Cities, port mull 3-year deal with Texas firm

Washougal mayor: city disappointed by retailer recruitment company in ‘05

Paul Dennis, President, CEO of Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association

City and port officials in Camas-Washougal are considering hiring a Texas company that offers marketing reports on potential retailers and restaurants.

Buxton, a retail recruitment and retention firm based in Fort Worth, Texas, is proposing a three-year contract at a cost of $75,000 a year, to identify businesses that are seeking markets with household purchasing habits similar to those in the Camas-Washougal area.

That involves matching the community’s consumer profile with profiles of more than 5,000 retailers in Buxton’s database.

If the Camas and Washougal city councils and the Port of C-W commission approve the contract, Buxton would create marketing packages for up to 20 retailers for each city and the port.

The move would not be the first time a local city has used Buxton to craft a marketing report on potential retailers. In 2005, the company prepared a report for the city of Washougal that focused on downtown Washougal.

Known as the CommunityID program, the city agreed to pay $20,000 for the first phase, the “retail trade area determination” phase. The city would have paid an additional $40,000 for phase two, the “retailer specific recruitment package.”

Had the city required additional research services, the company would have charged by the hour: $225 an hour for its CEO/president, $200 an hour for its executive/senior vice president, $175 an hour for its GIS senior analyst and $50 an hour for administrative staff members.

Washougal Mayor Molly Coston was a Washougal City Council member when the city received the first phase of the Buxton report.

The company listed Ann Taylor, Brooks Brothers, Carter’s Childrenswear and J. Crew, A Mikasa Factory Store, Kenneth Cole shoes, Coach luggage and Hallmark as potential tenants for downtown Washougal. Proposed food retailers included Rocky Mountain Chocolate, Bahama Breeze, Big Apple Bagels and Central Market.

“We did nothing with it since the retailers that were recommended were not a fit at all for our community,” Coston said.

Ridgefield officials praise company’s work

Paul Dennis, president and chief executive officer of the Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association (CWEDA), said Buxton is one of the main companies in the U.S. that major retailers depend on and contract with when determining potential site locations.

“Buxton, in turn, has been able to develop their community services by providing contracted communities access to their proprietary information,” Dennis said.

Dennis said neither he, nor anyone else with CWEDA, has any ties to the Texas-based firm.

He first learned about Buxton when Washougal hired them in the mid-2000s.

“Since the inception of CWEDA in 2011, Buxton has been calling us to see if we would like to engage in their services,” Dennis said.

He and Camas Mayor Scott Higgins, the CWEDA board president, met with Buxton representatives in late May, while attending the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) RECon, a retail real estate conference, in Las Vegas.

CWEDA paid for Dennis’ $640 conference fee, as well as his flight and hotel, at a cost of $512, plus $240 for meals and ground transportation. The city of Camas covered Higgins’ $640 conference fee and $423 hotel bill. Higgins paid for his flight and meals.

Dennis said they considered Buxton at the conference because of the increased focus Camas and Washougal have on diversifying their tax revenue base by capturing their retail sale leakage — particularly in the 192nd Avenue area of Camas.

“We have several developments that are increasingly look for retailers for their mixed-use projects — Parklands, Washougal Waterfront, downtown Washougal, downtown Camas and Camas Crossing,” Dennis said.

He added that Buxton also offers business-retention marketing services and CWEDA wants to be attentive to existing retailers that have already invested in the community.

Buxton Director of Sales Chris Gracela said the list of “wins” that communities have had through partnerships with Buxton include Rosauers supermarket in Ridgefield; Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen in Sunnyside, Washington; and Petsense in La Grande, Oregon.

Buxton also has contracts with Edgewood and Spokane, Washington; and Albany, Oregon.

Ridgefield City Manager Steve Stuart said the most significant result of Ridgefield’s relationship with Buxton is the successful recruitment of Rosauers.

“Getting a full-service grocer has been the highest priority for Ridgefield residents,” Stuart said. “Through Buxton’s work, we were able to identify a grocer that specifically fit Ridgefield — unique, high-quality inside and out, price-competitive but not built on a low-price model — and they gave us the tools to help Rosauers see that it would be a great fit for them, too.”

Stuart added that, with Rosauers slated to open in the fall of 2019, there have been six to 10 other retail businesses that have signed letters of intent to locate next to the grocery store.

Stuart said he could not reveal the names of the other retailers at this time.

He said Ridgefield’s three-year agreement with Buxton is money well spent.

“Phase one of the grocery complex — (with a) grocer and 25,000 square feet of other retail and a fueling station — will generate approximately $130,000 in sales tax on new construction,” Stuart said “Ongoing sales tax revenue for phase one will be approximately $225,000 to the city of Ridgefield. Beyond the revenue, we will have fulfilled the highest priority need for our residents, with a great retailer we never would have known about or landed without Buxton.”

He added that there will be revenues for other phases, as well as a mixed-use project that will break ground across the street from the grocer.

Camas mayor ‘not advocating for Buxton’

Higgins, who is not only the mayor of Camas but also a vice president and commercial real estate broker at the Fuller Group, a commercial real estate services firm in Vancouver, has ties to the mixed-use project located across from the future Rosauers’ site, having helped P45, LLC, a real estate development company, secure the 20-acre parcel for $2.9 million in February.

“I worked with Fuller on the other side of the street,” Higgins said, adding the property has “nothing to do with Rosauers” and is not connected to Buxton.

The Camas mayor added that he is “not advocating for Buxton and won’t be voting on it.” Higgins, who announced he is stepping down from his mayoral role this fall, nearly two years before his term expires, said he “won’t be saying one way or another what Camas should do” when it comes to the potential Buxton contract.

He added, however, that the city of Camas has been trying to grow its retail base ever since the 192nd Avenue corridor started to develop on Camas’ border with Vancouver.

“The whole reason the city has been paying attention to retail (is that) we are very property tax dependent,” Higgins said. “Retail shopping increases sales tax, a different revenue stream.”

The issue has not come before either the Camas or Washougal city councils yet, but Washougal City Councilman Ray Kutch said, at first glance, he thinks a company like Buxton could be a great help to Washougal, Camas and the port.

“There is an old saying in business, ‘regardless of how good you think you are, you still have an identity crisis,'” Kutch said. “We do not have the benefit of a major manufacturer or one single major employer in the city of Washougal.”

He added that the port is a very positive force in the employment picture, with many diverse employment opportunities in the port’s industrial park.

“We need to attract more businesses to the area in and around downtown Washougal,” Kutch said. “I see those businesses as light manufacturing, office spaces and retail. Those businesses will help create a vibrant downtown and attract people to our city.”

He said the cost-benefit ratio of employing a firm like Buxton needs to be looked at, but his first impressions are very positive.

The proposed contract with Buxton could be discussed at the next CWEDA meeting, at 3:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 27, in the Port of C-W office meeting room, 24 S. “A” St., Washougal.