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Our Downtown Sucks... does yours?

michaelskis

Cyburbian
Messages
19,461
Points
44
Can anyone tell me what type of business would be good for transition from urban slums to a downtown that will draw people in? Right now, we are looking at what types of businesses would be good to offer incentives to move into our downtown, and to attract other types of those businesses. But we have been having problems coming up with much of a list.

Right now, we have dollar stores, pawn shops, an urban shoe store, CVS, a ghetto Mc Donald’s, and a tobacco store, and a bail bon place.

A block away, in most directions we have good restaurants, coffee shops, and such. And from 8-6 the market is there for better places. With the county building, court house, law district, city hall, a medical center, and several other professional offices, there should not be a problem with cliental. After 6, everything closes.

What type of business would be a good transition from ghetto slums, to a vibrant downtown? (did I mention everything is in a historic district?)
 

Seabishop

Cyburbian
Messages
3,838
Points
25
Ours kinda sucks but is getting better. Its not so much ghetto as backwater mill city. Furniture rental, tattoo parlors (nice looking ones though), tiny restaurants, 2nd hand stores.

Our downtown is odd in that its very linear for a city its size - one main street streching for about 1/2 mile with a 70's urban renewal district streching for another 1/2 mile with public buildings (police, library) and bigger retail and office uses. At least the urban renewal half means that the historic half is mostly intact.

What we have going for us is the potential draw of cultural resources. We've always had Chan's jazz place as a nice oasis. In the past few years we've benefitted from a restored historic theatre and new museum. Hopefully these can combine to draw more visitors here and support some spin-off activity. We're not so bad - just getting people here is often the problem.

We haven't seen much new development downtown yet but the stars are beginning to align. The spread of the Boston housing market is getting developers interested in converting under-utilized mills into market rate housing. The state bikeway is coming soon, and our arts and entertainment district is ready to go. We just got some brownfield money from EPA. Our facade improvement program has made downtown look a lot better.

Some new residential uses on Main Street would be great. So far its just the group home and the old folks' apartments. The creepiest street in the city is around the corner meaning they're a lot of "strange" looking people wandering the streets but its not really threatening.

Our image as one of the state's industrial pits is probably our biggest problem. This is why we're more attractive to Boston area commuters who see a great value and haven't learned to avoid us their whole lives.



More fun reading
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,080
Points
34
Mike D. said:
Tattoo shops and strip clubs always seem to work?
Mike, your suggestions are not helpful - - without the addition of adult book stores.


Seriously, though, you have hit the first level of retail with the dollar stores, drug stores, and shoe stores. You might start by working with them to upgrade their appearance, if that is an issue, and possibly expand.

Have you hired a consultant to prepare a market analysis to identify sales leakage? There might also be non-retail options. With the courthouse, is there a potential market for legal offices? What about non-profit organizations' offices? Medical offices? Do you have something like a Mail Boxes, etc. or a Kinkos? That might be needed, given the surrounding uses.

You might try some uique approaches to make the downtown more attractive. I am waiting to see the first community to use a BID to install a downtown-wide multi-service network. I have heard of one community providing free wireless internet access in public locations in its downtown. These might be very appealing to some businesses or their clientele.
 

biscuit

Cyburbian
Messages
3,904
Points
25
What, no State Stores and adult book shops? You can't be a true Pennsylvania city without these in your downtown. ;)

In all seriousness, this is one of the toughest parts of downtown revitalization - identifying who you want downtown and then finding a way to get them there. I would suggest starting with a survey of existing businesses and residents to see what they would want to see (Although the last town I did one in overwhemingly identified Wal-Mart as the ideal new business for downtown. Go figure). I would then commission a marketing study to find what types of businesses could be supported. Is Reading a member of Main Street PA? If not, that would be an important first step.

Another suggestion is to focus on a major development in hopes that it will spark other growth in downtown. Greenville, SC, which has a great downtown area, starting in the early eighties by luring a Hyatt Hotel to their Main Street. A new performing arts center was completed 10 years later and a focus was placed on developing new downtown housing. Anchoring projects like this have created self sustaining business growth in the downtown district.
 

