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Thread: Why do old downtowns "die", and what are we missing?

  1. #1

    Why do old downtowns "die", and what are we missing?

    Being an engineer, this baffles me.
    Our city has invested millions in our downtown which is only about 12 square blocks. We have free on-street parking (which the business abuse) but there are still ample spaces available, a beautiful streetscape with trees, brick pavers and ornamental lighting, newly resurfaced streets, a large million+ dollar dontated fountain, free public parking lots, and our downtown lies on beautiful Lake Erie. It is right off of interstate Route 6, which is part of the Lake Erie Circle Tour. Route 6 sees about 9,000 vehicles/day during the summer, many on their way to Cedar Point amusement park. Our parks which abut our downtown have won the America In Bloom Contest, and we are a Tree City for 15 years running. This year we will complete a bikepath along the lake which runs thru the downtown, making it 2+ miles long. Yet we have many businesses move in and out within a few months. We have no "chain" stores in our downtown, mainly mom and pop stores including jewelry stores, an art stores and several antique shops. What ingredient are we missing?????

    Moderator note:
    your duplicate post in Introduce Yourself has been deleted. Please only make one post on a topic.
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 11 May 2005 at 8:36 AM.
    Who's gonna re-invent the wheel today?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    Why do you want chain stores (except for the obviou$ rea$on)? I'd say if vacancies are low, even if rents are low, then something is being done right. Although I can understand that the city would probably like to see a return on its investment that only national chains can bring...

  3. #3
    Cyburbian illinoisplanner's avatar
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    Emphasize the beautiful Lake Erie waterfront you claim to have as well as your proximity to Cedar Point via a convention & visitor's bureau or chamber of commerce.
    "Life's a journey, not a destination"
    -Steven Tyler

  4. #4
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    Guilty.....

    I've been to Sandusky many, many times, but I have to admit I have never been to downtown. The reason is that we usually just go for the day and after a 2 hour trip plus a day at the amusement park, there isn't any time. Besides, everything is closed when we get there or before we leave.

    Maybe market to the hotels in the area - try to attract those people staying in the hotel that might have some time to come downtown.

    For the most part, people like us on cyburbia go to downtowns just to see the downtowns. You have to capture those people whose destination is Cedar Point. It's kind of like tunnel vision when you get there (oooh, I see CP!!!) and you have to give them a reason to get off the beaten path to go downtown.

    You mention that occupancy is ever changing. If I come to downtown, is there things for me to see and do? Free parking and a beautiful downtown is great, but not if there is nothing to do when you get there. Are there any restaurants, coffee shops? It sounds like there is pretty nice browing/shopping stores.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    Why do you want chain stores (except for the obviou$ rea$on)? I'd say if vacancies are low, even if rents are low, then something is being done right. Although I can understand that the city would probably like to see a return on its investment that only national chains can bring...
    I don't necessarily envision chain stores, but at least restaurants, the existing places get so bogged down during lunch that you can't get in and out in an hour. This forces the workers downtown to go outside of town to get food during their lunchHOUR.
    Chain stores would however draw more of the younger crowd, which I don't know if that is what they want. I do know there aren't many in their twenties that would come to our downtown to shop at a "dancers botique", "antique shop", "basket shop", or "christian book store". Even with these stores, the older population isn't swarming to our downtown, hence the turnover in businesses.
    Vacancies are about 30-40% at any given time. They just put pictures of what downtown "used" to be in the windows of the vacant buildings.
    Who's gonna re-invent the wheel today?

  6. #6

    Correct you are...

    Quote Originally posted by SW MI Planner
    Guilty.....

    I've been to Sandusky many, many times, but I have to admit I have never been to downtown. The reason is that we usually just go for the day and after a 2 hour trip plus a day at the amusement park, there isn't any time. Besides, everything is closed when we get there or before we leave.

    Maybe market to the hotels in the area - try to attract those people staying in the hotel that might have some time to come downtown.

    For the most part, people like us on cyburbia go to downtowns just to see the downtowns. You have to capture those people whose destination is Cedar Point. It's kind of like tunnel vision when you get there (oooh, I see CP!!!) and you have to give them a reason to get off the beaten path to go downtown.

    You mention that occupancy is ever changing. If I come to downtown, is there things for me to see and do? Free parking and a beautiful downtown is great, but not if there is nothing to do when you get there. Are there any restaurants, coffee shops? It sounds like there is pretty nice browing/shopping stores.
    Depending on what you like, there may be things for you to do. I don't think there is much to do there. There is 2 coffee/donut shops, a theater that hosts some pretty big name acts, but those are the two biggest draws. You are also correct on the fact that there are limited hours on many of the stores. Groups hold events in the downtown several times during the summer, but many of the stores close up during the events, how about that for good business??
    Who's gonna re-invent the wheel today?

  7. #7
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Isn't there a Value City in Downtown Sandusky??

