Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Mobile Marketing: Are your businesses on the map?

Customers are increasingly using on-line platforms to find local businesses in real time. I know I do it all the time.  Just the other night I was out with a friend and we had planned to meet at a restaurant in Soho. When we got there it was packed. What did we do? On a cold winters night in New York there was only one option. We stood in the heated vestibule and searched Yelp for an alternative. We found a great restaurant with a two block walk that had good reviews, a decent price range, and no wait. We liked it so much that we will undoubtedly go back. And honestly, I can't even tell you the name of the first place we tried. Clearly, Yelp helped at least one business gain a customer they otherwise would never have seen.

On-line profiles definitely help, yet most businesses do very little to manage them. In 2013, the Boston Consulting Group surveyed 4,800 local businesses and found that those businesses that claimed their FREE Yelp profile reported "incremental revenues of $8,000 annually". This is not paid advertising, mind you. Yet only 15% of small business owners know that they can get a free Yelp profile, and only 11% claimed it.

Below is a quick summary of some of the most popular on-line platforms and some basic instructions on how to use them. In each case, the instructions are somewhat similar, a business goes to the search engine and verifies their identify. They are given an account and go easily go about managing their identity. In some cases you as a commercial district manager can actively help (for example, a business using Google can add you as a "Manager"), in others, only the business owner can verify and manage their on-line identity.

Keeping with the Soho theme, I went ahead and tested business listings for Soho using four listing engines...

Bing "Venue" Maps
Bing is increasingly creating opportunities for "venue" maps. They started in 2010 by adding maps of malls, but it seems that more and more commercial districts are getting into the business. Check out the image below for a map of Soho with nearly every business listed. If you roll over the map, the businesses are linked back to a profile that includes the company website and hours of operation. When you compare it to the Google map below, it is clearly easier to navigate and understand. The map has the look and feel of a mall directory. How commercial districts can get onto Bing is not quite clear...but we have a request in to find out and will share with you when we know.

Google Maps
Google is the 6th most popular mobile app, and the first most popular mapping engine in the world, so getting businesses on the Google map should be a no brainer.

Direct your business owners to http://www.google.com/business/#befound to get started. Once a business has claimed an add, they can do things like set up a Google Adwords campaign much more easily. Remind them that additional managers can be added under Settings>Managers.

You should also know that you can list your commercial district management entity to the Google Map directory as well. Your district entity can then take the lead on setting up Adwords campaign for the entire district, which can be used to market events and actitivies as well. We worked with a community a few years ago on a restaurant marketing campaign that used Google Adwords and we were thrilled that it resulted in significant increased sales for participating local businesses.

What sets Yelp apart is really its rating and filtering function. The site gets over 100 million unique click a month so clearly something is working. Like on Google, the first step is to Claim and Verify your Business (https://biz.yelp.com/claiming)

It should be noted that many businesses loathe Yelp. The issue here is that some businesses think that Yelp unfairly filters positive reviews (in an effort to prevent an owner from soliciting reviews from customers) and therefore highlights negative reviews. Not sure where I stand on that, but the truth is that a Yelp listing can drive traffic. Business owners can help increase the number of reviews - and good business will undoubtedly receive more positive reviews than negative ones - by adding badges to their websites or putting "Find us on Yelp" signs in the window or on the front counter.

With 45 million registered users (up from 30 million in January 2013), FourSquare is a force to be reckoned with (although not nearly as popular as Facebook or Twitter as a social networking app). Business looking to claim their profile can do so at: http://business.foursquare.com/

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Fulton Area Shoppers Prefer Bike Over Car

We're always talking and writing about bike-friendly business districts, so we were pleased to see coverage from Streetsblog of biking on Fulton Street in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill where we recently wrapped up a retail market study for the  the Fulton Area Business Alliance and Pratt Area Community Council.
image: cityinajar.com

On street parking is so coveted by business owners that the shear thought of removing the spots for bicycle infrastructure such as protected bike lanes or public plazas sends many into panic because those spots are often assumed to be directly associated with increased business and revenue. The findings of a recent study may help to calm business owners' nerves. The FAB Alliance and the Pratt Area Community Council surveyed 477 people on Fulton Street this summer and found that the vast majority of shoppers arrive without a car. 

