Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Retail Spotlight of the Month: Empanada Mama





This month our retailer spotlight is Empanada Mama, a NYC based chain-let of Latin food. The menu contains more than forty flavors of empanadas (the store’s specialty) and other small offerings of arepas, tamales and larger entree dishes. With locations in Hell's Kitchen and the Lower East Side in Manhattan, Empanada Mama stores have a modern and casual vibe. The bright, industrial interior is as quirky and varied as the menu. Empanadas aside; the something-for-everyone philosophy makes this Latin patty place a distinctly American joint.

Price Point: Affordable



Target Market: Families and workers looking for authentic empanadas from scratch or a quick and fresh meal



History: Empanada Mama is a venture of Socrates Nanas, a first time restaurateur, and Javier Garcia, the owner of the Mama’s Empanadas chains in Queens. They grew up together in Jackson Heights, Queens, and decided to open the first Empanada Mama in Manhattan over ten years ago.


Expansion Plans: The store is looking for opportunities to expand locally as well as on a national scale.


Site Requirements: 1,000 - 2,000 square feet


Contact Info:   

763 9th Avenue
New York City, NY 11019
(212) 698-9008 / 646 928-2907
www.empmamanyc.com

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

What comes after streetscape improvements? One Caribbean island tries to figure out what's next for its centuries old historic district.

Last week I had the opportunity to tour the Ciudad Colonial, or the "colonial city" of Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. The tour was led by the Inter American Development Bank (IDB), one of the leading funders of downtown revitalization throughout Latin America. I was thrilled to be back in my element. Almost twenty years ago I spent a year traveling around the world as a Watson Fellow (quite honestly the best gig I have ever had!). I puddle jumped my way through thirteen countries to study downtown revitalization as it was being practiced in Spain and former Spanish colonies. Yet despite all of my travels, this was my first visit to Santo Domingo.

The downtown is of modest size - 9,000 residents - and is about 5 km square. As one of the first Spanish colonial outposts in the New World, the city follows the Law of the Indies. These were the planning ordinances that the Spanish Crown set for its colonies. These laws were themselves modeled on Roman planning practices that were developed during the expansion of the Roman Empire in Europe.

I was thrilled to see the effort to revitalize the City Center taking shape. The effort has received significant support from the IDB and according to my guides, almost $30 million dollars has been invested in streetscape improvements intended to both beautify and make the very narrow colonial streets safer for pedestrians. The improvements were quite impressive and certainly have made an impact on the street.



But challenges remain. As the IDB team and local stakeholders look to graduate their efforts from capital and physical improvements, the road ahead can be rocky. Capital funding is generally easier to secure than the resources - both human and financial - that are often critical to keeping up the momentum.  Now that the streets are in great shape, the work of getting people there, and ensuring that the offerings of housing, hospitality, culture, retail and entertainment keep them there as either visitors, businesses or residents, is the next step. 

In thinking this through, I am reminded of the "Retail Ready" Hierarchy that we speak about at LOA quite frequently. 

"Retail Ready" Hierarchy


The first step involves "who" is going to get things done. The individuals, organizations and institutions who lead and execute the effort. The second phase involves focusing on the fundamentals, making sure the physical environment is comfortable, clean, accessible and safe. While you never really move on from Phase II - maintaining improvements over time is as important as getting them constructed int he first place - you need some of the basics in place before moving on to the advanced stages of revitalization. Phase III is about building the customer base through a variety of methods. For some communities, it can mean increasing the number of residents who form the basis of stable market demand. In a district like the Ciudad Colonial, with a 70% upper vacancy rate, repopulating the downtown is one potential strategy. These residents subsequently become a stable source of demand that support local businesses through the ups and downs of tourism. In communities whose economies are driven by tourism, there is the additional need to ensure that visitors have enough to see and do, from retail offerings, to events and activities, to make a stay worthwhile. These offerings need to be simultaneously marketed through thoughtful promotion and innovative partnerships that help attract visitors to the district - and ensure they stay as long as possible.   

Nearly 18 years ago I wrote about this strategy in Habitat Debate, a United Nations publication, in a piece entitled "Rehabilitating Historic Districts through Public-Private Partnerships" (which amazing can still be found on-line!). The premise of those findings still hold. In both Santiago, Chile and Quito, Ecuador, non-profit or public-private partnerships were first formed to improve the physical environment, attract investment and development new housing - i.e. grow the customer base - for downtown goods and services. Both efforts have had great success and have been lauded as models for other Latin American countries. These lessons have clearly made it to Santo Domingo and it will be exciting to see what happens next!