  8. #8
    Cyburbian michiganplanner's avatar
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    maybe its as good as it gets. Successful downtowns in michigan have a mix of generally the same thing. Lots of art, a downtown theater (could be playing obsure stuff or one offs or plays), more parking than you would normally conceive to be enough (parking structure), some sort of anchor (could be a chain store or regionally well known store), upscale restaurants (sometimes key for a getting older population), several bars (specialties from Irish to sports).
    The thing to remember is that while parks, brick paved sidewalks or streets, ornamental lighting make for a good show and make residents happy they do not impact a company's bottom line. As an economic developer it is easy for me to promote the aesthetics of a downtown but harder to sell than say tax credits or other financial incentives.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ssnyderjr
    What ingredient are we missing?????
    Chain stores (people unfortunately love them)?

    Downtown residential population?

    Movie/performance theatre?

    Restaurants/bars?

    Contiguous residential neighbiorhoods surrounding downtown (not severed by railroads, industrial areas or highways)?

  10. #10
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by SW MI Planner
    Guilty.....

    I've been to Sandusky many, many times, but I have to admit I have never been to downtown. The reason is that we usually just go for the day and after a 2 hour trip plus a day at the amusement park, there isn't any time. Besides, everything is closed when we get there or before we leave.

    Maybe market to the hotels in the area - try to attract those people staying in the hotel that might have some time to come downtown.
    Are there hotels/B&Bs in downtown? Do people stay overnight in the area when they visit Cedar Point, or is it mostly a day trip? Is it possible to run a water shuttle from downtown to Cedar Point?

  11. #11
    Corn Burning Fool giff57's avatar
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    Sounds like you are missing people. If you are having businesses come and go quickly, there aren't enough customers.

    To answer your first question, they die because the economics of buisness has changed. Folks like the supercenter.
    “As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall”
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau

  12. #12

    Reply to all

    Quote Originally posted by giff57
    Sounds like you are missing people. If you are having businesses come and go quickly, there aren't enough customers.

    To answer your first question, they die because the economics of buisness has changed. Folks like the supercenter.
    Thanks for all of your input.
    Yes, we are missing residents in the downtown, slowly property owners are renovating the upper floors of buildings to make condos/high rent apts. We do have surrounding neighborhoods, we have 3 bars, 2 restaurants. We are working on attracting a water ferry to Cedar Point. We do have a city-owned dock which houses a weekend party boat that goes to Kellys Island, and this year the Jet Express is coming, which goes to Put-In-Bay (South Bass Island) which is a party island. However the shops near the dock really haven't seen much of a residual business effect as one would anticipate.
    Marketing is minimal. Our Downtown was denoted as a Mainstreets organization just two years ago. They have done a little bit of self promotion. Our Chamber of commerce/ Visitors Beareau concentrates on marketing Cedar Point, CP's Castaway Bay, Great Bear Lodge, Kalahari Water Park, Sandusky mall, etc. but little attention (advertising-wise) gets spent on Downtown Sandusky.
    Don't get me wrong, we do have alot of good things going on, The Paper District, and will soon put out a RFP for developers to turn a large public surface lot into a retail/residential building with an internal parking structure (garage) to replace the public spaces. It's just that the businesses (for the most part) don't have the appeal to consumers that travel downtown.
    The point about the streetscape is well taken, but should be a good tool for drawing patrons and businesses due to the aesthetics.
    I was told by a parking vendor once that people don't go downtown for the prices, they go there for the convenience (i.e. nearby available parking, etc.). We have the convenience, we still don't have the people.

    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner
    Isn't there a Value City in Downtown Sandusky??
    You are CORRECT, there is a Value City Furniture store in Downtown. That is the exception, I am sorry, there is 1 chain store in Downtown.
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 11 May 2005 at 10:52 AM.
    Who's gonna re-invent the wheel today?

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    What is the potential market for the downtown, and are businesses catering to it? I have never been there, so I can only go off what you are saying. Base on the lunchtime crowds, it seems like there is a healthy base of employees in the downtown. Antique shops and a Christian book store are not the kinds of places where they might stop. What is the physical layout like? It seems there are some anchors, but do they relate to each other, or are they merely pods where someone drives up, visits one place, and leaves?
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  14. #14
    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal
    What is the potential market for the downtown, and are businesses catering to it? I have never been there, so I can only go off what you are saying. Base on the lunchtime crowds, it seems like there is a healthy base of employees in the downtown. Antique shops and a Christian book store are not the kinds of places where they might stop. What is the physical layout like? It seems there are some anchors, but do they relate to each other, or are they merely pods where someone drives up, visits one place, and leaves?
    Yes, there is a county building (tax map offices, prosecutor, etc.) in downtown that employs probably 50-100 in itself. But like I said before, there are only 2 restaurants, so they are swamped and slow during lunch hours.
    The physical layout is a Parking Garage located in the central area of the square 12 block downtown, with Value City Furniture on the East edge, the STate Theater in the Northern Center portion, with antique shops, resale shops, etc mixed in. The State is the single largest traffic generator downtown, but only has events (usually movies) on the weekends. I would say there is a big name singer/commedian once a month. Other than that, it is closed during the day. Since the businesses are intermixed example: one block has an antique shop, a card (magic, pokemon) collectors store (geared toward kids, they have tourneys, etc.), a kitchen supply company, and a law/insurance office along the same block face, yes there are pods where people pull up and only visit one shop and leave.
    Across the street from there is a bar, a pawn shop, United Way offices, a dog treat store, and there used to be a jewelry store too. Just a mish-mash of types of businesses. Like I said before, we are happy to have anyone fill the storefront, hence there is no organization or order to where these businesses are placed. We probably have enough antique stores to fill 2 block faces. Why would we do that, when people can walk 4+ blocks to hit all of them????
    Who's gonna re-invent the wheel today?