Image: FAB Alliance and Pratt Area Community Council
The results of the survey show that only 15% of respondents used an automobile to access Fulton Street to shop, which is even less than those that typically bike to the area to shop (either by their own bike or CitiBike). This may be an isolated set of data but it adds to the growing strength of argument toward bike-friendly and multi-modal business districts.

A 2011 study by Kooshian and Winkleman, "Growing Wealthier," notes market trends now favoring mixed-use, walkable and bikable town centers and neighborhoods. They also note that businesses profit from bicycle and pedestrian facility improvements, time savings, and healthcare cost savings, referencing Gotschi's “Costeffectiveness of Nonmotorized Transportation Investments as a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Strategy.” 

image: nydailynews.com
The point to drive, or in this case walk or bike, home here is that with a growing number of shoppers walking and biking, car-centric streets could be a thing of the past.  

Friday, December 5, 2014

Some Roads Should Just Go on a Diet

Bigger is better right? By and large the answer is no. Bigger is not always better when addressing roadways that run through commercial corridors.  In many places where LOA works, the challenges of a too wide street - one designed for cars but not for people or even bikes - undermines local businesses who see traffic speed by, unlikely to stop.

The problem of too wide streets is rampant throughout the nation. This issue came up recently for us...LOA is currently working on a project in Chicago where the large berth of the street was simply too cumbersome and unnecessary. And when we looked at traffic counts we found that there was actually much less traffic on a road that was clearly designed to handle much more. So, what to do with so much excess "fat"?  We suggested that roadway go on a road diet.

“Road dieting” is a term applied to “skinny-ing up” streets into leaner, more productive members of society. The ideal roadway candidate, as Burden and Lagerwey, of Walkable Communities Inc, note in "Road Diets: Losing width and gaining respect," is often a four-lane road carrying 12,000-18,000 auto trips per day. But as many of you know, road diets can be controversial in places where people think that a narrower road means more congestion - but in most cases the facts simply do not bear out.

Before and after Road Diet pictures. Image source:
Before we get to that, first back to Chicago. Our work resulted in a few key recommendations, the first included removal of a dedicated rush-hour lane (a parking lane that was converted to a travel lane only during rush hour - making it impossible for drop-in customers to stop by and therefore hurting local businesses). What we found that that although the street was perceived as a busy thoroughfare, data suggested otherwise: 13,300 Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT) counts (between North Pulaski Road and North Kedzie Avenue) put the traffic flow as moderate to relatively low.

With low-traffic counts, we knew that the replacement of a single rush hour lane with on-street parking would not only allow customers to stop more easily - picking up food or convenience items on their way to or from work - but that it would also result would be slower speeds for motorists in general. Narrowing the flow of traffic and adding bike lanes – aka a “road diet” - would help address some of the concerns that residents and businesses have with the sometime excessive speed of motorists who pass through the area. And taking this a step further by adding a lane for bicyclists would add another transportation option  for a low-income community with very low car ownership rates.

Much safer corridor for all. Image source:
Public safety has always been a proponent of change for urban development and planning, this case is no different. A reduction in a lane or lanes, a road diet, can reduce unsafe driving, excess speeds, and serve as a street calming mechanism. Burden and Lagerwey note "crash rates and severity of conflicts with autos result in almost certain death (83% of pedestrians hit at 40 mph die)".  Four lanes of traffic are difficult to cross for pedestrians and uncomfortable/dangerous for cyclists. Furthermore, businesses that might benefit from co-location across the street from another business never accrue the benefits because for most pedestrians, they might as well be miles away.