Here are a few pics from my visit...enjoy!


Thank you to my wonderful hosts! And to my son for being rather patient as him mom takes him on urban planning tours. 
A quaint residential block in the historic district
Tourists can rent bicycles for an easy ride around town. 
Paseo Conde is the main pedestrian corridor. 
Directional Signage/Maps for tourists dot the Paseo El Conde

The IDB is funding some development projects that promise to bring more people to the district.
The building clad in black scaffolding is one such project. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Roundup: "Brick & Mortar is Dead," Right Turns on Red, Local Loyalty, Grocers Disappearing Act, Neon Heaven

Brick & Mortar Is Dead

A short, graphic and infographic heavy, article regarding e-commerce's continued dominance over in-store shopping.  It introduces new terms "showrooming" and "webrooming" - I for one am guilty of showrooming. It also spotlights how brick and mortar stores are taking on new on-line connected purposes and highlights the rise of young global digital buyers.

It’s Time for U.S. Cities to Ban Right Turns on Red

Cars making right turns on red lights are becoming increasingly dangerous to pedestrians. NYC already bans RTOR and other cities are catching on to the policy to reduce unnecessary pedestrian deaths.



How Much Loyalty Do I Owe My Local Shops?

Point and counterpoint by CityLab staff regarding whether we should feel guilty for abandoning your local shop for an equivalent new one. They have good points to both sides.



Map: New York City's Disappearing Grocery Stores

Curbed NY gives you an interactive map of the growing number of NYC grocery stores that have shuttered in the last few years. These closures aare leaving some neighborhoods without an affordable option for groceries—or any option. They point out that many factors have led to these closures and a majority are in Brooklyn.



And in other news...
There’s A Neon Warehouse In London And It Is Basically Heaven
If your district could use the soft cool glow of neon, may we suggest this place.


Introducing “Retailer Spotlight of the Month”




Through our work on retail attraction we often come across a variety of chain-lets that are growing and looking for expansion opportunities. We also come across a number of commercial corridors who are retail ready and actively looking for retail prospects. Building relationships is a big part of what we do, so we thought would be a great idea to create a monthly post that profiles expanding chain-lets to provide our readers an extra resource in their retail attraction efforts.  Every month we will be featuring a new retailer, so if you have retailers expanding in your district and would like to share in our blog, let us know!

Retailer Spotlight of the Month: Caffe Bene

Caffe Bene is an international coffeehouse chain designed after European open-air cafes. In the US Caffe Bene sells a variety of hot and cold beverages (coffees, teas, smoothies and its signature Misugaru), pastries, sandwiches, and a variety of waffles and gelatos. 

Image Source: http://blog.blurealtygroup.com/2014/02/08/blu-realty-groups-andy-kim-becomes-exclusive-broker-for-caffe-bene/

Price Point: Moderate

Target Market:  Coffee enthusiasts, families, tourists and office workers.

Image Source: http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20140218001456

History: Caffe Bene was founded in 2008 in South Korea and has rapidly expanded to other countries including the U.S. (over 100 stores), Canada (1store), China (283 stores), among others. 

Image Source: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g2024869-d3934658-Reviews-Caffe_Bene_Green_Hospital_Store-Guri_Gyeonggi_do.html

Expansion Plans: In the US Caffe Bene adopts a franchise model and is actively looking for expansion opportunities in both urban and suburban locations.

Image Source: http://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/caff%C3%A9-bene-irvine?select=DYoHVPQW-fWGRWnuYkYN3A#fhbe-r3IMcBtRonyw8Jvxw

Site Requirements: Caffe Bene adopts a flexible floor plan model which allows stores of a variety of sizes and locations, from prime Times Square real estate to convenience commercial corridors in more modest working class neighborhoods.  According to their marketing materials, their suitable locations include non-traditional sites such as airports, hospitals, convenience stores, cinemas, hotels, zoos, casinos, museums, amusement parks and sports arenas.

Image Source: http://www.creamy-dreamy.com/2014/08/bingsu-bingsu-caffe-bene-gurney-paragon.html


Contact Info:    New York
1430 Broadway, Suite 1401 New York, NY 10018
Franchise: 800.284.8053
Office: 212.575.5484

Los Angeles
5670 Wilshire Blvd #760 Los Angeles, CA 90036
Franchise: 844.833.3500
Office: 323.933.3500

                          http://www.caffebeneusa.com/

Monday, March 21, 2016

Are we ready for a world where parking requirements decrease by 80%?