  15. #15
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ssnyderjr
    You are CORRECT, there is a Value City Furniture store in Downtown. That is the exception, I am sorry, there is 1 chain store in Downtown.
    I remember on my tour of Sandusky a few years back that was the oddest location for a value city I've seen, they are typically in malls or strip malls in Detroit. I can also remember how Downtown Sandusky had large green spaces, which would atcually be an attraction for restraunts.

    As a child (1970's) we used to camp at Cedar Point. We used to go into downtown to pick up supplies, even back then there were numerous vacancies (I know I'm a planning geek, been doing this since I was a boy, now I get paid : ) ) due to the opening of the Sandusky Mall. Cedar Point may be one place to draw business from. For example, marketing does not need to be located directly in the park. Perhaps they and other portions of operations, accounting, can move their offices downtown to add to the foot traffic? This would free up space dearly needed on the penninisula as well.

    Perhaps the city or its DDA can open up a one stop shop travel information place downtown that would help generate some traffic as well. Once you get the tourists to actually stop and get out of the car, you can entice them with the green areas and cafes to have breakfast, lunch or dinner. The downtown itself is attractive, has a great deal of potential, and being next to such a large attraction, there is something that could be done to help increase business downtown.

  16. #16
    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner
    I remember on my tour of Sandusky a few years back that was the oddest location for a value city I've seen, they are typically in malls or strip malls in Detroit. I can also remember how Downtown Sandusky had large green spaces, which would atcually be an attraction for restraunts.

    As a child (1970's) we used to camp at Cedar Point. We used to go into downtown to pick up supplies, even back then there were numerous vacancies (I know I'm a planning geek, been doing this since I was a boy, now I get paid : ) ) due to the opening of the Sandusky Mall. Cedar Point may be one place to draw business from. For example, marketing does not need to be located directly in the park. Perhaps they and other portions of operations, accounting, can move their offices downtown to add to the foot traffic? This would free up space dearly needed on the penninisula as well.

    Perhaps the city or its DDA can open up a one stop shop travel information place downtown that would help generate some traffic as well. Once you get the tourists to actually stop and get out of the car, you can entice them with the green areas and cafes to have breakfast, lunch or dinner. The downtown itself is attractive, has a great deal of potential, and being next to such a large attraction, there is something that could be done to help increase business downtown.
    I appreciate your thought on having CP place offices downtown, that is a good idea. Actually our Downtown Development Director has an office on the "main drag" in downtown.
    Who's gonna re-invent the wheel today?

  17. #17
         
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    Rejuvenating a dying downtown

    Quote Originally posted by ssnyderjr
    Being an engineer, this baffles me.
    ...We have free on-street parking (which the business abuse) but there are still ample spaces available...free public parking lots...What ingredient are we missing?????
    Based on the limited information you provide about your downtown, my speculation is that one of the most serious problems, and perhaps the lynchpin, is this:

    Excessive off-street parking is being provided.

    You say that there is free and abundant parking downtown. That suggests to me that the downtown has provided way too much off-street downtown parking, and is killing its ability to attract people.

    I’m going to guess that the City requires that new development downtown must provide parking. If so, the City should seriously consider exempting new developments from being required to provide parking.

    Below are some of the important reasons why it is common for a city to exempt businesses from downtown parking requirements, and why too much free, downtown parking is ruinous.

    Agglomeration Economies
    A Central Business District (CBD) is healthy almost exclusively because of “agglomeration economies.” That is, downtowns survive because of a concentration of government offices, residential density, services, and cultural events in a relatively small space. Concentrating activities, buildings, and services in a small space increases efficiency and maximizes economic health—largely by drawing large numbers of people and minimizing the distance they must travel in order to interact (or spend money). These concentrated downtown entities thrive in part based on the synergistic, spillover benefits that downtown proximity to nearby activities provide. Off-street parking detracts from each of these factors—particularly density and synergy. A crucial side benefit to higher residential densities downtown is that such densities create what economists call the “24-hour downtown.” Such downtowns are places that do not close up at 5 pm at the end of the workday. Folks living downtown provide patronage to downtown throughout the day and night because they live there, and they are often looking for goods and services. By being more alive and less deserted throughout the day and night, 24-hour downtowns become safer places because citizens watch out for their collective security as they walk the streets.