In addition to safety, a road that has dieted sees change in commercial activity around the road. The change can increase value of existing properties and some cases costs of reconstructing roadways are repaid in as little as one year through increased sales tax or property tax revenue.

Image source: sf.streetsblog.org/category/
Even high-density urban downtowns can go on diets. San Francisco, as seen in the image to the left, envisioned a downtown along Sixth Street with a more pedestrian and cycling friendly environment with continued on street parking.

In an opposite regard, a study by Thomas Welch “The Conversion of Four-Lane Undivided Urban Roadways to Three-Lane Facilities” demonstrates the problems and negative outcomes associated with increasing road sizes from a slimmer two-lane road to a wider four-lane road.  Welch notes it led to increased accidents, increased speeds, increased corridor delays, and increased injuries.  Not the results people want or expect - sometimes slimming down is the best remedy for the health of your commercial district.

If you want to read more...here are some additional readings:

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Holiday Best Practices and Innovations for BIDs

After Halloween things really start heating up for Business Improvement Districts as the weather really starts cooling down.  Consumers are expected to turn out in large numbers, as usual, this holiday season to make it a successful shopping period.  To help these shoppers, BIDs can go above and beyond the typical lights and banners to make the shopping experience all that much more memorable and enjoyable. 

Commercial District Advisor has composed a list of best practices, or innovations as well, that BIDs can enact this holiday season in late November and December that will give every shopper, whether the family looking to have a memorable experience or the last minute shopper with just a few minutes on their hand.

Valet Parking
Valet parking could provide shoppers, whom might be seeking the convenience or time saving, with the convenience of getting straight to the shopping, dining, or entertainment without the hassle of finding parking at this busy time of year. The Springfield Business Improvement District will be providing a “Park with Ease” valet parking initiative this Thanksgiving weekend in two locations to assist shoppers painlessly to and from their destination. http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2014/11/springfield_business_improveme_1.html

image via steinwaystreet.org
Santa: Not Just at the Mall Anymore
Even though BIDs don’t have an indoor plaza to host a Santa Claus a la indoor malls, they can still find an available space such as a current vacancy or safe open plaza in their BID to host a Santa Claus to draw in those that would want the iconic and memorable experience with Santa. Steinway BID in Queens, NY did just that in 2013. http://steinwaystreet.org/category/news/

Santa Gift Giveaway
Gift giveaways can attract a large crowd of enthusiastic patrons.  The Fordham BID in the Bronx is hosting their 10th annual holiday event with Santa, free gifts for the first 600 kids, free raffles, music and activities. This event also kicks off a 2½ week 10% discounted shopping program starting Dec. 5 with 60 stores participating. Further, Fordham BID has tied the event into their broader digital marketing program with a phone app and a mystery gift registration through Eventbrite. http://www.fordhamroadbid.org/

Pa-Rum-Pa-Pum-Pum, Not Ba-Hum-Bug
image via Atlantic Ave BID Facebook
Carolers can provide that heartwarming seasonal entertainment that shoppers are looking for.  In addition, a group of singers like an elementary school or local church children’s choir can pull parents and family to the BID for support.  Atlantic Avenue BID in Brooklyn performed in 2013 in the Boerum Hill neighborhood and in the past many local Harlem churches caroled in the 125th Street BID in Manhattan. Other BIDs can take Madison Downtown BID’s lead with Saturday seasonal entertainment: http://www.visitdowntownmadison.com/events/index.php?category_id=2801

Special Holiday Transportation
image via visitdowntownmadison.com
Maneuvering the streets quickly to get that “I gotta have it” toy or just sharing a memorable experience with others can be a meaningful thing for holiday shoppers.  They can complete both or either by riding a special seasonal transportation such as a decorated bus or trolley around the district or corridor.  This especially comes in handy with unsafe or inconvenient sidewalks such as ice, snow, or bad weather.  Madison, WI Central BID provides a Downtown Holiday Shopping Trolley for its shoppers: http://www.visitdowntownmadison.com/events/index.php?category_id=2801

Coat Drive or Coat Give Away
Often times coat donation bins in cities are dilapidated or possibly untrustworthy, so it is nice to connect holiday shoppers with the idea of giving back by offering and promoting a coat drop off bin or coat drive within the BID like the Granville
image via Granville BID
 BID.  And in the giving spirit, Southern Blvd BID in the Bronx is distributing new children's coats in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx on December 17th. Yonkers Downtown BID mixed giving with pleasure by offering an event that combined a coat drive with a mixer, "Collective for a Cause."  