Density and car ownership are often at odds. We know density does great things for cities. The concentration of people, businesses and transportation all play a powerful role in economic growth. Yet cars - and the parking they require - undermine that growth every day in a variety of ways. Cars create the need for streets, parking lots, and circulation that do little to enhance the experience of urban living. As a society we further exacerbate that problem by requiring more parking through zoning than we might need if alternative transportation options were more readily available. The issue hit home for me the other day someone asked me how often I drive my car (I live in a very dense, walk able urban community in Queens, NY). I thought about it quickly and realized I only drive  about 2-3 times a month, and mostly to run errands, go grocery shopping at the local warehouse club, or visit family outside the City. The remainder of that time, my car sits unused in an on-street parking spot taking up valuable space in the urban environment.

So what happens when we acknowledge that cars are highly underutilized commodities that are parked 95% of the time? Are there solutions out there that would offer people the convenience of car ownership without the societal burden created by the need for parking?
Imagine yourself driving around in one of these cute BMWs.
This could be the future of  downtown car ownership. 
BMW is among those testing out new solutions through their DriveNow program. The program is already functional in a few European cities. And while the San Francisco program was stalled owing in part to an unfriendly regulatory environment, they are actively looking to expand in the New York market. The concept is this - what if you had access to a fleet of cars that were parked in your building? Assume these cars were at your disposal whenever you wanted - to pick up groceries, visit a friend, go on a day trip somewhere. Studies suggest that one car share vehicle displaces between 10 - 15 owned vehicles. This means that instead of parking, we could build more housing, support more retail, and develop more public space, all of which would make urban environments even more attractive places to live and work. Just think, instead of two lanes of parking, you could have just one lane parking, which would allow for wider sidewalks with more landscaping and amenities like outdoor dining, not to mention provide an additional buffer between the pedestrians and traffic. The impact on our downtown's would be nothing short of revolutionary. And what if these cars were electric cars - which is the BMW model? We could further improve air quality too. Win, win!

However, this solution is not without it's challenges. As they say, the devil is in the details. Part of the problem is that at peak times everyone wants to use the car (say Saturday afternoon), so you need the right volume of car share vehicles to make this work. There are many entrants in this market that are actively working to figure out these details. Besides BMW these include car2go and Enterprise.

For those of us working on downtown issues, we should prepare ourselves for the impact because we will among the first to experience these changes. Car sharing makes the most sense, of course, in dense, pedestrian friendly communities like the ones we serve. New residential development in urban places will provide downtown practitioners some of the earliest opportunities to partner with car share providers. Now the question is, will our cities be prepared with the right regulatory requirements and flexibility to allow for these new technologies? Will banks underwrite loans for buildings with reduced parking? And will retailers accept lower parking requirements when they have little experience with these new models? Clearly, these chapters remain to be written.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Five Design Principles that Every Facade Improvement Program Should Incorporate

By Patricia Voltolini, Associate, LOA

What is the first thing you notice when you visit a commercial district? Storefronts and buildings probably make that list. Great storefronts are critical to a vibrant street environment. They engage passersby and contribute to active street life. Not surprisingly, façade improvement programs have become a common and effective tool in many commercial district revitalization efforts.

Yet many facade programs go wrong quite quickly. Without design guidance, the "after" might not look much better than the "before", and resources spent will have less impact than you might like. Unfortunately, overcoming this issue can be a challenge. Many BIDS, BIAs or CDCs working to revitalize low-income or distressed corridors do not have the budget to engage a retail designer to help prepare and review façade improvement applications. Even when they do, this person is often not a retail design expert.

With that in mind, we thought it would be helpful to share some of our own insights as they relate to the key takeaways from a wonderful new publication entitled, Laying the Groundwork:Design Guidelines for Retail and Other Ground-Floor Uses in Mixed-UseAffordable Housing Developments, prepared by the Design Trust for Public Space in partnership with the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development. The publication is the result of extensive research and collaboration from a broad range of design and retail experts - including our own Principal, Larisa Ortiz - who served on the advisory panel. It is available for purchase on the Design Trust website.

While the report outlines best practices and provides practical guidance for those building new retail space in mixed-use buildings, we think it also provides excellent insight for those looking to develop facade improvement programs. A good facade improvement program not only impacts the overall look and feel of the district, but if done with certain principles in mind, can help businesses achieve higher sales. Incorporating these concepts into your facade program design will help ensure that the program meets the objectives of your district stakeholders as well as the businesses themselves.