    Small Business Incubation
    Because a healthy downtown has high agglomeration economies and can support some forms of business activity with little or no need to provide parking, healthy downtowns tend to be an effective and important incubator for small, locally owned businesses—a large percentage of which would not be possible without what a downtown delivers. Small businesses are strongly promoted when start-up costs are low and there is a concentration of pedestrian traffic. The higher residential densities found in agglomerated downtowns also provide a stimulus for small businesses, as such densities are essential for creating viable small businesses that depend on walk-in customers and not just auto-based customers. Off-street parking undercut these benefits for small businesses by substantially increasing start-up costs, reducing walk-in traffic, and substantially reducing potential residential densities.

    Market-Distorting Subsidy
    Free parking is a market-distorting, enormous subsidy inequitably available only to motorists (it is a subsidy not offered to pedestrians, bicyclists or transit users). As Todd Litman points out, minimum parking requirements clearly create economically excessive parking supply. That is, substantially more parking must be offered than would be provided based on market principles of supply and demand.

    Lifestyle Choice
    To meet the needs of all residents of our community, there is a need to provide for the full range of lifestyle choices, from walkable urban, to suburban, to rural. In cities throughout the nation, the walkable urban lifestyle is rapidly vanishing. Since such a lifestyle has been desired throughout history by all cultures by at least a segment of the community, and will always be desired by a segment of the community into the future, it is essential that such a lifestyle be provided for. Off-street parking significantly detracts from the ability to provide for such a lifestyle.

    Crime Magnet
    Surface parking tends to attract and promote criminal or juvenile delinquent behavior. Pedestrians tend to feel unsafe walking downtown when there are large, empty spaces, in part because the security of citizen surveillance is compromised by such vacant, unused spaces. A well-known Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) principle states that degraded, deteriorating, blighted, or abandoned places send the message that the place is not being defended or watched over by users or owners, and is therefore seen as a safer place to engage in crime. CPTED also calls for “territoriality.” This strategy starts from the premise that design can create a “sense of ownership” over territory, which can create a “hands off” message for would-be criminals. A notable attribute of parking lots is that they tend to create a “no man’s land” that does not seem to be owned by anyone.

    Space
    Per person, cars consume an enormous amount of space. If we add up the size of a parking space, and the space needed to maneuver to the parking spot (aisles, shy distance, etc.), a car needs approximately 300 square feet of space. That space must be used efficiently in order for there to be a net benefit for a downtown, where agglomeration economies means that space is very, very dear. While it is true that a Bill Gates or a Donald Trump could take up the equivalent of 30 or 50 parking spaces and still provide a net benefit for a downtown (because they will sometimes spend a lot of money when they are downtown), most of us mere mortals do not provide a net benefit when we compare the amount of downtown space we consume upon arrival to a downtown by car to the amount of money we will probably spend once we get there. Note that suburban strip shopping centers or regional malls are able to overcome this spacing constraint that downtowns face because while it remains true that each motorist consumes a great deal of space when they arrive by car, land is so ample and low in cost in the suburbs that a huge amount of car storage space can be provided with vast asphalt parking lots that dwarf the retail stores. Because the suburban parking lot is so large, because the spaces are free, and because the shopping is convenient to major roads and highways, the suburban shopping area is able to attract a regional consumer-shed of customers. The sheer number of customers is able to overcome the inefficient use of space per customer/motorist. But notice that once a person parks at a shopping mall parking lot and walks inside the mall, there are an enormous number of shops within a compact, human-scaled space that are easy to walk to (the agglomeration economies happen once the person enters the inside of the mall or “superstore”).

    “In order to meet modern parking requirements, historic property owners must often demolish adjoining structures to accommodate the parking,” according to Constance Beaumont. “This destroys not only the buildings, but the visual cohesiveness of historic areas. It forces people to rely even more heavily on cars for transportation because it makes the urban environment less hospitable for pedestrians. Over time, the community loses its social cohesiveness along with its identity.”

    Business Unfriendly
    It is very costly, particularly for small businesses, to provide 300 square feet of land to store a vehicle for each employee and each customer. With typical minimum parking requirements, for example, Donald Shoup estimates that the average restaurant must purchase and maintain approximately three times as much land for the parking as for the land needed for the restaurant itself. “Although some suggest limiting parking supply in CBDs puts downtown areas at a competitive disadvantage within a region, requiring too much parking can also discourage development by forcing developers to dedicate valuable CBD space to parking.”

    Requiring Parking Lowers Development Densities
    Because each off-street parking space consumes 300 square feet of land, requiring new developments downtown to provide off-street parking would reduce the potential density of the project substantially, which is counter to the common, desirable objective of promoting downtown density. “At the requirement of 2.7 spaces per 1,000 gross square feet, the square footage of parking equals the square footage of building area,” according to Richard Willson. “At any greater parking requirement, there is more parking area than building area…If advocates of slow growth proposed density reductions of 30-40 percent, they would raise a vigorous debate. Yet parking requirements indirectly restrain densities without any substantive policy debate…When a jurisdiction adopts high parking requirements, it is enacting a form of growth control…Suburban locations with low-cost land are more desirable, because parking can be provided at a lower cost than in central suburban or urban areas…Reformed parking requirements could be a powerful factor in supporting a community’s goals, whether they concern environmental quality, urban design, transportation systems or economic development.” Indeed, as Shoup has pointed out, “form no longer follows function, fashion, or even finance; instead form follows parking requirements.”

