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Urban Commercial Redevelopment

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2
Points
0
Can someone please educate me on the process of attracting businesses to a near-downtown, urban neighborhood?

Over the Rhine in Cincinnati has hundreds of empty storefronts, and city officials and even local developers seem to have lost their way completely. What can an independent non-profit do to attract businesses to such a neighborhood?

To narrow the range of the question, I don't mean only small business development (which I'm certainly in full favor of). How can a neighborhood attract chain retail stores to create a diverse shopping atmosphere? Is it plausible to attract a number of businesses and then find a developer, or some similar process that doesn't depend on local developers taking the initiative?
 

BKM

Cyburbian
Messages
6,464
Points
29
Except for certain upscale "lifestyle" chains, relatively few national retailers will choose a dense, urban neighborhood like Over-the-Rhine-unless there is substantial vacant land that can be aggressively assembled or unless the City (or neighborhood) is willing to accept demolition and construction of a more automobile-oriented retailing environment. That means big boxes and parking lots-with few limits on design because you are rtying to attract businesses to an unfashionable area.

You just have to ask yourself: how much are we willing to sacrifice to get the chain retail? And, will it come herer anyway?

Your best bet might be to keep slowly plugging away. A neighborhood like yours won't turn around overnight, and I would be very wary of anyone who claims that their plan or their discount warehouse store will miraculously solve things.

Good Luck!
 

Jeff

Cyburbian
Messages
4,161
Points
27
Philly is using the "empowerment zone" approach, with reduced taxes and I belive no taxes for the first 10 years in some cases.
 

Seabishop

Cyburbian
Messages
3,838
Points
25
I'm not familiar with the neighborhood but it might be helpful to focus on mixed use redevelopment rather than strictly commercial uses. Zoning should allow developers to turn upper stories into dwelling units to capitalize on whats already there and give developers more bang for the buck.

Creating a facade improvement program might help the businesses remaining, giving the area's image a boost and creating the sense that something positive is happening.

If you're targeting chains, it might be a good idea to apply design review criteria now that would keep them in character of the neighborhood.
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,078
Points
33
A few years ago I saw a presentation on Chicago's efforts to bring retail into the city. They had first tried to find out if they had available commercial space. I can't remember the quote exactly, but it was something like having it, only it was seven miles long and 100 feet deep.

The model of retailing has largely changed over to an auto orientation. The old buildings and platting are not going to be attractive to most retailers and developers. You might try several alternatives:

- Build housing. Is that much retail space needed? Why not convert some of it to housing or build new housing in its place. Chicago, again, has design guidelines - a sort of "how to" manual on converting traditional retail storefronts into housing.

- Cluster the retail activity. Make it easy for people to walk from one shop to another. Don't allow them to spread out sporadically over a strip (excepting some that may serve small markets).

- The local economic developers should get involved. Identify redevelopment sites, assemble land and buildings, offer incentives, recruit, etc.

- Try new uses and users. This space is often cheap. It is a great place to incubate new business. Help entrepreneurs out by offering support services or underwriting leases. You might find a very eclectic mix of services, artisans (hey, I know a welder who does metal arts on the side), retail, etc.

- The chains are not likely to be all that helpful. Many are franchises, and you really need to find someone who will buy the franchise. The ones who like urban areas like OtR are ones like Foot Locker and Walgreens. Sure, they provide services and a handful of jobs, but about 90-95% of their income heads back to the parent company. Focus locally and think independent.

- There are really other issues in play. Unemployment, education, crime, and the like are going to have to be addressed simultaneously. Approach the problem comprehensively. I you are going to say "but we don't do that" then just give up now. You need to do it, or coordinate with others who do.
 

mugbub

BANNED
Messages
67
Points
4
OTR

For those who don't know, Over The Rhine (OTR) is one of the settings in the filming of the movie Traffic. The neighborhood where the rich kids in the movie bought their drugs. Very rough neighborhood indeed. Also the focus of last year's Cincinnati race riots. As you can see it's in a perilous situation.

To answer your question Spencer, don't try to attract many national chains- they won't touch the place- atleast not the heart of OTR.

