When Oxbow Development Corp. was looking for tenants for its retail space alongside the new Crimson Villas, a St. Louis-based restaurant stood out.

When Oxbow Development Corp. was looking for tenants for its retail space alongside the new Crimson Villas, a St. Louis-based restaurant stood out.
The restaurant in question was Panera Bread, and Pat Sherman, with Oxbow, said it seemed to be a great fit.
"It's a great restaurant and a great chain," Sherman said. "They probably would have worked out perfectly."
So representatives from Panera came down, and performed a demographics check before coming back with a 'no' answer. The reason? It had to do with rooftops, Sherman said.
"They said the demographics check was insufficient," Sherman said. "They said they liked the town, liked the area, and liked the college being right there. But there wasn't enough development to the east (of Ford and Rouse). There weren't enough rooftops in the area."
That hasn't been the only 'no' Pittsburg has received from Panera. Pittsburg City Commissioner Marty Beezley said she pursued the company a few years ago, only to be told that Pittsburg didn't have a high enough population.
"They said that they had to have 800 people per day come into the restaurant to make the numbers work," Beezley said.
Representatives from Panera did not return an e-mail seeking comment. According to the Panera Bread Web site, the only location of a store with 50 miles is on in Joplin, Mo.
Population was a problem Beezley said often came into play when seeking restaurants. She said Famous Dave's, a barbecue restaurant she lobbied, said its population threshold was set a 150,000.
"It really seemed like 150,000 was the threshold for a majority of the restaurants we talked to," Beezley said.
That's one of the reasons Blake Benson, president of the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce, insists that census data released recently was so important. That data showed Pittsburg with steady growth since the 2000 census.
"I think it definitely helps," Benson said. "Restaurants want to be a part of an area that's on the move, progressive and growing. Having a very impartial organization with statistics showing that we are growing is a big help."
Benson said Pittsburg was aided somewhat by its designation as a "regional" city, pulling in customers from around the region, and growing the population base. Meanwhile, Beezley said other franchise restaurants, like Chili's and Applebee’s compensated for smaller communities by building smaller facilities than they would in a bigger area.
But locating a business isn't always a population matter.
"There are parameters that different types of businesses place on franchises and expansions," said Mark Turnbull, Pittsburg director of economic development. "And for many of them, we are a popular place to locate their business."
Turnbull said a number of factors weighed into that. He said Pittsburg would be a popular location for a delicatessen or coffee shop because of its status as a town with a major university. Others prefer to look at a detailed shopping pattern.
In that vein, Pittsburg has been approached by a company named Buxton, one that specializes with market reports for potential businesses. Buxton works both sides of the fence, with more than 1,500 retail clients and a number of municipalities and communities.
Buxton uses something called CommunityID methodology to gain its statistics. The company takes information gained from credit cards and reward cards, like Hastings or Ron's IGA cards, to put together a shopping demographic. The details can be used to show, for instance, how many people from Fort Scott travel down to shop in Pittsburg.
No deal has been made with Buxton, or another company like that, yet, as Turnbull said such projects were typically expensive. But it's another part that can give a city a foot up in the battle to attract restaurants.
Pittsburg isn't finished in the restaurant-shopping market. The city is still in the market for a "three-meal" type restaurant, such as an IHOP, Denny's or Perkins, to help complete the TIF District at the north end of town, and Sherman said Oxbow's prospects are also looking good.
The company has two groups it is working with right now — one a stand-alone restaurant, the other that would be a multiple-tenant type restaurant.
For now, Beezley said, Pittsburg can enjoy its already thriving restaurant market.
"I think we have great restaurants, many of them locally-owned," Beezley said. "I think that our restaurant scene covers a broad spectrum of cuisines. We can't forget the importance of our existing restaurants. I appreciate what's already here.
"We're going to continue to pursue restaurants to move in where we have the space for them," Beezley said. "If we are able to get a restaurant, it's going to come into a market that has already been very successful, and has met the needs of Pittsburg and the southeast Kansas community."