    Example Cities
    There is a very strong, inverse correlation between the amount of free parking provided in a downtown per capita and the health of the downtown. The less attractive, more crime-prone, more deserted the downtown is, the more it can afford to provide free parking (because there is so little demand for buildings and people to be there). Conversely, the more attractive, safe, healthy and exciting a downtown is, the more costly and scarce the downtown parking becomes (because there is so much demand for buildings and people to be there). Cities such as Detroit, Houston, Buffalo, St. Louis, Dallas, Cleveland and Newark are prime examples of compromised cities with excessive parking. The downtowns of these cities contain a vast amount of surface parking (much of it free). Yet for several decades, they have also been dying, moribund, scary places that few want to visit or live in. By contrast, the most economically and socially healthy, exciting, attractive cities are all known for their scarce, expensive parking—Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, D.C. Indeed, it has been said by at least one urban designer that “anyplace worth its salt has a “parking problem.” Another once said that “the best indicator of a successful city is lack of parking.”

    What Is the Proper Amount of Downtown Parking?
    Peter Newman and Jeffrey Kenworthy, internationally acclaimed transportation and livable cities experts, surveyed 32 cities around the world. They sought to compare the amount of lane mileage and parking provided in the downtowns of these cities, and then look for correlations between these factors and both gasoline consumption and the livability of the city.

    Based on this analysis, they came up with a rule of thumb for a CBD. The rule of thumb is a parking-to-CBD employment ratio. Their conclusion was that beyond 200 parking spaces per 1,000 jobs, a city becomes noticeably ugly, polluted, auto dependent, energy intensive and deteriorated.

    It may be illuminating, ssnyderjr, to estimate this ratio for your city.

    Downtown Parking Less Necessary
    Unlike the suburbs, car parking is less necessary downtown because travel by car is less necessary. It is significantly easier to walk, bicycle or use transit downtown primarily due to the proximity that downtown provides between homes, offices, retail, services, cultural activities, and government affairs. This proximity inherently provides a concentration of transit services, since transit is most efficiently provided where such proximity exists. As a result, it is relatively easy to get to and from downtown via transit. Census data consistently shows that per capita walking, bicycling and transit use is higher in downtowns than any other part of the urban area. Because of this, per capita car use and parking is therefore lower in downtowns than any other part of the urban area. Per household car ownership is also lower downtown than elsewhere in the city. The “Park Once” environment that downtown provides due to its proximity benefits means that quite often, when a person arrives in downtown, they are able to park upon arrival and walk to multiple destinations in the downtown area, instead of needing to find a new parking space each time there is a desire to go to another downtown destination, such as an office, a retailer or a restaurant.

    What Type of Parking is Preferred?
    The highest value, most preferred parking in a downtown is on-street, curb-side parking. Such parking provides rapid, convenient parking for motorists seeking to quickly dash into an office or shop. It also provides substantial benefits for pedestrians, because it forms a protective buffering layer between moving traffic and the sidewalk that protects pedestrians from the noise and danger of cars. Most importantly, on-street parking creates “friction” which slows cars and obligates drivers to travel more safely and attentively. It is well-known that on-street parking is immensely beneficial to retail shops that abut such parking. In general, the second best form of parking is within parking garages. Garages provide longer-term parking than on-street parking, and provide more protection of the car from weather and perhaps vandalism. Garages take up substantially less downtown land than off-street surface parking, and their “verticality” helps define and enclose the public realm—a form of urban design that pedestrians tend to enjoy and feel safe in. This is particularly true when the first floor of the garage is wrapped with retail or office uses that can activate the sidewalk—rather than creating a dull, sterile, unsafe blank wall (or car grill) experience. By far, the least preferable downtown parking is surface parking lots. Surface lots fail to define space. They create ugly, dead zone gaps in the downtown fabric. They leave pedestrians feeling exposed and unsafe. They tend to attract undesirable behavior by students and teenagers. They increase downtown maintenance costs much more than on-street or garage parking. They detract from the human-scaled, unique, walkable ambience so important to downtown. And as is pointed out elsewhere in this report, they do nothing to contribute to the agglomeration economies that are essential for activating the healthy downtown.

    How Should Curb-side Parking Meters Be Priced?
    Shoup talks about the proper pricing of parking meters in the Fall 2003 issue of Access Magazine:

    “The right price for curb parking is the lowest price that keeps a few spaces available to allow convenient access. If no curb spaces are available, reducing their price cannot attract more customers, just as reducing the price of anything else in short supply cannot increase its sales. A below-market price for curb parking simply leads to cruising and congestion. The goal of pricing is to produce a few vacant spaces so that drivers can find places to park near their destinations. Having a few parking spaces vacant is like having inventory in a store, and everyone understands that customers avoid stores that never have what they want in stock. The city should reduce the price of curb parking if there are too many vacancies (the inventory is excessive), and increase it if there are too few (the shelves are bare).”

