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Thread: artificial downtowns

  1. #1
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    artificial downtowns

    My city is in the process of doing a Comprehensive Plan. Part of what we're looking at is developing a "town center." Currently, we do not have any kind of business district with the exception of some strip developments along the highway. I think the steering committee is looking for an old-style downtown area: buildings close to the street, wide sidewalks, apts above businesses, mixed use in surrounding areas, etc. I've seen other cities do this and end up with an outdoor mall containing stores like GAP, Victoria's Secret, Abercrombie and Banana Republic. I think the citizens would like to have some local shops in the development, too. My question is how do you put something like this together with franchises without ending up with inflated rents that keep local businesses from moving in? Also, is there a way to do these new "old downtowns" without making them look to artificial? Thanks for your help!

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  2. #2
    It is very difficult to incorporate local businesses into "new" downtowns. We are working on a mall redevelopment that will create an artificial downtown, but I believe that the rents will be too high for most local businesses to afford. Unfortunaly, many of the smaller businesses here are being relocated to areas that will not have the visibility and draw that the new City Center area will have.

    Part of the problem is that thses types of developments are rather expensive to build, so the rents are higher. Plus developers are going to push for whatever rents the market will bear, which in our case is pretty high. There was much more interest by businesses than there is available space.
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  3. #3
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    I dont think any one magic formula works. In the end its all about balance and context sensitivity.

    Is your community accustomed to design regulation? Oh wait you're from Texas probably not! Just kidding. We're going through a similar process in our "downtown" which is basically a strip mall, and in an historic crossroads that's being impacted by a highway widening project. Revised zoning: Maximum setbacks instead of minimums, reduced offsets, maximum permitted floor areas. Architecture: Specify style, bulk and mass prohibitions.

    In the end, the mom-n-pops probably arent going to be able to afford the triple net leasing cost of a brand new building. If TID is an option, you can use developer incentives to keep rents - or perhaps a % of rents - affordable for a period of years.

    Off-topic:
    Our downtown:

  4. #4
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    Just a thought, but has anyone considered "affordable housing" type programs for this type of development? Have 10% of floor space set aside for local buisnesses, for instance, or provide subsidies.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Back in the 80's there was an idea of making "downtowns" that were civic centers. It usually entailed putting a park next to the city hall, next to the fire department, next to the library, next to the school.... I did an internship in a community with one of these. There was no thought of commercial uses in it.

    Now, many of the "new downtowns" are actually what you describe - outdoor malls made to look something like an old downtown. They are developed by a single company that controls all aspects of their development. There are a few exceptions.

    One question: will the city be taking the initiative to structure and implement the development, or is this just a plan? Unless you are heavily involved (own the land, develop the infrastructure, select the developers, etc.) then you should not have much of an expecation to get more than an outdoor mall. Communities that have been at the heart of the initiative have tended to have the best results.

    Don't be too strict on dictating architectural styles. Allow variety. You may get a lot of franchises, but again, if the city economic developers are playing an active role, they can go out to independent stores and small regional chains to solicit them to come to your "downtown." Even so, I would not count on them being more than a quarter of the area tenants.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian JNL's avatar
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    I've just read 'Planning for Pedestrian Networks in North American Downtowns' by John Zacharias (thanks for the tip, donk!), which identifies some of the issues associated with integrating new development into existing downtowns, with a focus on providing for pedestrians. May be useful. Can be found in the Journal of Advanced Transportation, 28(2), pp. 141-156.

  7. #7
    "I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

    - Homer Simpson

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Originally posted by Michael Stumpf
    Don't be too strict on dictating architectural styles. Allow variety.
    I can argue both sides of that one. At a minimum there ought to be some guidance or else you'll get the Box-o-EFIS.

    Again, it all goes back to context. In one design guide for part of our town we require "residential character" while in other areas its more specific, such as requiring "rural and agrarian" appearance, and in another we require "colonial".

    All depends on what you're trying to accomplish, and whether or not the project is controlled by a single developer or multiple stake holders. Singel developer tends to require less rule making and more negotiation.

  9. #9
    Member Lichtronamo's avatar
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    Arbor Lakes, MN

    I live in a suburb of Minneapolis that has developed a new downtown from what was once a gravel mine area. The area developed with several big-boxes oriented behind a four block strip of buildings designed to to look like "traditional" main street structures. These buildings have small shops with entrances on both sides. On the main-street side is sidewalks and parallel parking and on the other standard parking lots. The look of the buildings is somewhat contrived, but if you just drive through the area, you get the right effect. Overall, the area has been very successful with a mix of chain stores/restaurants to some unique local businesses.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    One of the nice things about designing a "new" downtown is the ability to accomodate things like pedestrian arcades, outdoor seating areas, mini-parks, and the like. On the other hand, you do lose the "accidental" points of interest that spring up on their own over time.

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