Reports issued by a Baltimore-based developing consultant have suggested the expansion of retail in New Haven’s Empowerment Zone.

Metroventures/USA Inc. unveiled its initial reports Tuesday for each of the six commercial strips in New Haven’s Empowerment Zone at the city’s Hall of Records. About 50 residents attended to hear the recommendations, which aim to narrow a $300 million gap between the purchasing power of New Haven’s inner city neighborhoods and the residents’ actual spending totals within the communities.

“Tonight is just a general presentation of the respective neighborhoods so that the public can see what is going on,” said Leonard Smart, chairman of the Empowerment Zone’s economic development and jobs committee.

Suzanne Graham, development director for Metroventures, gave an hourlong slide show outlining the initial reports for the six commercial areas: Dixwell Avenue, Ella T. Grasso Boulevard, Grand Avenue, Newhallville, West Rock and Whalley Avenue.

For each commercial area, the respective initial report recommends either an infusion of high retail, a focus on service-oriented firms, or finding an alternative to retail, such as residential units.

Empower New Haven, a nonprofit organization that manages the city’s Empowerment Zone, has a $800,000 budget for implementing Metroventures’ recommendations.

“It’s not enough money,” said Sherri Killins, Empower New Haven’s chief executive officer. “We will need private and public investment into these programs.”

The reports also state that the Whalley Avenue and Dixwell Avenue strips have strong connections to the Broadway shopping area due to their proximity. Whalley Avenue appears to currently have the strongest retail arrangement of the six zones, with an $84 million sales volume projected for 2005.

“If things continue on the Whalley corridor as they are, there’s no question that every drug store chain east of the Mississippi will want a piece of Whalley Avenue,” said Sola Seriki, owner of Metroventures.

Seriki said the report recommends designing a long-term retail strategy for the Whalley commercial district to prevent the dominance of one type of retailer.

Graham said the Dixwell Avenue commercial area’s overlap with the Whalley Avenue corridor offers residential growth as an alternative to retail redevelopment.

“We concluded that there is limited retail potential for the Dixwell trade area,” Graham said.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development designated New Haven an Empowerment Zone in January 1999, providing New Haven over $100 million in federal grants and $130 million in tax-exempt bonds over 10 years. Empower New Haven uses the money to fund projects ranging from homeownership grants to employee assistance programs.

To create the initial drafts of the reports, Metroventures first analyzed data from censuses, retail analyses and other studies. Graham said the consultants then tried to balance their professional insight with the interests of the stakeholders.

“Sometimes the gut feelings from members of the neighborhoods do not match with what the data shows,” Seriki said. “This meeting helps to clarify some of those issues.”

Within the next two weeks, Metroventures will receive comments from each neighborhood’s implementation committee. The consultant will incorporate the comments into a final report due by the end of the year. Each neighborhood must then approve the final report before the implementation phase can begin.