potential for chain-lets, or retailers who aren't either a large national brand or a start-up entrepreneurial effort.
"They're a retailer or a restaurateur who has three or four locations, maybe across Kansas and Oklahoma, and who has a track record a landlord can feel comfortable with but isn't something you find in every suburban mall in the country."
Berne spent Tuesday meeting with prospects in Aggieville and along Poyntz Avenue in Manhattan, the kind of specialty shops downtown Wichita intends to target.
"When people hear that, they think 'poach,' " Berne said, "like we're going to Lawrence and try to steal a business. Not true. We're trying to get established retailers with a track record to consider opening another location in Wichita, expanding the concept or trying a new concept."
Wednesday and Thursday included meetings with downtown landlords and brokers, pinpointing the kind of information they'll need in the leasing brochure to do deals.
"There are key things that tenants and brokers are going to want to know," said Jeff Fluhr, president of the WDDC. "Like the traffic patterns into and out of downtown. What are the plans for the redesign of Douglas? What's downtown's daytime population? How many visits are there downtown in a given day? What types of events?
"What we're trying to do working with the broker community is tailor the message. We can line up a lot of facts and figures about downtown, but we want to make sure we have a pointed message for the audience we're talking to."
Armed with the brochure and the available space database, Berne — whose downtown credits include cities such as Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Toronto and St. Louis — plans to recruit hard this summer.
"Wichita has quite a few success stories to tell," he said. "Part of what really strikes me is that many downtowns of this size, scale and profile have already succeeded with the food and the fun.
"But what's amazing about Wichita is you have a number of retailers here whose sales, they tell me, are what you'd expect at a regional mall. That's a real compliment to your downtown."
Dave Burk, the Old Town developer, said Berne's work will be a "tremendous asset" to downtown redevelopment.
"The big thing is going to be a lot of the time-consuming research, traveling and talking to people, what I'd call the grunt work landing a tenant," Burk said.
"I think there will be a lot of smaller tenants in the downtown mix... and to have someone who can research the other towns and go through all the checks and balances for us to get people interested in coming is tremendous."