So keep in mind the following key principles as you design your facade improvement program....

1. Maintain Transparency

There is growing recognition of the importance and value of transparency in driving retail sales. A transparent storefront invites customers inside with products and services on display. It also discourages crime by providing what urban theorist Jane Jacobs called “eyes on the street”. Making the facade as transparent as possible allows for a full visual exchange between indoors and outdoors. Customers and shopkeepers inside the store see what is happening on the street and pedestrians outside see the activity and offerings in the store. This interdependent relationship benefits both customers and retailers. 
The same storefront with different window treatments create a very different corridor environment. The previous merchant (also a pharmacy) completely covered the windows and failed to create any visual connection to the interior of the store. The new pharmacy made the windows completely transparent, and uses them to showcase products while allowing enough visual exchange between indoors and outdoors.


In order to maximize transparency, the design guidelines recommend having 70% of the façade surface completely transparent between 2’ and 10’above sidewalk-level, with measures in place for attractive privacy solutions when needed.

In many urban districts, retailers (even after a façade improvement program) cover their windows with sales posters and signs. Store-owners want to attract customers with these signs but in doing so they block visual connection between inside and outside and often create an uninviting storefront. A customer who can't see inside a business is highly unlikely to walk inside.

One way to keep the façade transparent and place signs  at the lower (or upper) section of the storefront, immediate below (or above) eye-level.


The same facade before and after renovations. The image above (before) shows all windows entirely covered with signs, a typical feature of many supermarkets and delis in urban districts. The image below shows the same supermarket after a facade renovation. Despite significantly covering the windows with sales posters, the owner  made an effort to keep some level-of transparency by placing signs below and above pedestrian eye-level.

This dollar store has large windows (over 70% of its facade is glass) but the store owner has covered it almost completely with products, blocking any visual connection to the interior of the store.

Another common occurrence is having non-retail stores (salons, professional offices, etc.) with minimal transparency. These businesses should also be regarded with the same design standards as other retail businesses as they are also key components of the streetscape and as responsible for creating vibrancy in the corridor as retail stores are. In fact, the design guidelines presented in Laying the Groundwork  target not only retailers but also banks, laundromats, and even community uses like cultural space, healthcare and childcare facilities.

This facade provides an excellent example of what non-retail stores should look like (or not). The space on the left has a highly transparent and engaging storefront while still providing some level of privacy to its users. The space on the right, however, has windows but they're completely covered with shades and gates and impede any visual connection between inside and out.
In order to guarantee full transparency, facade improvement programs should add a clause requiring windows to be kept free (or with minimal) signage and that product display should not block vision to the store's interior. In fact, the  minimum of 70% transparency recommendation does not refer only to the substantial presence of store windows, but that these windows be kept fully transparent.

Exterior illumination provides light on the sidewalk and highlights the facade at night. Exterior lighting can also be used to accent trees and planting. An active, well-illuminated street frontage improves safety for retailers, residents, and the district. It also reduces the need for security gates by creating a safer street front.

One important consideration is the relationship between lighting and store signage. Both should be coordinated and the new façade design should minimize lighting presence above the sign, especially if the units above are residential.

2. Maintain  Connections between the Storefront and the Street by Minimizing Barriers
An active, well-illuminated street frontage improves safety for retailers, residents, and the district. It also reduces the need for security gates by creating a safer street front. Ideally, security gates should not be allowed in retail spaces under lease agreements. There are many other ways to provide security, including security systems with video, sensors, alarms, etc.

Unfortunately, in many urban communities, transparency is often trumped by safety concerns. For example, many retailers elect to put up solid security gates as a anti-theft measure. However these gates only serve to accentuate concerns about safety. Your facade program should discourage, or require, less obtrusive forms of security. If roll down gates are required, share alternatives to exterior rolls down gates. (See our previous post "Are there viable alternatives to roll down gates?")

Air conditioning units can also be barriers and jeopardize a facade design's  potential to creating vibrant streets. Avoid whenever possible the installation of air-conditioning units over doorways or having them protrude through the façade. Instead, plan the placement of louvers to enhance the facade and the quality of the retail storefront. Provide a clear zone for louvers on the exterior storefront. Finish louvers to match the color of the surrounding storefront elements so that they are an integral part of the facade design.

