The Long Island Index, a project of the nonprofit Rauch Foundation, is releasing an interactive map of the Island's downtown retail landscape for public use Wednesday.
The map will provide graphs and data on retail vacancy rates from 2009 to 2013 for the Island's downtown areas, as well as locations of retail centers and banks.
"We were able to put together this resource to allow people to look at their communities, look at the history of what's been happening, and use it as a jumping-off point to ask more questions," said Ann Golob, director of the Long Island Index. Data for the vacancy rates were provided by the real estate analytics service CoStar Group.
Overall, retail vacancies in most downtown areas have dropped as the economy has improved. The vacancy rate for all of Long Island was 5.1 percent at the end of 2013 compared to 5.5 percent for 2012. Part of that improvement, however, stems from the slow addition of new space, Golob said.
Jayson Siano, a retail broker and managing principal at Garden City-based Sabre Real Estate, said he has also seen more interest in Long Island's Main Streets in recent years. "We have a lot of . . . restaurant tenants actively pursuing these downtown locations."
The analysis of local downtowns also compared the retail climate on Long Island to suburbs of northern New Jersey and Westchester in 2013. Long Island's 5.2 percent vacancy rate was the lowest of the three regions, and the Island had the highest average rent at $23.61 per square foot. But the Island had a minuscule amount of retail space in development -- 195,328 square feet -- compared to 3.7 million square feet under construction in northern New Jersey.
Golob said the lack of development could be a point of concern, and high rental rates may also keep new businesses from starting or entering Long Island.
"Our ability to compete with other suburban communities is critical," she said. "They have more rental housing, they have much less concern about younger people leaving than we do . . . In my mind it's another indication of how Long Island isn't keeping up with our neighboring communities."
The Index began releasing interactive maps in 2008. Other maps document population, affordability and education on the Island.
The maps can be accessed at longislandindexmaps.com.