The good news is that OTR borders decent areas of downown Cincy and neighborhoods to the north. That is OTR's strength: proximity to high demand areas. If you do attract the big nationals point them to the periphery of OTR and work your way in. Otherwise you should encourage the urban pioneers such as artists, homos, etc. Get them to live above the empty storefronts and you'll have demand to fill the storefronts.

Lastly, if you are going to broker a development deal get an out of towner. OTR carries a deep local stigma. Bottom line: you don't have much to work with, but you have proximity. Best of luck.

ps.
Trivia: Do you know how Over The Rhine got it's name?
 

BKM

Cyburbian
Messages
6,464
Points
29
Mugbub's right. The neighborhood may be in a perilous situation, but there is some great 19th century commercial building stock that "pioneers" may be willing to repair. Many California cities would kill to have architecture like this.
 

donk

Cyburbian
Messages
6,970
Points
29
I'll support mugbug and BKM also and throw out the idea of amenity. If the area in question is a fringe neighbourhood, but close to other amenities the "pioneers / come heres" will seek it out and earn their equity through sweat.

One cautionthough is that it takes time and once teh pioneer businesses have made an area attractive the chains tend to swoop in and force out the businesses that make a place real. For example, Queen West in TO. Sunglass Hut out bid an independent book retailer (bakka) that had been in the same location for 35 years. Then club monaco and the GAP invaded. Most of the local businesses that didi not own the building are now gone and you basically have an outdoor shopping mall experience. one exception, is Active Surplus, but the gorrilla has moved inside because the new people do naot appreciate him.
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,078
Points
33
Too much success is not a good thing? I suppose that would explain the ridiculously high cost of housing, too.

Although I love small towns, I could just as easily drool over the chance to help bring life back to a neighborhood like Over the Rhine. Let me know if they are looking...

OK, Mugbub, fill me in. How did it get its name?
 

Craig

Member
Messages
3
Points
0
Over the Rhine

In my opinion, you'd be much better off by concentrating your efforts in developing business within the neighborhood.

I'm familiar with Over the Rhine from all the news this past year about the race problems in Cincinnatti. I doubt you'll attract outside business there without serious big-government bribes to reduce the risk.

Any business area has to be able to support its local needs before it can attract outside shoppers.

Find people in the neighborhood with an entrepreneurial spirit who would open a business that actually serves the neighborhood and then scour the city for venture capital.

I live in Buffalo (not that different from Cincinnatti) in a neighborhood that is rapidly changing from Italian-American to roughly 1/3 white, 1/3 latino, 1/3 black.

It's very interesting to watch the old Italian butcher shops being replaced by black barbershops and Puerto Rican bakeries (not to mention numerous cellphone outlets, rent-to-own stores, and "urban" clothing outlets).

It's different for me, but nonetheless, economic activity is somehow going on and reflecting the changes. Over the Rhine probably just lacks capital - don't try and gentrify it before it's time.
 

Dan

Dear Leader
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
17,341
Points
53
Other than what's been discussed here, you might also want to look at a couple of other things.

1) Do you simply want to see storefronts filled, or do you want to create a vibrant commercial district? Many urban commercial districts have low vacancy rates, but there's a dead feel. Why? They're filled with non-retail uses. Storefront churches, social service offices, professional offices, senior citizen centers and food banks may fill storefronts, but they don't create a dynamic that helps create or maintain a vibrant retail district Who goes down to Main Street to look through the windows of Full Gospel Holy Tabernacle Church or a free clinic? Healthy commercial districts contain uses that encourage pedestrian traffic, or "street animation" in the words of New Urbanists. More people out and about walking will also create a greater perception of safety, something that hurting urban neighborhoods desperately need.

2) Many urban neighborhoods have far more retail space than they'll ever be able to fill, even if the neighborhood becomes filled with affluent residents. You might want to concentrate retail development efforts to certain areas in the neighborhood. IMHO, it' better to have a few very healthy commercial nodes than the same amount of businesses scattered throughout a much wider area. For the vacant storefronts outside the nodes, look at redevelopment for residential or office uses; Chicago has plenty of old corner stores that have been redeveloped as residences.
 
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