Consultant Maureen McAvey said Greater Des Moines had too much retail even before the Altoona outlet mall was developed, and downtown Des Moines should pick its retail shots during a likely storefront shakeup in the metro.

McAvey, a Minneapolis-based retail authority who once worked for the Urban Land Institute, discussed an update of Greater Des Moines’ 5-year-old retail study with area leaders this morning in the East Village. 

She spoke of the differing strengths of different parts of downtown before noting an interesting phenomenon in the metro: a glut of retail. 

“You have retail coming out of your ears in the suburbs,” McAvey said. 

“We are not overbuilt, we are under-demolished,” she said. “We will lose 20 to 30 percent of our retail” in coming years. 

The national average is 23.6 square feet of retail per person. Greater Des Moines has 34 square feet, McAvey said, and that doesn’t count the 300,000 square feet at the Outlets of Des Moines, in Altoona. 

That means downtown Des Moines leaders should be ready to recruit businesses that might want to move to downtown from the suburbs. And they should make sure the amenities are in place to attract more stores like the highly sought West Elm, a home goods store in the East Village. 

Retail in the United States is at a level that is 10 times bigger than other developed countries, but “it will not last,” McAvey noted. Online sales aren’t as big as you'd think -- 8.5 percent of the market -- but they are growing fast. And consumers are buying online and picking up at stores in a model used by the downtown Hy-Vee store, for example. 

In addition, new stores are focusing on smaller parts of the market -- like offering a really great burger or specialty cookware -- which has meant trouble for Macy’s and other big retailers. “If you are trying to be all things to all people, you are in trouble,” McAvey said.

As retailers consolidate in larger cities, secondary markets like Greater Des Moines will suffer, she added. 

Downtown now has 80,000 workers and 11,000 residents. The millennial population is showing above-average growth, and the area has seen a gain of 1.4 percent a year over the past five year. 

Businesses that might be a good fit for downtown, according to McAvey, include: 

— Clothing alterations.
— Child care.
— Adult day care.
— Casual but stylish clothing.

Talks about a year-round farmers market in the Kaleidoscope also continue, though McAvey didn’t mention that project in her East Village presentation today, said Tim Leach, senior vice president of downtown development for the Greater Des Moines Partnership.

McAvey spent much of her time noting the attributes of various sections of downtown, which together have drawn about $1.5 billion in projects lately.

She suggested jazzing up the skywalks with art and maybe even live artists working in an impromptu studio. 

“They should be more creative and handsome,” she said of the skywalks. “They are a little bit dull. Nice, and useful, but dull.”

Leach said the Partnership and others now will discuss using McAvey’s work to develop a more specific strategic plan for downtown retail. Much of that work may revolve around rejiggering parking and signs to make it easier to shop downtown, a lure for new developers. 

The study was supported by the Greater Des Moines Partnership, Capital Crossroads, Urban Land Institute and the city of Des Moines.