A store's visibility has significant impact on retail sales - this is why businesses pay more for corner locations ("end caps" in retail parlance) where the store is visible to customers from a variety of angles. Effective signage can also play a role in improving visibility. In pedestrian environments, signage that projects from the building (i.e. blade signs) offer pedestrians strong visual cues that there are businesses in the vicinity. In one community where we worked, the installation of blade signs increased pedestrian traffic down a previously quiet street by 30%. (See our post "Pittsburgh Neighborhood Unveils Strategies Aimed at Drawing Tourists")

3. Keep the Street Wall Continuous and Avoid Gaps

The conditions of street-level retail are intimately connected to the quality of the customers’ experience in your district. The benefits of well-designed storefronts extend far beyond district attractiveness. From fostering community pride to serving as catalyst for further economic investment, they create positive changes to the social, economic and environmental health of the commercial district and surrounding communities. Although this recommendation is not technically about facade improvements, it does suggest that by clustering facade improvements and/or creating a continuous street-wall of improved storefronts, the program can have greater impact. Consider using the the facade program in a targeted way along a single block front for a limited amount of time. Or design the program as an incentive to fill vacancies - perhaps by increasing the allowable grant contributions when used for a vacant space. 

4. Maintain Flexibility for a Variety of Potential Tenants

Effective retail spaces are flexible. In many districts, the needs of tenants vary widely. Offering flexibility means greater potential to fit the needs of a larger set of prospective tenants. One suggestion is to design the façade program so that it has the potential to accommodate multiple entries. Another is to require improvements that result in on-grade pedestrian entries to ensure ease of access. Consider a retailer whose customers are young families with children - a set of steps will cause immediate concern. How might a parent with a stroller make it up the steps? Or a senior citizen - or anyone with mobility challenges? 

5. Remain Distinctive so that Shoppers Can Easily Find the Retailer

Retail entrances that are clearly marked and distinct from other street-level uses (residential or office entrances) facilitate wayfinding and help catch a shoppers eye. While the guide suggests a minimum of 15 feet between any retail entrance and other uses, we think that clear visual delineations are more important than actual physical distance. Awning and other design elements, like signs, can be deployed in a way that ensures a retailer has a clearly defined entrance.  

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

What do "Emerging Trends in Real Estate" mean for the commercial district practitioner?

The Urban Land Institute (ULI) and PwC just released “Emerging Trends in Real Estate" 2016 and there are quite a few insights and takeaways for commercial district practitioners. These come in the form of market-based opportunities and threats that will need to be considered - and acted upon - in the coming years.

Here are a few of the findings, as well as some practical takeaways on the impacts and actions that might be necessary....

Opportunities continue to grow in secondary markets – what ULI calls “18-hour” cities. This is great news for many smaller downtown's looking for investment. These are places that still provide investors better upside opportunities, in part because the dense primary markets are already stiff with investor competition. 18-hour cities offer lower costs while maintaining some if not all of the excitement of 24-hour cities. A great competitive advantage is brewing here.

Takeaway: If you are in one of these “18-hour” cities, places like Nashville, Austin, Denver, San Diego…the time might be ripe to revisit your district with an eye towards redevelopment opportunities. Now is the time to find investors and developers who might be more receptive to your pitches.

For all the hoopla surrounding downtown development, suburbs are still a force to be reckoned with. The report suggests that it will only be a matter of time before millennials, many who have deferred starting families, will start heading out to the suburbs to raise families. While 37% of millennials indicate a preference for urban living, we all know how quickly these preferences change when people become parents. That might not be good news for cities that don't stay ahead of these changing preferences. 

Takeaway: Downtown – and its surrounding urban neighborhoods - need to start thinking about how to meet the needs of millennials as they graduate from roommates to partners and families. This will require thinking more holistically. How are the local schools – all the way from elementary to high school? Is the neighborhood safe? Is housing affordable and adequate? And how is the physical environment? Are there safe bike lanes for tots who are learning to bike – i.e. dedicated lanes rather than sharrows? Are sidewalks and crossings - and the whole pedestrian environment for that matter - safe for those ages “8 to 80”, as Gil Penalosa founder of 8 80 Cities, likes to say. Are there adequate playgrounds within walking distance of people’s apartments and homes? While the report didn't mention this explicitly, let's not forget the growing senior demographic. Are these easy places to walk to grab a bite to eat if driving is no longer an option. If not, get cracking!

Work lifestyle and expectations are changing – and this is good news for downtown and other similar urban environments. The growth in co-working spaces is growing as the “gig economy” heats up. Is your city up to meeting the demands of these businesses and the workers they bring? 

