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Thread: Courthouse: how important is it to economic development in a small town?

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    Courthouse: how important is it to economic development in a small town?

    Hey Posters. I'd like some input about the residual economic impact of a new Court house that with either be build in the center of our town or on the fringe. I'm looking for information about its impact of foot traffic to the other businesses in the center city. I contend that moving it out of downtown will have a significant negative impact on town business. Input? Thanks!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    I suspect it will. Our City (40,000) in the south is the County seat and thus has the court house and a dozen or more law forms in close walking distance. Also attracted to the courthouse are surveyors, title companies etc...

    I can accept the old central city losing its influence on commerce, but if it is not the center of the civic, then what is it?

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    Resources?

    Thanks! Any idea where I can get some solid resources to make a good arguement for a development on the town square rather than blocks away in a neighborhood with no existing commercial, retail, or dining assets?

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    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    It will absolutely have an impact. Count the number of nearby restaurants, law firms, title companies, and other businesses that draw customers from the courthouse activities. Count the number of employees at the courthouse, and estimate the number of daily visitors for court, permits, administrative business, etc. Now imagine all of that activity somewhere else. Businesses will have fewer customers. The attorneys and title companies may move out as well.
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    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Yup

    Keep it central to the population, easy to access and on main bus/rail/road routes. Try to include it in your redevelopment planning area if you have one. Many places stick them out in the middle of nowhere and I'm not to keen on that Remember, this is mostly administration we're talking about, not so much public works or parks right?
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    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    If you want to quantify the impact call the court house and ask for their average number of visitors per day. Many courts require you to check in. Another option is look at the parking lot and see how many cars are there. This gives you your potential market. Add the number of employees, Assign a multiplier to the likely number that will stop by and multiple that by a reasonable amount they might spend x the number of days the courthouse is used. For example: 100 visitors per day + 100 workers X 30% of these visitors and employees who will purchase something downtown X $6 would equal $360 X times the number of business days (250). That equals $90,000. Is that the total impact...of course not. It does not account for the support services like Cardinal mentioned. This back of the envelope formula should give you an idea of just the retail impact of the court house moving away. I would not use this formula as anything more that a very rough estimate.

    In Arizona a city moved its town hall from the commercial business district to a greenfield site 2 miles north. The impact was felt immediately.

    Down towns need people who either live or work in the area. Unless your downtown is one of the few that is a true destination it will suffer if the courthouse is moved to the fringes.
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

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    Important enough here that some downtown businesses will close on days on which county offices are closed. A recent example occurred on Columbus Day, when the county offices were closed, and so was the stationary store across the street. [I am still not accustomed to Columbus Day as a county holiday. Some years ago, when the county was angry with the state, it traded the employees the Admission Day holiday for a Columbus Day holiday. The state did not notice.]

    This is in a county of about 20,000, with an unincorporated county seat of about 1,900 to 5,500 persons, depending on where one wants to draw the line. The 1,900 are within walking distance of the court house. The 5,500 is better for most purposes. I have seen the number of workers at the court house run from 80 to 120. That is toward the fewer now that some county offices have been relocated to buildings within a block of the court house.

    In addition to the court house, there are six attorney offices, two engineers, a designer, two title companies, and five non-governmental organizations with government oriented business within two blocks of the court house.

    Besides the stationary store, there are seven eating places, often with an additional start up, two street vendors ,two coffee shops (local), a natural foods store with a deli, and two convenience stores, all within easy walking distance, whose lunch traffic is largely court house related. Jury selection days mean big business.

    There are four more eating places and a supermarket deli a little beyond what most folks consider comfortable walking distance. They draw the high school lunch crowd, but there is some spill over.

    There are also four “high-end”, for this town, lodging places within walking distance, which are often filled with attorneys and state workers with business with the county. There are two motels within walking distance that tend more to be filled with railroad workers and truck drivers, but which will not turn down any spill over business they get.

    There are six dinner places (one does not open for lunch) and three breakfast places within walking distance. As well as the vital support services of two bars, a third closed and for sale, and a wine bar.

    I need to mention that the school district offices and a national forest supervisor’s office are in the same vicinity, within walking distance of everything mentioned, so that the court house and other county offices are not the only source of government office based business.

    Businesses in my town are also affected by additional county offices – health, social services, and some other, smaller offices – being located about a mile out of town, close to nothing other than downtown, and with the local community college and its staff located just down the road from there. Two miles further is the local national forest ranger station, with nothing closer to it than downtown.

    Nevada City is a good example of an instance where the county’s (Nevada County) new administrative center was located on the fringe of town, but there is nothing commercial closer to the new location than downtown. The last time I visited this administrative center, it had a small lunch facility, call it a snack bar – cafeteria would be too grandiose. From the traffic patterns I observed, I suspect a fair number of folks went downtown either for lunch, or for personal business that would not be possible after hours.

    The Census Bureau has a lot of data. Unfortunately, much of it does not go down to the small town level. Where small town level Census Bureau data can be extracted, it is necessary to know the census geography of the area. Should one not be familiar with Census geography, that deserves its own thread. That is most often done by organizations with a need to know – chambers of commerce and economic development agencies.

    Where transient occupancy (bed) and sales taxes can be identified at a local scale, they can be valuable indicators.

    Small town chambers of commerce can be a good source of information on how much of their business is dependent on government offices situated within their service area. They will compile this in their own interest, to argue against relocation of those offices, but they know that skewing the data too far works against them and damages their credibility. You can also learn their sources. If some of that consists of transient occupancy tax or sales tax records kept at that specific a geographic level, you can go to the source.

    Any economic development agency tied to the community can also be a good resource, as they often will have already done the work. Incorporated towns are best for this, as their agency will focus on the town. In a county with one incorporated city, and that the third largest community, I deal with an economic development agency that works on a county wide basis and which typically develops community specific data only when a project necessitating it comes along.

    My experience is with California mountain towns, where two or three blocks away can mean out of town, and beyond that, there are no blocks. While I am no great fan of the Sierra Business Council, nor, I think, they of me, I also know they have done some good work – and maybe something along these lines, it would be fitting. http://www.sbcouncil.org/

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Rygor's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by gkmo62u View post
    I suspect it will. Our City (40,000) in the south is the County seat and thus has the court house and a dozen or more law forms in close walking distance. Also attracted to the courthouse are surveyors, title companies etc...

    I can accept the old central city losing its influence on commerce, but if it is not the center of the civic, then what is it?
    Same here. I'm also in a town of about 40,000 and we are also the County seat for a county of population of about 190,000. We have a larger sized neighbor city to the west that also has a larger downtown. Without the employee and customer draw of both the county and federal courthouses in our downtown it's unlikely that my town would have nearly the office and retail presence that it does. The county courthouse looked at possible relocation about 15 years ago because their existing facilities were too small and obsolete. It took a full concerted effort to get them to stay, which they ultimately did by razing about 1 1/2 city blocks to build a new, large annex to the old courthouse building and then restoring the old courthouse. All of that was completed just before I started working there but I know there had been economic impact studies done. Not sure of the numbers but the economic impacts were very significant, not to mention the immeasurable impacts on civic pride.
    "When life gives you lemons, just say 'No thanks'." - Henry Rollins

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