Monday, November 17, 2014

Can you quantify the economic impact of your corridor?

Atlanta's historic Peachtree Corridor
Advocating for resources on behalf of your commercial district can sometimes feel like an uphill battle. The challenge is often made more difficult by the fact that political will is often predicated on voter interest in an issue - and when most voters don't live in the district their interests may or may not align with corridor revitalization efforts. Yet as many of us know, our commercial districts are the economic engines that keep our local regional economies humming.

To counteract this problem, some communities are commissioning research that can demonstrate the value of the corridor to local and regional economic development. A study commissioned by three Community Improvement Districts (Atlanta Downtown ID, Midtown ID and Buckhead Community ID) three independent organizations that all service portions of Atlanta's 8.5 mile "Peachtree Corridor" is a good example of simple fiscal analysis that proves significant impact.

What they found should give leaders pause the next time investments in economic development are concerned. With only 3.7% of Atlanta's land, the corridor services 58% of all jobs (70% in the professional, science and technology sectors) and 37% of the City's total real estate values. Ensuring that the corridor remains strong and healthy is critical to ensuring that the City can continue to provide all of its residents with the vital services they need, from police to education to trash pickup. Making this connection crystal clear to community decision makers is a critical component of successful advocacy. With the report recently issued, local newspapers have picked up the story ("City Boosters to State: Peachtree is a vital artery", Atlanta Business Chronicle, Nov. 17, 2014). Here is another hint, it's not enough to write the report, you need to make sure the people know about - so don't skimp on the PR!

To see the report, click here.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Murals: Resurgence and Placemaking in Commercial Districts

Beautiful. Inspiring. Informative. Vibrant.  These are just a few words that describe outdoor murals and streetscape art which are now seeing resurgence in popularity and importance.

Advertisement murals were the original streetscape murals.  Starting in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s they advertised and promoted brands from horse saddles to biscuits and typically painted on brick.  Frank Jump, a NYC based photographer, chronicles these ad murals (http://www.frankjump.com).

Photo credit Sarah Goodyear via citylab.com
Taking the lead of Chicago’s muralists, whose work received national publicity at the end of the 1960’s, cities across US saw the potential of powerful public imagery as murals were an important devise for perhaps even novice painters to express themselves and have a voice in their community. 

Here at the Commercial District Advisor we are on board with encouraging BIDs, business corridors, and communities to add murals, whether for advertisement or public art, to their streetscapes in order to add soul, personality, and life to their areas.  A study of Philadelphia commercial corridors (Econsult, 2006) found the Mural Arts Program (MAP) had demonstrated and positive effects on retail sales along the corridors where they were placed. The murals addressed and rectified visible signs of physical degradation and also decrease the perception of crime, both critical factors in commercial revitalization.

The good news is that we are seeing a growing trend of variable forms of murals and streetscape artwork, including:
Image by Commercial District Advisor
The research further supports the impact of murals on local conditions. Murals help to avoid “dead zones” of nothingness on the walls, this in turn reminds pedestrians where they are and gives them a safe and inviting feeling (http://mds.marshall.edu/etd/492/, 2008). Also, evidence points out that graffiti murals are a cost effective way to keep surfaces free from vandalism and create visual cues to residents that the place they call home is desirable (Verel, 2013). 

Seeing suggestions turned into action...