Miles Ignatius

Cyburbian
Messages
368
Points
12
Gettin' Back To Town

What does the commercial rent structure look like? If storefronts can be had cheap enough for the artist-small theatre-crowd, that might be a start. Then, if they're established, the coffee house-bookstore set will follow. There's an incubator program in the city of Aurora, Colorado, trying to accomplish that very end in their downtown.
 

SkeLeton

Cyburbian
Messages
4,853
Points
26
hmmm to answer shortly: Yes! :(

Let's see, Our downtown is composed mainly by a great amount of drug stores (many of the same brand), some small department stores, other minor crappy stores, banks, a few book stores and 5 small commercial galleries, The church and the post office. Near the rivers' edge there are a few restaurants, of doubtful reputation.

There is a mall under construction, but it's been under construction for like 2 years already. Near the mall, there is quite a good area of restaurants that's like 2 blocks away from downtown.


Oh, and our street layout is described in one simple word: Chaos. You can follow a street, and it can change names about 4-5 times while going straight. Besides that the city has some weird mixed up layout. Valdivia is really a tourist trap, because of it's beauty (mostly of the old german houses and the surroundings) and because of it's street layout :p
They can get in... now let's see them trying desperately to get out :p
 

JNA

Cyburbian Plus
Messages
24,889
Points
51
i can ride by bicycle downtown where
on a saturday/sunday aftenoon about 5pm
no car doors opening in front of me;
i can go the opposite way on an one-way street not fearing any head-ons;
not fear running a red light;
wonder about seeing parked cars and not seeing not more than handful of people around - just where are they going or doing;
nothing open so i can refill my water bottles or use a bathroom;
but it is shaded and quiet.
 

Otis

Cyburbian
Messages
5,165
Points
28
Kinko's was the first thing that occurred to me. They're pretty lively and usually are open late, so the life continues into the evening.

Used book stores are another possibility, as are coffee houses. The dreaded Starbucks attracts alot of people, and maybe there are locally-owned variants that might be persuaded to come in. (No slur intended on Starbucks - just seems some people on this list don't like them.)

Last weekend I was in Portland on NW 23rd Street, and my wife asked me why the street felt so good to be on when others didn't. Street trees, on-street parking, wide sidewalks, outdoor dining, open storefronts: the usual suspects. Restaurants, restaurants, restaurants seems to be one good answer, especially good ethnic ones, along with stores with yup-appeal, like Pottery Barn, linens, apparel, etc.
 

Otis

Cyburbian
Messages
5,165
Points
28
And chocolate shops. Even an olde chocolate shoppe.

Oh, yeah, galleries, too.

With historic designation you should be able to yuppify and trendoid pretty easily.
 

LouisvilleSlugger

Cyburbian
Messages
216
Points
9
ours sucks but its getting better...slowly it seems but within the last few years there have been some big initiatives but the evolution is slow.
 

Mud Princess

Cyburbian
Messages
4,896
Points
27
Michael Stumpf said:
Have you hired a consultant to prepare a market analysis to identify sales leakage? There might also be non-retail options.
I agree. You need to look at what types of businesses the market will support, and try to attract those; otherwise, your "incentives" will only go so far.

BTW, you may be better off providing incentives for property investment rather than business recruitment. Improved properties will help bring in the businesses that recognize the market potential of your downtown.

If you decide you need a consultant... well... ;)
 

LouisvilleSlugger

Cyburbian
Messages
216
Points
9
its so dismaying because Louisville has done so many reports..hired consultants..market surveys, leakage, etc. the whole works. its the action part that really falls short. I have only been here since 2000 and since then I have seen some nice changes but like life down here..things happen slow and there is always resistance to change.
 

Wulf9

Member
Messages
923
Points
22
Take any respectable business you can get. In my prevous job, it was a Taco Bell that jump started the downtown (even though all of the downtown people thought it wasn't up to the imagined quality of downtown). It brought students from the nearby college downtown. That was followed by some coffee shops because there were finally people in the downown.

When your downtown has no vacancies, you can start picking and choosing between potential uses.

We did a batch of other things as well (removed pedestrian barriers, downtown events, eventually built a six plex theater) but the Taco Bell was a turning point.
 

