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A look at Sundance Square with CEO Johnny Campbell

To longtime residents of Fort Worth, the transformation of the city’s center from what it was in the mid-1980s to today’s Sundance Square is almost miraculous.

From almost-deserted nighttime city streets devoid of retail, the 35-block district has been transformed into a crowded area of restaurants, shops and entertainment venues capped in 2013 by the opening of the one-acre Sundance Square Plaza with its fountain, stage and covered outdoor seating.

The Fort Worth Business Press is taking an in-depth look at downtown Fort Worth through its history, development and growth. We caught up with Sundance Square CEO Johnny Campbell to find out more.

How do you think Sundance Square contributes to making downtown Fort Worth a destination spot?

In the early years, Sundance Square served as a destination within our downtown. But the idea behind Sundance Square was always to be a catalyst in generating a revitalization of the entire central business district. In the past 10 years, Sundance has become a very vibrant mixed-use area. The pedestrian traffic through our counters averages well over 150,000 people per week year-round. We have always seen our role as that of generating vibrancy and helping to ignite the spread of the vibrancy into the expanded downtown.

Why specifically do you think retailers chose Sundance Square?

The extremely strong and steady traffic is becoming more widely known. For many years, retailers gathered together in retail centers in suburban locations. More recently, real authentic and genuine street-front experience has become more desirable. I believe downtowns are perfectly positioned to take advantage of the movement toward the authentic urban experience. The downtown areas typically have multiple traffic generators that can provide a steadier year-round customer.

Do you think Sundance has a good mixture of national chains and local business?

We believe that retail merchandising is a highly iterative process. In the early years, Sundance was heavily merchandised to food and beverage. This was a logical beginning to a revitalization of an area in need of traffic and customers. But the merchandising initially was dining at lunch, then dinner.

As the years moved on we begin to see specialty retail and entertainment.

Fashion apparel can be the most difficult use to attract for downtown environments, but Sundance Square has seen a noticeable shift into fashion apparel over the past five years. White House Black Market, Loft, H&M and Francesca’s make up a sprinkling of recognizable retail names underpinning the legitimacy of the shopping district. Uniqueness is provided by Overland Trading, Willow House, Parts Unknown, Earthbound Trading, Retro Cowboy, the Sid Richardson Museum shop and Yours Truly, just to name a few.

Perhaps the most noticeable merchandising evolution would be the recent shift from our mostly food and beverage footprint to soft good retailers in Sundance. This is rather unusual in today’s unpredictable retail climate.

Does Sundance collect demographic data to attract developers and businesses to the area and to downtown in general?

Sundance Square can attribute a great deal of its success in development, urban planning and retail to an obsession with observing people and customer habits. We collect all sorts of data in order to assist in this observation.

It is well known that our garages are outfitted to track traffic patterns. Retail sales are reported monthly by store and by category, allowing for an intricate sales analysis. Our pedestrian traffic counters may be a little less known, but they allow us to understand the traffic patterns and habits of pedestrians on every block face in all of our 35 square blocks. Fewer still may understand that we can analyze the ratio of retail to food sales on a daily basis from the weight tickets on wet and dry compactor hauls.

What do you think sets downtown Fort Worth apart from other downtowns?

I have always said that the locals in Fort Worth embrace their downtown better than any other city. I’ve had the privilege to manage and work in mixed-use projects in many cities across the country. And while everyone has their own civic pride and their own reasons why their town is best, I’ve never seen anything like Fort Worth in terms of local support for the center of the city.

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