Take away: For those districts where real estate development is an opportunity - what is your downtown organization doing to remain attractive to this changing worker lifestyle? Can your organization become proactive in helping to re-position or reuse existing assets to make them more attractive to investors looking to develop this product type? Have you thought of a game plan for how you are going to meet the needs of this growing worker segment? In 2013, the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, the parent organization that manages three Business Improvement Districts in downtown Brooklyn, NY, helped lead a study and strategic planning process called the Brooklyn Tech Triangle (check out their website and plan here). The effort brought together the public, non-profit and private sectors to ensure everyone was working from one playbook when it came to strategies and investments that would ensure that the area remained attractive to the tech employers - and by extension tech workers. 

Housing in short one word: affordable. The report suggests that the lack of affordable housing for a variety of incomes is especially problematic. Recent housing production has been skewed “toward the luxury end [and] a shortfall of supply in the mid-to-lower end of the residential market is putting upward pressure on pricing…exacerbating already severe affordability issues.” Simply put, the development of luxury product has far outpaced other housing types lately, and the limited supply of more affordable options is being acutely felt in many markets. Without housing for a variety of income ranges, ULI suggests that markets will stagnate a bit. How can a business survive if its workers cannot afford adequate housing or are relegated to a lifestyle that involves a 3-hour round trip commute? As ULI states, “developing improved housing options for everyone…is passing from the realm of “nice to do” to “must do.”  

Take away: Has your community sought to address issues of housing affordability? Do your housing incentives support the creation of affordable housing, for people from both low and moderate income bands? Does your downtown zoning framework outline a clear and transparent process for development, one that offers developers the ability to ascertain costs and development timeline with some degree of precision? 

Parking - we still don't know what the future holds, but hold on tight, because change is coming. The ULI report mentioned trends that are notable, including the decline in driver’s licenses among younger drivers, driver-less cars, car sharing that supports a reduction in car ownership, etc., all things that will change parking demand.

Takeaway: We still don't know what this means, and quite frankly in my opinion, our zoning framework is probably not prepared to accommodate these changes without significant alternations. Keep your eye on what cities of your ilk are doing as they respond to the changing dynamics of parking. 

Infrastructure investments are critical, but don't hold your breath for public money to solve the problem. The need to invest in downtown infrastructure has never been more acute. Deferred maintenance on things from the water supply and distribution, road and bridges, rail and public transportation access, etc. will be our undoing. The cities and downtowns that address these issues will retain a competitive advantage over those that don't. 

Takeaway: In light of this challenge, there may be a need - and opportunity - for BIDs to take on bonding for public improvements as a benefit to their constituents. But keep in mind - in some states BIDs are restricted from or have limits to the amount they can leverage towards bonds, so the enabling legislation for your individual state needs to be considered carefully. 

Food. Food. And more food. 
The trend towards food as an activity, food as a lifestyle choice continues, and downtowns are naturally occurring foodie destinations. The growing demand for interesting food offerings, especially from among those with more discretionary dollars in hand bodes well for downtowns. 

Takeaway: Is your city positioned to take advantage of this trend? Food destinations are usually places where food offerings are clustered. The experience of choosing a place to eat become almost as interesting as the meal itself. In some places these are called "restaurant rows", though food trucks are muscling in on restaurant territory in some places. Is your organization marketing your food options adequately through social media? Do your events give food establishments opportunities to introduce themselves to new customers? Have you found ways to add complimentary experiences - including street buskers, nice places to stroll after dinner...what I call ambient or impulse entertainment? Since most dining happens at night - what is the arrival experience? Is parking adequate and is it safe and comfortable to walk to and from a car? Can you encourage retailers to remain open later on some nights to give diners another thing to do before or after they eat? The list goes on...

Big banks are getting bigger, while small banks are specializing, and the guy in the middle will have to choose. What this means is that financing for smaller projects may become harder because they won't attract the big banks.

Takeaway – Don't despair, this means that regional banks will likely fill in the gap. Have you developed relationships with your local regional banks? Do you have access to – or can you create – dedicated lending tools to help promote development and investment in your district? Projects in the $20 million to $50 million range are what ULI suggests are the sweet spot for smaller investments. Have you looked at your district with an eye towards cultivating developers and projects – either new development or reuse – that meet this criteria?

Finding a way to incorporate these trends into downtown and commercial district strategic planning efforts will remain critical in the coming years. So good luck!

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