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

  1. #26
    Quote Originally posted by ssnyderjr
    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?????
    Is there any residential growth downtown?

  2. #27
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    Quote Originally posted by OfficialPlanner
    Is there any residential growth downtown?
    In theory, sure. What's your zoning code like? Does it allow for adaptive reuse? Can you get an occupancy permit without meeting the same standards as new construction? Is there at least potential for amenities? Again, the irony is that new urbanist communities are being created in greenfield areas with what your town already has: mixed use buildings, smaller lots, grid street paterns, architectural character. The concept is obviously attractive. Some times it's making the first step. Everyone will think the first person to rehab an old dime store for lofts, or build new infill on a small lot is throwing money away. Eventually others catch on. Small town development might be different from big cities, but look at Tremont or the Warehouse District in Cleveland. It's been a long time coming, but people have repopulated downtowns.

  3. #28
    My only advice is that the rules must be flexible in order to attract developers to build downtown residential developments and increase the downtown population. Domz makes some excellent points regarding the parking requirements. It could be that Sandusky requires too much parking and this is adding to the overall cost of real estate, making new developments economically unfeasible and stunting existing business. Keep in mind that parking requirements, development fees, amenity requirements, and other restrictions all add to the overall cost of doing business.

    It's not feasible for a restaurant or other retailer to get the bulk of it's bussiness during morning/evening rush and lunch hour. This might be another reason why the town is having trouble keeping and attracting new business. Having a downtown residential population is key IMHO.

  4. #29
    Cyburbian prana's avatar
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    I agree with adaptor's ideas that many downtowns already have what New Urbanist neighborhoods are trying to create but what they lack is people!

    In the case of downtown Phoenix, I think their most glaring weakness is the lack of a grocery store and some other staple retail outlets such as a mom & pop hardware store. Obviously the Home Depots and Lowes are all going out to the 'burbs, but downtown residents need the basic essentials close enough to walk to.

  5. #30

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    Quote Originally posted by adaptor
    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.

    Hey, add my hometown, nearby Lorain to that mix...Consider: how many downtowns in Ohio are reasonably intact? Perhaps a few college towns have semi-viable downtowns, but beyond that downtowns can't compete with the suburbs...The one thing that sets Sandusky apart from other Ohio cities is that it is near a major vacation destination in CP. My feeling is that most make CP into a day trip -- it's not like going to Orlando -- but there are hotels in the Sandusky area. Of course, hotel chains don't locate in downtowns anymore. I would readily stay at a downtown Sandusky hotel, the people in this list would stay there, but at least 9 out of 10 CP visiters would stay along the highway without even thinking about it. Our society is, as others have remarked, so thoroughly suburban in its mentality that most don't even realize that they are. Add to this the fact that the national chains follow a proven formula -- this means a suburban mall/shopping center that meets certain requirements. This is intended solely as a rhetorical question, but can anyone name a small to middle-sized city (say, under 75,000 or so) anywhere in the U.S. that has a major clothing retailer in its downtown (like the Gap). College towns and heavily touristy towns don't count. Just a normal small town, like Norwalk, Ohio, or a small city like Elyria, Ohio....Anyway, it's good to hear that Sandusky is actually adding housing downtown. I like its downtown, and would live there if I lived in north-central Ohio.

  6. #31

    Zoning, residential questions

    Quote Originally posted by adaptor
    In theory, sure. What's your zoning code like? Does it allow for adaptive reuse? Can you get an occupancy permit without meeting the same standards as new construction? Is there at least potential for amenities? Again, the irony is that new urbanist communities are being created in greenfield areas with what your town already has: mixed use buildings, smaller lots, grid street paterns, architectural character. The concept is obviously attractive. Some times it's making the first step. Everyone will think the first person to rehab an old dime store for lofts, or build new infill on a small lot is throwing money away. Eventually others catch on. Small town development might be different from big cities, but look at Tremont or the Warehouse District in Cleveland. It's been a long time coming, but people have repopulated downtowns.
    Downtown is currently zoned DBD (downtown Business district) as far as I know, it covers many uses (residential/business/commercial, etc.)
    Yes, we have several residential buildings filling up in anticipation of our "paper district" project. Will keep you guys posted.
    P.S. We have no parking requirement for new development, however renovations are subject to meet new codes (our Bldg dept is tight). ADA and NEC - for example - are updated every couple of years, if you don't follow these codes (and make developers do likewise), you are knowingly opening yourself to liability.
    Who's gonna re-invent the wheel today?

  7. #32
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Kovanovich
    Hey, add my hometown, nearby Lorain to that mix...Consider: how many downtowns in Ohio are reasonably intact? Perhaps a few college towns have semi-viable downtowns, but beyond that downtowns can't compete with the suburbs...The one thing that sets Sandusky apart from other Ohio cities is that it is near a major vacation destination in CP. My feeling is that most make CP into a day trip -- it's not like going to Orlando -- but there are hotels in the Sandusky area. Of course, hotel chains don't locate in downtowns anymore. I would readily stay at a downtown Sandusky hotel, the people in this list would stay there, but at least 9 out of 10 CP visiters would stay along the highway without even thinking about it.
    This could easily be solved by forbidding hotels and retail outside of downtown, particularly not along the highways. Of course the city would need cooperation from its neighbors, lest all the sprawl will simply ooze across the borders. Perhaps some type of tax sharing scheme would work?