    “Underpricing curb parking cannot increase the number of cars parked at the curb because it cannot increase the number of spaces available. What underpricing can do, however, and what it does do, is create a parking shortage that keeps potential customers away. If it takes only five minutes to drive somewhere else, why spend fifteen cruising for parking? Short-term parkers are less sensitive to the price of parking than to the time it takes to find a vacant space. Therefore, changing enough to create a few curb vacancies can attract customers who would rather pay for parking than not be able to find it. And spending the meter revenue for public improvements can attract even more customers…”

    “…Old Pasadena had no parking meters until 1993…Customers had difficulty finding places to park because employees took up the most convenient curb spaces…The city’s staff proposed installing meters to regulate curb parking, but the merchants and property owners opposed the idea. They feared that paid parking would discourage people from coming to the area at all. Customers and tenants, they assumed, would simply to shopping centers like Plaza Pasadena that offered free parking…To defuse opposition, the city offered to spend all the meter revenue on public investments in Old Pasadena. The merchants and property owners quickly agreed to the proposal because they would directly benefit from it…The…proceeds paid for street furniture, trees, tree grates, and historic lighting fixtures throughout the area. Dilapidated alleys became safe, functional pedestrian spaces with access to shops and restaurants…Dedicating the parking meter revenue to Old Pasadena has thus created a ‘virtuous cycle’ of continuing improvements…Old Pasadena’s sales tax revenues quickly exceeded those of Plaza Pasadena, the nearby shopping mall that had free parking. With great fanfare, Plaza Pasadena was demolished in 2001 to make way for a new development—with storefronts that resemble the ones in Old Pasadena.”

    “Would Old Pasadena be better off today with dirty sidewalks, dilapidated alleys, no street trees or historic street lights, and less security, but with free curb parking? Clearly, no. Old Pasadena is now a place where everyone wants to be, rather than merely another place where everyone can park free...”

    “…Tellingly, although Westwood Village [a business district in LA] has about the same number of parking spaces as Old Pasadena, merchants typically blame a parking shortage for the Village’s decline. In Old Pasadena, parking is no longer a big issue…curb-space occupancy rate in Old Pasadena was 83 percent…In contrast, Westwood’s curb parking is underpriced and overcrowded…curb-space occupancy rate was 96 percent during peak hours, making it necessary for visitors to search for vacant spots. The city nevertheless reduced meter rates…in response to merchants’ and property owners’ argument that cheaper curb parking would stimulate business…The result is a shortage of curb spaces, and underuse of the off-street ones…Nevertheless, the shortage of curb spaces (which are only 14 percent of the total parking supply) creates the illusion of an overall parking shortage.”

    Free Parking is Not Free
    Free parking is not free, even for those who do not drive. The cost of buying and maintaining it is high, and that cost is ultimately paid by customers (through higher costs for goods and services), by higher taxes (since costly parking discourages creation of new businesses), and by higher unemployment (since costly parking discourages job and business creation or expansion). Because of the initial cost and the on-going maintenance for the needed “free” parking, housing is more expensive, and businesses must pay higher rent for their premises. We don’t pay directly for the parking as motorists. But we pay for it through higher housing and rent costs, higher costs for a meal at a restaurant, higher costs for a haircut or a pair of slacks we buy, and higher costs to see a theatre production. The “free” parking therefore has hidden costs that distort how we behave, how we travel, and what we buy.

    Competitive Leverage
    Downtown can never compete with suburban areas on product or service price, availability of parking, access via large capacity roads, or diversity of goods. (Cheaper goods and services is necessarily an advantage of the suburban shopping because suburban shops are able to always provide lower prices than downtowns simply by the much larger volume of customers they are able to serve through regional consumer-sheds.) The only competitive leverage downtown can have over the suburbs is:

    1. Agglomeration economies, which are discussed above; and
    2. A compact, walkable, delightful, “park once” ambience.

    Each time a downtown adds more surface parking, it further deadens a downtown. It subtracts from the very thing that makes the downtown competitive with outlying suburban shopping: compact walkability. Surface parking lots put a “gaptoothed” tear in the urban fabric so important to the pleasant, interesting ambience sought after by many downtown pedestrians. For an enjoyable experience, most pedestrians need to feel a sense of enclosure. They need the engaging experience of active shopfronts next to them on the sidewalk. Downtown parking lots take away from those essential pedestrian experiences.

    Business Owners
    Cities need not worry much about a downtown parking exemption because it is quite unlikely that a business would “cut its own throat” by not voluntarily providing what it believes is sufficient parking. Indeed, the key these days is to not require minimum parking, but to establish a parking maximum for walkable parts of the community, so that the competitive leverage and walkable lifestyle is not subverted by sub-optimizing car storage.

