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Thread: Downtown revitalization ideas...

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Breed's avatar
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    Downtown revitalization ideas...

    Our town's proposed TIF (tax increment financing) looks like it's going to get voted down. I was wondering if I could whip the throbbing brain into givng me other alternatives for downtown revitaliztion (grants, development programs, etc.)... with real world examples.

    Thanks.

    I'll start...

    CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) for Greenwood, SC.
    Used to remove train tracks from downtown to just outside of downtown... used additional open space to rebuild downtown.
    http://uptown.greenwoodsc.net
    Every time I look at a Yankees hat I see a swastika tilted just a little off kilter.
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  2. #2
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    The sad truth is that it often does take seed money from the guv'mint to begin the process of downtown revitalization. In my mind, TIF is often the best source of these funds, as it is flexible, and its availability is tied to the success of the district. If it is not available to you, your choices might include CDBG funds, a business improvement district, general fund money, or grants. Remember to fully employ the resources that are available everywhere, such as SBA and state business loan programs, historic preservation tax credits, and general economic development funds.

    When TIFs get voted down, I usually find it is due to a lack of eduction. It can be very difficult to understand how they function, and people often mistake them for a tax abatement or give-away. The other thing that happens is that their intended uses are not well described. My recommendation is to always have a very clear vision, a short set of concrete goals, and a well-defined list of programs. Provide examples. Put up signs showing what you intend to do, where you will do it. Keep the focus on the results.
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  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    I agree with Cardinal about the need for some public support. We are in the process of promoting a downtown revitalization of Dennisport. I have posted some pictures in the Members Section of the Gallery to illustrate what the area looks like and what we hope to accomplish. We are pursuing a grant for infrastructure improvements form the state public works entity (Public Works Economic Development) and housing funds to create the second/third story housing. We are also building a new Library in the heart of the district. Luckily for us this is an area surrounded by high demand for housing and the vision has been bought into by everyone. The buy in hopefully will assist us in getting the area redeveloped even with limited funding.

    I should note we passed a significant up-zoning in order to promote private investment as well.
    Planning is much like acting, as my old theater professor used to say, "If you sin, sin boldly, only you know if you are ad libbing." I follow this adage almost daily.

  4. #4

    Tax Increment Financing

    It's very important to engage a broad coalition of downtown merchants and property owners to show stakeholder support for this strategy. This group is very sensitive to any perceived move to raise property taxes. Also, by reflex many merchants have a first resort to a "beggar thy neighbor" attitude which worries about some other store owner gained a commercial advantage as a result of government action. They'll work to spike any proposal that smacks of favoritism. To win you have to get everyone seeing common benefits and real results for all players. It only takes one angry letter to sink a development program especially if it involves government grants. All things being equal money will flow to the city where there is broad support and advocacy for a grant as compared to one which is the source of divisive letters of opposition.

    The win strategy here is reinforcement on benefits to be gained through frequent personal communication either in groups or one-on-one.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    What NOT to do:
    do not retain an architect for the first stages of a redevelopment plan
    do not create a committee to head the project that comprises only chamber of commerce types
    do not create "focus groups" hand selected by the above
    do not recommend eliminating all store-front parking
    do not propose to re-build the front blocks for approximately 11 million dollars
    do not by-pass the planning commission and their public review process
    I am not bitter --even if it came out of my budget

  6. #6
    These are all good points. I'd like to add to them. In the core retail downtown district on street and store front parking are major issues for customers. They want the convenience and merchants want customers to be able to park as close as possible to their businesses.

    On the other hand, you also have to provide parking for store employees and also for services and non-retail uses especially office workers, etc. For them consider a strip of free or low cost parking just at the edge of the core retail district.

    Don't put large open lots in the middle of the downtown. From a tax base perspective you want that land for better uses. On the other hand if your town is large enough a multi-story parking structure very near the core retail district could be a draw, but make sure there is demand for all day and visitor parking or you'll have a white elephant on your hands along with upset taxpayers.

    Another issue is traffic flow. Many towns set up one-way street grids to guide traffic because the streets aren't wide enough to handle two-way traffic. An innovation for small towns is to yank all the traffic lights on collector intersections and put in 4- way stops signs. You'd be amazed how much this speeds up traffic. Keep lights for intersections of collectors with arterials and of course for arterials' only intersections.

    Think about opening up alleys to include parking strips, but be sure to leave room for trucks to get in and out for deliveries. Don't forget good lighting for evening uses so the alleys will be safe.

  7. #7

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    There is no substitute for the four National Main Street Center principles. And if your TIF is getting voted down, it probably means the first principle you need to work on is organization - getting an active, strong downtown ass'n that can raise a little seed money privately and do the education that needs to be done. One of the best case studies is Evanston, WY.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Let me argue against one-way streets. It is a traffic engineer's solution. It may speed up traffic but will hurt business.

    Who came up with the idea that downtown is helped by making traffic move through it faster? Most pedestrians would like it moving slowly to improve their safety, or at least their ability to cross the street. Most business owners would like it moving slow enough for people to read their signs. Invariably, though, we look for ways to add lanes (remove parking), make cars move faster (make an unpleasant environment and/or reduce the liklihood of people stopping), or build bypasses (to remove customers altogether.

    Put in one-way traffic and you immediately halve the number of customers passing by the downtown's businesses. Don't do it, unless you want to empty your storefronts.
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  9. #9
    Hi Lee,

    As you may recall from your time way out West downtown streets are pretty narrow hence the use of one-way streets. Wider streets would certainly support your point.