Image from newyorktimes.com, Michael Craig-Martin, Art Production Fund
In some communities, murals are a wonderful way to beautify the physical environment, keep surfaces graffiti free, which in turn decreases the perception of crime. A few years ago, our firm, together with LISC MetroEdge, completed a retail strategy analysis for La Casa de Don Pedro.  Since then, our mural recommendation has driven a host of initiatives on the street, and this week La Casa is celebrating “The Gates Project”, which resulted in vibrant advertising murals on storefront gates.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Secret to Macy's Success?

Whether you shop at Macy’s or eschew national chains in favor of local flavor, the work that this massive department store is doing to renovate and reposition their flagship store in Herald Square offers a number of lessons for commercial district practitioners. A $400 million dollar renovation coincides with some changing on the ground dynamics, including more tourism from Brazil and Asia and high end competitors like Nordstrom entering the market and grabbing those high end dollars. 

With that said, I really enjoyed this recent piece in the NY Times ("For Macy's, A Makeover on 34th Street", 10/1) which covered a number of basic concepts that we frequently use in our work. The most important concept they discussed was the need to dig deep and really understand your customer, and then tailor your merchandise and price points to fit those preferences. In fact, market research is the framework upon which much of this $400 million reinvestment is being made. At Macy’s, knowing their customer means stocking a wider variety of black leather tote bags in recognition of the larger number of office workers who work in midtown. Or offering Asian tourists more options in smaller sizes. Or finding ways to offer foreign tourists looking for prestige “American” brands the things that they want. In practice that means carrying more Ralph Lauren Polo, Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors, all classic American clothing brands. And while they are going upscale to meet these customer's expectations, they haven’t given up on price conscious customers. Macy's continues to offer coupons in weekend circulars. 

With 2.2 million square feet Macy’s is a shopping district onto itself, in fact, if it were a shopping center it would be classified not simply as a mall, but a “Super-Regional Mall” (which average 1.2 million square feet – so this Macy’s beats that average by nearly double!). This means that there are many stores within the store – and each seeks to meet the needs of customer with very specific expectations around price points and merchandise mix. This is why you can go to the shoe section (larger than a football field!) and find black boots differentiated by price and brand, ranging from $69 dollars to $229 to $1,160. Truly a store that offers a little bit of something for the customers that it already has and wants more of.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What is the Secret of Suburban Downtown Success?

Peekskill, NY - a quintessential suburban downtown
New research in the field of commercial revitalization can be hard to come by. So I love coming across reports that help practitioners in their daily decision making about what to do - and what not to do - when it comes to advancing the cause of downtown economic development. To that end, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission recently released a report ("Revitalizing Suburban Downtown Retail Districts: Strategies and Best Practices") on Suburban Downtown Retail Districts that I found quite interesting. The study considered 71 suburban downtown districts in the Greater Philadelphia region and sought to determine what strategies had the most impact on efforts to revive the districts and to further their economic development goals. 

What Doesn't Work
Before we get to that part, I particularly enjoyed reading the sidebar on what things DON'T work...they called this piece "Polices that Impede Downtown Retail Revitalization". Here are the things you DON'T want to do if you seek a successful downtown district. 
  • Constructing ring roads/bypasses 
  • Creating pedestrian only zones and parking in remote lots 
  • Relocating municipal functions away from downtown 
  • Removing on-street parking 
  • Creating one-way streets 
  • Losing a key retailer 
  • Opening of new shopping center 
  • Not addressing petty crime 
  • Failing to maintain the public realm 
  • Refusing national retailers/discount department stores
Source: Streetsense, 2012 via "Revitalizing Suburban Downtown Retail Districts"