    Is More Downtown Parking a Poison Masquerading as a Cure?
    A dead or dying downtown strives to revive itself, typically, by providing more parking to attract people. But because there is a net loss in terms of downtown space given up per motorist, this becomes a losing proposition. Additional parking—because it consumes so much space—chases away opportunities to establish or strengthen agglomeration economies (there is less downtown land available for buildings/activities/services when more parking is provided). The result is that more parking is akin to “destroying a village in order to save it.” The added parking delivers relatively few people to downtown (because of how much space is needed per person), and most of those people are spending only trivial amounts of money—if any—once they get there, thereby not compensating for the valuable downtown space they are consuming. Each time more parking is provided downtown, the downtown loses opportunities to attract people. Remember: People are attracted by buildings/services/activities. They are not attracted by parking, in and of itself. How many people, for example, would be attracted to a downtown if the downtown consisted of nothing more than a giant surface parking lot?

    Retrofitting Required Parking Would Make Nearly All Downtown Businesses Illegal
    When a city decides to establish and maintain off-street parking requirements for downtown, it actually makes a great many existing businesses and offices and residences non-conforming.

    Examples of Impermissible Activities Should Parking be Required
    Should a downtown require off-street parking, the following are examples of the types of activities that could only be allowed in a downtown at an enormous cost (to buy land for parking):

    · Convention/Conference Center
    · Major Theatre
    · Major housing development
    · Major Sports Complex
    · Major Fitness Center
    · Major new government building
    · Large Hotel

    Summary

    The key for a downtown to remain healthy (or return to health) is to build on its strengths. Those strengths are, and will always be, walkable, compact, vibrant, human-scaled ambience. Essential ingredients to achieve this is the providing higher density residential development downtown; nurturing a “24-hour downtown,” maximizing active buildings, services and activities downtown; minimizing underutlized land (such as with parking lots); creating a downtown conducive to walking and bicycling; and the providing quality public transit service. This leverage is showing itself to be quite successful and profitable in places throughout America where it is skillfully deployed.

    Requiring downtown parking makes downtown housing less affordable. It makes retail business less healthy and makes their goods and services more costly. Required downtown parking makes downtown less walkable. It makes the downtown less safe and less convenient for walking, and makes the downtown less interesting and less enjoyable. Oversupply of parking deadens downtown vibrancy. Required downtown parking would make it impossible to site a number of potential, important uses downtown and would make a number of existing businesses non-conforming. Additional downtown parking would make downtown a less profitable investment and would reduce the ability of downtown to attract new, desirable residents. It would add more of the least desirable of the three forms of parking. It would harm the ability of downtown to create and sustain small businesses. It significantly reduces the potential density and intensity of downtown.

    Requiring ample, free surface parking downtown is therefore ruinous to a healthy downtown.

    Note that I do not argue for a total elimination of downtown parking. Metered on-street parking can be enormously helpful to a downtown. And multi-story, priced parking can also be beneficial – particularly when it is wrapped with office or retail.

    The enemy for a downtown is abundant, free off-street surface parking.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian Man With a Plan's avatar
    Registered
    Jul 2004
    Location
    Arlington, VA
    Posts
    219

    Old downtowns don t die...

    they just fade away.

    I know - not a laughing matter. I'm dealing with a downtown that has passed on as well. Only our problem is one of no support from ____, ____, and especially_____. So forgive me if I just make jokes. After six years of trying to convince _________ that a strong downtown should be a priority, with no success, the jokes are all that keep a plannah going.

  19. #19
    [QUOTE=domz]Based on the limited information you provide about your downtown, my speculation is that one of the most serious problems, and perhaps the lynchpin, is this:

    Excessive off-street parking is being provided.

    You say that there is free and abundant parking downtown. That suggests to me that the downtown has provided way too much off-street downtown parking, and is killing its ability to attract people.

    I’m going to guess that the City requires that new development downtown must provide parking. If so, the City should seriously consider exempting new developments from being required to provide parking.

    We currently do have exemptions on downtown businesses, so that they DON'T have to provide x parking spaces for thier business.
    Your point regarding abundant free parking is well taken, but at times (during events at the State Theater, festivals, etc.), these off street lots and our only garage are parked full. With only 60-70% of our store fronts full, we will be in a pickle when the storefronts are 80-90% full, and the residences above them are full, and no one has any place to park during an event. I guess the residents will just walk 3+ blocks to their apt.????
    Who's gonna re-invent the wheel today?

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Plus PlannerGirl's avatar
    Registered
    Mar 2002
    Location
    Va
    Posts
    4,604
    Yes walking 3+ blocks is a fine idea. Unless you have very long blocks this would not be far at all. Isnt one of the goals of planning to reduce the use/need for cars?
    "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." Ben Franklin

    Remember this motto to live by: "Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming 'WOO- HOO what a ride!'"

  21. #21
    Except for the very largest cities in THIS country it is difficult to create the critical mass of pedestrian traffic needed to support a vibrant downtown. The rare exceptions to this are places which are dominated by large universities such as in Madison and Ann Arbor. The universities provide a built in mass of people that enliven the streets. The lively streets then attract additional people who would not have been there otherwise.