Plan Man

Cyburbian
Messages
125
Points
6
Incentives for residential uses would go further for the downtown than simply trying to bring in commercial uses, I would think.
 

Tranplanner

maudit anglais
Messages
7,903
Points
35
Plan Man said:
Incentives for residential uses would go further for the downtown than simply trying to bring in commercial uses, I would think.
I was thinking exactly the same thing, and that seems to be the "Canadian" approach to downtown revitalization (other than building a Farmers Market).

I think Canadian municipalities have far fewer "tools" to use for economic development than American municipalities - we can't offer tax incentives, etc. to lure businesses in. But I'm not Ec Dev specialist (though I do love a good game of golf).
 

michaelskis

Cyburbian
Messages
19,461
Points
44
What sparked this whole thing is an Art Dealer is looking to move into the city. We have some art studios in a building on the other side of the city, and our neighboring city has some.

I mentioned to our senior planner about this, and said that I would recommend a corner location with large windows, close to the law offices, court house, and only a few blocks from a renovated performing arts center / theater. We also have a hockey arena a few blocks down, and several nice places to eat with in a 4 block distance. But nothing to bring these people downtown. He said that our downtown is not ready for that yet, and it would not be a good transition.

I still disagree with him on that one. Is there a main street PA org? What is there web site? I know of the national main street program. I am going to start looking into grants to start working with them.

What about flower and gift shops?

Thank you (to every one) for your help.
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,080
Points
34
michaelskis said:
He said that our downtown is not ready for that yet, and it would not be a good transition.
Do I understand you to say that the senior planner does not think the downtown is "ready yet" for an art dealer? That is exactly the kind of business that can help turn around an area. You should feel extemely lucky that somebody wants to open this type of shop.
 

Chet

Cyburbian Emeritus
Messages
10,624
Points
34
I agree with Stumpf. Art Dealers are magnets for certain other establishments. They create synergies. They attract other galleries, antique dealers, and uppity resataurants.

It happened in our local warehouse district a decade ago and now the place is booming.
 

biscuit

Cyburbian
Messages
3,904
Points
25
Your senior planner sounds like a dunderhead. Almost any business willing to locate in downtown should be welcomed there.

Yes there is a Pennsylvania Main Street program. I have been working with them in my fiances home town for the past year or so (I've never lived there but was recruited for what they said was my charm and good looks. Although, I know it was really for free planning services ;)). Anyway, the Main street program is a non profit administered by the PA Department of Community and Economic Development (DCEP), who you have to go trough to join. The web sites for each are...

http://www.padowntown.org

http://www.inventpa.com

The DCEP website is really well done and is a great place to find state and federal community development resources.

Good luck and keep us informed with your progress.
 
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michaelskis

Cyburbian
Messages
19,461
Points
44
Does anyone know of any grants for urban areas that can be used for the National Main Street Program?
 

Seabishop

Cyburbian
Messages
3,838
Points
25
Michael Stumpf said:
Do I understand you to say that the senior planner does not think the downtown is "ready yet" for an art dealer? That is exactly the kind of business that can help turn around an area. You should feel extemely lucky that somebody wants to open this type of shop.
We have the same type of self deprecation here. A mill complex burned down in a poorer area a few years ago. Big money developers met with us to pitch their idea for over 200 luxury apartments where a vacant mill once stood. One of our highest ranking officials laughed at them and said "you're going to charge THAT much in rent, HERE?" Years later, the project's under construction, boston area commuters keep migrating down, and area rents keep rising.

The moral of the story - give people credit for doing the research to figure out what's best for them. They're the one's taking the risks.
 

jresta

Cyburbian
Messages
1,474
Points
23
what about trying to carve out an arts district? maybe just a block or two.

work on attracting restaurants on an adjacent block. def. start with the coffee/sandwich shops.

get kids living down there. 20-25 year olds. Does PA have a "live upstairs" grant. There are a lot of intrepid younger people out there who will live in places that no one else would think of as long as the apartments are in decent shape. The record/skateboard/coffee shops are sure to follow.
 

michaelskis

Cyburbian
Messages
19,461
Points
44
I just found out that we are getting a new bank building, and possibly a panara bread company on the opposite corner as where I recommended the art gallery to go. People from the law district would need to walk past the art gallery to get to panara and the bank.
 