What Does Work
So then...what are the elements of suburban retail district success? The study found that seven key elements were most critical to downtown retail success. These included the following:
  • The presence of a BID or Merchants Association - although notably only 12.5% included a professional, paid manager
  • Ample sidewalk width - i.e. wider sidewalks that accommodate more people - the average sidewalk was 8.5 feet, but went as wide as 15 to 20 feet in some markets (e.g. Princeton and Haddonfield)
  • A high "Walk Score" - a walkscore over 80 using www.walkscore.com
  • A low vacancy rate - less than 20% vacancy rates (with non-retail uses taking up less than 10% of space)
  • Available parking options
  • High traffic counts - successful districts see an average of 10,000 - 16,000 vehicles per day. 
The Main Takeaway
If we whittle this down to a few key takeaways, what I appreciate about these categories is that they reflect what other studies have shown, that there are four key areas where business district MUST focus to maintain a competitive advantage. These include ACCESS, AMENITIES, DENSITY OF RETAIL OFFERINGS and DISTRICT MANAGEMENT, which over and over again emerge as the most critical elements necessary for a successful downtown environment. 
  • ACCESS measured by traffic counts and available parking. 
  • AMENITIES measured by "Walk Score" which tell you how comfortable people are walking in the district. This includes the physical environment, which I define as anything "outside of the store", as well as how clean and safe the environment feels to the pedestrian. 
  • DENSITY OF RETAIL OFFERINGS measured in part by "Walk Score" AND by a low vacancy rate. I would argue that a town with a great Walk Score is a place with few missing teeth or gaps in the downtown environment. And finally...
  • DISTRICT MANAGEMENT. Whether you are a BID or a Main Street Program of a Merchants Association, a downtown steward is critical to manage, market and maintain a successful commercial district. 

So...are your commercial district revitalization efforts focused on addressed these four key issues? 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Detroit, MI: Reflecting on how far things have come

By Dave Feehan

Dave is Principal of Civitas Advisors and a frequent contributor to the Commercial District Advisor. In this piece, originally published in Crain's Detroit Business ("Afternoon riverfront walk reveals 'new' downtown, opportunity, Crain's Detroit, 10/20/14), he talks about his early years working in Detroit, and the astounding changes the downtown as seen since then. Enjoy!

Detroit Riverwalk, a downtown amenity that
attracts visitors from around the world

In early 1994, after directing Kalamazoo's downtown organization for five years, I was offered the opportunity to return to my hometown of Minneapolis, where I was expecting to lead the city's community development agency. However, newly elected Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer called with a pitch I found too enticing to pass up. 

He said, "You can go back to Minneapolis and make a nice town even nicer, or you can come to Detroit and help me rebuild a great American city." 

I was soon working for Detroit Renaissance as executive director of downtown and community development, and wondering exactly where to start. 

Downtown Detroit was on life support. More than a quarter of the commercial buildings were totally vacant, another quarter was less than 50 percent occupied. That left half the commercial real estate economically nonfunctional. Some retail stores (and there were few) were heated with kerosene space heaters. Even the better restaurants were not that good, and one, located near Harmonie Park, refused to put a sign on the exterior and kept the door locked. You had to knock to get in. 

Woodward Avenue was 10 lanes of potholes with little traffic. Pedestrian traffic was virtually nil, even at lunchtime. The Hudson's building loomed like a foreboding castle, stripped by scrappers and open to anyone who might have the courage to wander into its abyss. Islands of activity existed — City Hall, the Renaissance Center and Greektown — but they were exceptions. 

Detroit's neighborhoods were also facing massive challenges. Some community organizations, especially the Warren-Conner Development Coalition and the Southwest Detroit Business Association, struggled to overcome a tsunami of negative media coverage and failing city services, but most neighborhoods had simply lost the struggle and returned to prairie grass. 

Working with the CEO of Detroit Renaissance and city officials, I was assigned three priorities: Figure out a plan for the Hudson's building, create a new "greater downtown" organization, and provide support to community development corporations in the neighborhoods. 

