Friday, August 2, 2013

Pittsburgh Neighborhood Unveils Strategies Aimed at Drawing Tourists to Local Businesses

The best part of my job is seeing recommendations come to life - and this week I got that in abundance! For the past two years, our firm has been working with LISC MetroEdge on a program called Corridors of Retail Excellence (CORE). The program is special because it requires close collaboration with a local community organization in the design and execution of strategic corridor improvements. Once a number of strategies are selected, the program will fund up to $30k+ towards a series of short-term, catalytic projects. What makes this program even more unique is that during the course of the program, a dedicated "scribe" (i.e journalist) chronicles the outcomes with news articles (see previous post on the scribe program) that are then posted on the program's website and widely distributed to local media outlets. After testing the program in Richmond Virginia and Rhode Island with HUD Section 4 monies, a full-blown pilot program was funded by PNC and six selected corridors in three cities were selected (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Chicago). I am fortunate to have had to opportunity to lead three programs in the neighborhoods of Lawrenceville and Mount Washington in Pittsburgh, and East Girard/Fishtown in Philadelphia.

Yesterday was the press event for Mount Washington, a community in Pittsburgh that is renown for its amazing view of the City, accessed by funicular cars that crawl up the side of a steep incline. When our team visited Mount Washington over 18 months ago, our discussions with our on-the-ground partners Mount Washington CDC centered around the fact that 1.5 million visitors visit annually for the view, but few walk down the streets and patronize local businesses. The reasons are myriad, from the bend in the street that makes it hard for visitors to see what is down the street, to the lack of an inspiring retail mix that offers limited reasons to wander. As we spent the day on our diagnostic tour speaking with business and property owners, it became clear that there were a few fairly low-cost, high impact activities that might help turn the tide. Additionally, we recongized the need to measure the impact of our work (a critical but often overlooked element of commercial revitalization) and began collecting baseline metrics, in this case pedestrian counts, that would allow us to measure the impact of our efforts over time. The program recommendations included a mix of immediate activities, including vertical "blade" signs for some of the businesses that would cue visitors to business activity down the street. We also proposed a printed business directory and an online interactive smartphone application that would allow locals and visitors alike to find and patronize local businesses. Finally, in a effort to improve tenant mix over the long term, MetroEdge analysis was used to develop a comprehensive retail attraction package that will be part of a comprehensive retail attraction effort led by MWCDC. Here are some fun pics from the event and some of the fantastic local coverage that the project has received, coverage that served multiple purposes, including raising the profile of the local businesses and driving additional traffic down the street. I'll be excited to share the results of our second round of pedestrian counts at the end of the summer! 
Vincent Deandrea of Deandrea Designs in front of his new sign. Vincent has already noted an increase in foot traffic since the signs were installed. 

It takes a team!! For nearly two years, I have worked closely with Jason Kambitsis (right), Executive Director of Mount Washington CDC and Sarah Dielman-Perry (center) of PPND. It was great to celebrate with them! Yes, that's me on the right. :)

The retail recruitment package was incredibly creative and included these lux boxes with individual cards outlining key assets in the community, as well as a wooden USB drive with data included. In addition, nearly 7,000 district directories will be distributed at local businesses - these directories are also tucked in to the marketing package and help to communicate to new businesses the extent to which they receive free marketing if they locate to the district.

Vickie Pisowicz, owner of Grandview Bakery in front of her sign. These signs also include an international icon in a nod to the many non-English speaking visitors that travel to Pittsburgh every year. 

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