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green lizard

Member
Messages
133
Points
6
I was always taught that revitalization in economically
depressed areas can begin with goverment building
relocating into the fringe. Many cities in FL have seen
this path to long term turn around work. (Fort Lauderdale
and Jacksonville) The goverenment (courthouse, driver lic.,
planning & engineering) offices begin to bring their own
support bis with them. (offices, lunch places, dry cleaners,
drug stores). It is not the 24 hour downtown, but it is a
seed to start with.
 

Bear Up North

Cyburbian Emeritus
Messages
9,329
Points
31
In Spring, 2002, Toledo's new downtown baseball stadium opened for biz. The (Triple A) Mud Hens....continually voted as one (1) of the best sports nicknames......played for years in a suburb, in front of sparse crowds watching from an old converted horse racing track grandstand.

The new stadium, built WITHOUT taxpayer help, was an instant success. For the first time since the 1950's downtown Toledo was a destination for somebody other than an office worker doing the usual 9-5 thing. The stadium was named best minor league stadium by several groups.

A couple bars came in (one named "Dirty Bird"...get it?). Followed by a couple restaurants. This week the town is all "a talkin'" about a proposal to build a new arena adjacent to the baseball, including running a main street under the new arena. This was after all the locals talked for years about placing the new arena on the other side of the river, where the true hockey fans lived.

This arena would the home of the local hockey team (I think same league as Reading,PA) but would be large enough (14,000) to also hold concerts and possibly be the new home of the University of Toledo's basketball team.

in the 1950's I shopped (with Mom) at any of the six (6) large department stores downtown (long gone). In the early 1960's the city tried to attract (keep) retail with closed streets becoming pedestrian walkways (miserably failed....long gone). The city tried a "festival marketplace" in the early 1980's (even more failure). They even tried something along the lines of a "warehouse entertainment district". Some big clubs opened, to much fanfare, fizzled within a year or two. (Some small jazz clubs, in existence for decades, still pack them in, though.)

While I'm not in favor of taxpayer help with sports facilitiy construction, etc., having one (1) of those puppies in your downtown would probably help spark some renewal. (Not renewal in the mindset of "urban renewal authority circa 1960")

THE REAL TEST:

My wife's ex lives in the Point Place (on Lake Erie) portion of Toledo. We drive through downtown to get there to drop off the step-son. My wife used to always say, "Lock the car doors."
Now she says, "Let's go to a Hens game."

The same homeless guy sits on the same corner. The same ghetto with the same gangs is just a short drive away. But that perception of life and vitality and fun is now there. Her eyes no longer see empty streets and storefronts. Here eys see the crowds when we do the stadium.

Bear
 

Starrdarcy

BANNED
Messages
14
Points
1
Our "sucks" too. Most of the people who go to commercial to shp is out on the outskirts were all of the malls are.
 

pandersen

Cyburbian
Messages
243
Points
9
Downtowns

How about a good ole fashined store front church clustered with a few scattered abandoned crack houses, flop houses and "pay by the hour" motels to brighten up the place.
 

boiker

Cyburbian
Messages
3,890
Points
26
Rich Townsend said:
And chocolate shops. Even an olde chocolate shoppe.

Oh, yeah, galleries, too.

With historic designation you should be able to yuppify and trendoid pretty easily.
if it's historic everything should end in an 'e'. and if it already ends in an e, add another ee to emphasize the historicalness.

E.G.

Ye olde Pube

Towne Centre (notice the canadian spelling of center, *looks classy)

O'Greggore'se Bare & Grille

Watere streete arte gallerye

the list goes on.
 

steveanne

Member
Messages
176
Points
7
boiker said:
if it's historic everything should end in an 'e'. and if it already ends in an e, add another ee to emphasize the historicalness.

E.G.

Ye olde Pube
I'm not sure I'd ever want to imbibe something from Ye olde Pube
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,080
Points
34
Re: Downtowns

pandersen said:
How about a good ole fashined store front church clustered with a few scattered abandoned crack houses, flop houses and "pay by the hour" motels to brighten up the place.
West Sacramento, CA?
 
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