    It's probably way too late now anyway.

  8. #33
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Kovanovich
    Hey, add my hometown, nearby Lorain to that mix...Consider: how many downtowns in Ohio are reasonably intact? Perhaps a few college towns have semi-viable downtowns, but beyond that downtowns can't compete with the suburbs...The one thing that sets Sandusky apart from other Ohio cities is that it is near a major vacation destination in CP. My feeling is that most make CP into a day trip -- it's not like going to Orlando -- but there are hotels in the Sandusky area. Of course, hotel chains don't locate in downtowns anymore. I would readily stay at a downtown Sandusky hotel, the people in this list would stay there, but at least 9 out of 10 CP visiters would stay along the highway without even thinking about it.
    This could easily be solved by forbidding hotels and retail outside of downtown, particularly not along the highways. Of course the city would need cooperation from its neighbors, lest all the sprawl will simply ooze across the borders. Perhaps some type of tax sharing scheme would work?

    It's probably way too late now anyway.

  9. #34
         
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    I'd say residential is the best way to revive a downtown, but in order to get people to live there you need to also offer services....grocery stores, dry cleaners, parks, salons, shopping, etc..
    You don't mention (or perhaps I missed it) if this is a historic area, perhaps design guidelines are necessary in the area, neighborhood groups, festivals, etc. Things need to be done to make the area different from your typical "Main Street USA"...find a "niche" and move forward with it.

  10. #35
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    Malls

    The problem with the downtowns is due to the mall explosion. Ever since malls were built downtowns went downhill.

  11. #36
    Member CosmicMojo's avatar
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    More residents downtown will help create demand for goods and services.
    There's probably an unmet demand for businesses that serve the current DT population of workers, such as dry cleaners, bank, lunch spots, drugstore, bookstore.
    Are there any municipal services, such as a library you can locate dT as a magnet?
    Other unique magnets: museum, art gallery, restaurants.
    Holding a street festival can help draw people downtown and acquaint them with the unique shops. Stores can have a sidewalk sale so they make sales that day (or else they'll resent closing off the street.

  12. #37
    Quote Originally posted by CosmicMojo
    More residents downtown will help create demand for goods and services.
    There's probably an unmet demand for businesses that serve the current DT population of workers, such as dry cleaners, bank, lunch spots, drugstore, bookstore.
    Are there any municipal services, such as a library you can locate dT as a magnet?
    Other unique magnets: museum, art gallery, restaurants.
    Holding a street festival can help draw people downtown and acquaint them with the unique shops. Stores can have a sidewalk sale so they make sales that day (or else they'll resent closing off the street.
    Yes there is unmet business demands. Lacking lunch spots and a drugstore. There is a nice library nearby and a "state theatre" which folded. 4 bars, a couple art galleries, junk shops, and antique shops. There are several downtown events primarily during the summer, Friday concert series and other festivals thru summer. The non-summer months it really suffers.
    Who's gonna re-invent the wheel today?

  13. #38
    Member CosmicMojo's avatar
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    I like to run a lot of errands during lunch since it's down time anyway and then I can go straight home after work.

    Other stores workers would patronize:
    Video rental store? (has anyone NOT switched to netflix? )
    Optician, Hair salon, newsstand, did I say dry cleaners?

    Getting suburbanites DT is a totally different thing. for them you need unique magnets, stuff they can't get at the mall. IF it's the same as at the mall, they're rather go to the mall 'cause it's closer, easier parking, and safer. They like antique shops, outdoor cafes (OK, I"m alot further south than you, this may not apply where you are. )

    Our local urban shopping district created a strong business owners group that Markets the district aggressively. They worked to define a sense of place. They created a district name so people knew what it was, and could more easily think of the whole district, not just a specifric shop, as a destination. It sponsors events to attract people to the district: Progressive wine tastings lure you from shop to shop. Bring your dog day: shop owners put water and dog treats outside their shops, again, encourages you to walk the whole promenade to see what treat each store has.

  14. #39
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Curious Cat
    The problem with the downtowns is due to the mall explosion. Ever since malls were built downtowns went downhill.
    Decentralization may not be the fault of the mall, offices have decentralized, housing has too. The entire nature of retail has changed. Stores like Super Walmart, Super Kmart and Meijers were unhead of 25-30 years ago. It would be tough to put one of these stores into a downtown, though some have integrated smaller sized versions of their stores into it.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  15. #40
    Cyburbian Hawkeye66's avatar
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    Good points here & a few questions

    I would agree with the poster who talked about finding a niche. Many of the points are excellent. You can't turn back the clock on retail. In our case we get some activity because of government offices, and have a few things to build around.

    I have a few questions: How effective do you think the Main St. type programs are for a small town of 3000-5000 people? Would we be better off doing our own version with some combination of some funds we have saved and a special assessment?

    Also: There is a blight building downtown that we are considering acquiring and turning over to the regional community college. Do you think something like a Community College center with a few classrooms and offices is something that is helpful to a downtown?

    Thanks.

  16. #41
    Member CosmicMojo's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Hawkeye66
    Do you think something like a Community College center with a few classrooms and offices is something that is helpful to a downtown?
    Yes! Richmond's floundering midtown was totally revitalized by VCU's growth. They build new buildings, rehabbed old, built dorms, and those students created demand for goods and services that brought tons of new retail to Broad Street. It has cleaned it up and turned it around.

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