    The reason we cannot create the critical mass in the US is because we are too car oriented and we are a very fearful people. (many think Michael Moor's Columbine movie was about gun control but it was really an examination of our fears as a nation)

    The convenience of the car also provides safety to a fearful suburban market. Most metro areas even the largest are dominated by the suburban residents. If you can't attract these people in a small market you can't succeed. It may not be possible to do this without Disneyfying the city. This approach may be worse that what you have now.

    My own experience with my suburban relatives is that they have a strong underlying fear of the city. They rely on the controlled environment of the suburbs provided by their cars and privately owned parking lots. For instance they feel safe in a mall parking lot no matter how far from the store they have to park because it is owned and controlled by an identifiable entity. The city is different. No one person is in control. Even with close-by parking they find themselves in an unpredictable environment which no one person controls. Walking 2 blocks from your car is a stressful activity to them. Now add the fact that there are very few people like themselves on the street and the stores are not familiar and bam you loose that suburban customer.

    This is where chain restaurants come in handy. They add familiarity and comfort. They say look it is safe here and you can eat here without worrying that it will taste strange.

    I am not sure what the solution will be other than changes in our culture. This is not as unlikely as it may seem. We were at one time much more city oriented and I see signs that the trend is moving that way now. The cities are actually safer now than back in the seventies. I think that I just read that Chicago's murder rate is the lowest since 1968. The biggest sign of this reversal is seen in our TV shows and movies. In the past up until the late seventies TV shows portrayed the city as dark grimy and full of strange characters such as Baretta or Archie Bunker. The suburbs were portrayed as a perfect paradise ala the Partridge Family or the Bradys. Now we see that the burbs are ridiculed on TV in shows like Desperate Housewives while all the hippest coolest people live in an urban setting.

    The problem with this reversal is that we have not given up our irrational fears. Many of our cities (Chicago included) have taken to a process of sterilizing the city in an effort to welcome the new wave of suburban residents back into the city.

    Hope my response is not too long

  22. #22
    Cyburbian nuovorecord's avatar
    Registered
    Dec 2003
    Location
    Portland, Oregon
    Posts
    444
    Domz touched on this in his excellent post, but I wanted to highlight the fact that a "24-hour Downtown" is a key element here. The amusement park will be the primary attracter to your area, but where will people go after they're done at the park, but still looking for activities? The most vibrant places I've been have something going on well into the evening. How late do the stores and restaurants stay open, especially on the weekend?

    Regarding safety, it's ironic that by gravitating towards auto-oriented areas, people are actually increasing the likelihood they will be injured or killed, due to the risks associated with driving, which are far greater than the risk of being attacked.
    "There's nothing wrong with America that can't be fixed by what's right with America." - Bill Clinton.

  23. #23

    Replies

    Steel, thank you for your post, it makes so much sense that psychology and people's fears of cities (particularly downtowns) shys them away.
    There has been so much educational info from planners posts in this thread, I am feeling like the residential thrown into the mix is essential to the revival of our downtown. Which brings us some hope, since we are seeing quite a large amount of that going on down there. Although the rentals and condo's won't bring in taxes for us (the govt), the residual businesses that residents require (drug stores, grocery stores, restaurants, places of entertainment, etc.) should or potentially could.

    To answer the other question, the stores and restaurants close at 6P or 7P, whereas the Park (CP) closes at 8P at the earliest, then at 10P later, then at Midnight later into the summer. The 3 bars that reside downtown are the only businesses open. On the streets without the bars, you could roll a bowling ball down the streets and not hit a car after 8P.
    Who's gonna re-invent the wheel today?

  24. #24
    I dont think you need a national chain at all you just need the right mix of uses. Look at the demographics of hte people that are coming to your downtown. Is there a blend of retail, service, office, residential that would create a 24 hour environment. You can pretty up the street facades all you want but if you dont have the right stores you wont get people to come. It just takes some creativity.

  25. #25
    Member
    Registered
    Oct 2001
    Location
    Delmarva
    Posts
    123

    it's a rare downtown that still works

    Consider: Detroit, Toledo, Huron, Cleveland, Panesville, Erie -- and almost anywhere else between Chicago and NYC -- you'd be hard pressed to find a downtown of any size that really works. The dynamics that created downtowns no longer exists. The trains are gone, there's always a mall or at least a WalMart within an hours drive and people no longer live where they work.

    There needs to be the investment in appearance and infrastructure to have any chance at all of revitalizing a downtown, but the competition is tough. The irony is if a mall builder developed an ersatz downtown retail center at a major highway intersection it would be swamped. State and regional government is no help. There is no mechanism to direct new development to urbanized areas so everyone sprawls farther out into greenfields and has no time for downtown. Employees won't hang around after work knowing what kind of commute they face or that the kids are going to have to be shuttled around because there aren't walkable neighborhoods with community infrastructure.

    The best hope I see is the area's boating and fishing. Eventually enough boomers realize what a bargain land and houses can be in proximity to recreational resources, and retired lawyers and dentists will start opening quaint boutiques and restaurants for their peers. Keeping them in town for the winter will be the tough part.

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