    DY

    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal
    Let me argue against one-way streets. It is a traffic engineer's solution. It may speed up traffic but will hurt business.

    Who came up with the idea that downtown is helped by making traffic move through it faster? Most pedestrians would like it moving slowly to improve their safety, or at least their ability to cross the street. Most business owners would like it moving slow enough for people to read their signs. Invariably, though, we look for ways to add lanes (remove parking), make cars move faster (make an unpleasant environment and/or reduce the liklihood of people stopping), or build bypasses (to remove customers altogether.

    Put in one-way traffic and you immediately halve the number of customers passing by the downtown's businesses. Don't do it, unless you want to empty your storefronts.

  10. #10
         
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    We are in the process of redeveloping one of our historic districts. It is mostly an antique"y" sales area with a few car lots, industrial uses, etc. A consultant came in and gave us an actionplan and the "process committee" (business owners) have really stuck to it and tried to get the things done. We are now at the point where we are ready for development and rather than "scare" everyone with a TIF we have found developers that are interested in forming a 353 Redevelopment Corporation. This stills give a lot of similar incentives that a TIF does but does not have to incorporate the entire street, nor make the City responsibil for the condemnation of certain structures/businesses. It is in the formation stage but appears that it is really goin to help get the redevelopment started.

  11. #11
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    some other thoughts

    1) develop a clear strategy
    2) have a funding source; TIF works, but a business taxing district (or BID/CID/SSA/etc) also works
    3) have a paid staff person, either through the municipality, downtown association, MainStreet, or whatever
    4) develop a marketing plan
    5) have a wwell-organized downtown committee

    My experience has been that with those 4 aspects in place, a downtown can more than compete with the strip malls. two additional items that help:

    --Historic designation, particularly if your state has a rehab tax credit
    --passenger rail service (if you can get it)

    --What I'm dealing with right now is a disorganized downtown committee (that wants to give up its funding), who wants to put industry in downtown buildings. They've now asked me to come up with ideas for them, which I will do, but I've made it clear that I'm only a facilitator, not the white knight come to save them.

  12. #12

    Change your role

    In your post you complain you are only a facilitator and not a "white knight." Well said. If you want to make a difference you must change your role to one that provides leadership. Further, you must go out and convince the real thought and opinion leaders in the downtown to get behind a plan that will work from both operation and financial perspectives.

    Alternatively, have the downtown association hire someone who will fulfill this role. Absent real leadership the loudest complainer and whiner in the room wins. Also, don't forget that people with contrary agendas to the common good often have a financial motive in terms of personal gain. Can you craft "win win" strategies or are the interests intractable? People go with their interests. Identifying individual interests with a well accepted vision of the "common good" will produce tangible results and puts peer pressure on people who pursue beggar-thy-neighbor outcomes.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by elliot42 View post
    1) develop a clear strategy
    2) have a funding source; TIF works, but a business taxing district (or BID/CID/SSA/etc) also works
    3) have a paid staff person, either through the municipality, downtown association, MainStreet, or whatever
    4) develop a marketing plan
    5) have a wwell-organized downtown committee
    emphasise above is mine.

    100% agree. To Compete with a mall, you must become the mall. Agressive marketing and leasing... just like a mall. Brand the downtown, get a management company involved to capture the essence of the downtown shopping experience and sell it to the shopping masses. Improve the existing businesses and the new ones will follow.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally posted by boiker View post
    100% agree. To Compete with a mall, you must become the mall. Agressive marketing and leasing... just like a mall. Brand the downtown, get a management company involved to capture the essence of the downtown shopping experience and sell it to the shopping masses. Improve the existing businesses and the new ones will follow.
    I would only add that residential land use is essential, especially moderate-income and above.
    On pitching to Stan Musial:
    "Once he timed your fastball, your infielders were in jeopardy."
    Warren Spahn

  15. #15
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    These must be the early stages of revitalization. Good luck! Seattle's ugly step-sister (Tacoma) is getting a makeover but, imo, despite all of the new projects and the "excitement," the city still seems "dead." They're building things that only pertain to a small niche and not attractive/useful to the general public imo. Just do everything you can to get people on the streets (not the homeless kind but you know what I mean) and see the change unfold; ofc ourse you already know that .....In tacoma, I think 40 luxury condos and a museum of glass should've been the last things built to revitalize a downtown.

    Mid-market housing and a grocery store should be the base. Of course everything is easier said than done.

    ^^^Oh I forgot to add, but look at Seattle's "revitalization." Although it's been mainly luxe-oriented, they finally tapped into the mid-market with several developments ($198K starting) that all sold like hotcakes. And they just opened up downtown's first major grocery store. I think they're on the right track.

    As far as Tacoma, I haven't read an update in a while, but I remember the beginning was a bit rocky. They did add a free light rail, convention center and a hotel---which was hideous by the way. It showed how desperate the city was by giving a prime hotel spot to a cheap suburban developer who built the most UGLY typical suburban hotel right next to the grand train station and real nice convention center. It was a bad move on the city's part. Enforce strict architectural codes if you can.

    Moderator note:
    <Gedunker> Your edit button is good for about six hours after you post. When you want to add something (as above) just click on it twice and you'll be able to edit or whatever. Carry on!
    Last edited by Gedunker; 27 Dec 2006 at 2:32 PM. Reason: Merged sequential posts

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