Working closely with Bob Larson, CEO of the Taubman Cos., and Jim Tervo, Mayor Archer's top development adviser, we hatched a plan to acquire the Hudson's building and much of the surrounding real estate, eventually totaling about 16 acres. With commitments of $2 million from local corporations and help from the Honigman law firm and Vigliotti Realty, we secured options and purchase agreements on about 80 percent of the buildings within our target area in less than a year. Those options were transferred to the city of Detroit once the project became public, and today Compuware, Quicken Loans and many other companies occupy the site. 

Rather than attempt a merger of the four downtown organizations that existed at that time, we elected to create the Downtown Detroit Partnership with a focus on the central business district but allied with and supporting the other groups along the riverfront and up into Midtown and New Center. 

I left Detroit in 1996 to become president of the newly created Downtown Partnership in Des Moines, Iowa, a move precipitated by the death of my father in Minneapolis and the failing health of my mother. My return trips to Detroit were infrequent, most recently a few years ago to visit with Dave Blaskiewicz, who was then president of the DDP and pointed out some of the noticeable public space improvements. 

Still, nothing quite prepared me for the change I experienced when I returned for the Detroit Homecoming event. It was, in a word, stunning. 

A quick drive from Jefferson up Washington Boulevard, around the theater district and the ballparks, then to the New Center on Woodward revealed all kinds of new projects. I thought, "This is what transit-oriented development, Detroit-style, looks like." 

Once I checked in at the Westin Book Cadillac — an unbelievable transformation, and one I thought I would never see — I strolled down through Hart Plaza to see the riverfront walkway. There I met a middle-aged couple, tourists from Frankfurt. German tourists? 

Further along the "international riverfront," as it's called, I encountered another group of tourists, this time from Sweden. I walked around the Renaissance Center, where my office used to be, and into Greektown; I paused for a brief conversation with a young couple from Spain. Diversity was taking on a whole new meaning in Detroit. 

My afternoon walk lasted about three hours. Sidewalks were clean. Planters were filled with colorful flowers and decorative plants. Bikes were nearly everywhere. Despite what appeared to be a slew of apartment and condo conversions, I was told that the vacancy rate for downtown units was approaching 1 percent, and waiting lists were as long as 18 months for good apartments. Coffeehouses and appealing restaurants seemed to beckon the much-increased pedestrian traffic. 
Lunch in Eastern Market with Dan Carmody confirmed what I had been reading: Eastern Market is arguably the premier market of its kind in the country. Carmody has gained a reputation as a visionary when it comes to connecting food, public health and community development. 

In the heart of downtown, I used to see vacant lots and empty buildings and think, "What a tragedy!" I look at those same buildings and surface parking lots and I now think, "What an opportunity!" 
But what of the neighborhoods beyond downtown? While housing initiatives are to be applauded, and while urban gardens and green space will offer some respite from painfully empty blocks, a real opportunity may be present along Detroit's commercial corridors. Most cities have figured out how to revitalize downtown, but neighborhoods will not return to health until progress is also made in terms of bringing back commercial corridors such as Gratiot and Grand River. 

Cities such as Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., are evolving new and creative strategies for bringing these business streets back to life, and Detroit might learn from them. No one wants to buy a home in a neighborhood where the local Main Street is abandoned and scary-looking. 

One piece of concrete advice for Detroit: Find neighborhoods where there is still some good housing stock and social fabric, then concentrate on just a couple blocks of commercial storefronts at first. Work to build an alliance between business and property owners and neighborhood residents. Try to find locally owned businesses, not Walgreens and Subways. The chain stores will come later, but build a unique set of shops if you can. And create a local organization that can do the three M's: manage, market and maintain. 

As I departed Detroit for a few days in the Upper Peninsula, I had to appreciate that with all of the actors, big and small, engaged in reviving Detroit, a corner had been turned. 

The clouds have broken, and once again, the sun is shining on Detroit.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Building Strong Leaders in Commercial Revitalization

Commercial District Advisors gladly supports Coro’s Neighborhood Leadership (NL) Program and encourages those New York City-based practitioners in the commercial revitalization field to apply for Coro’s 2015 six-month program beginning in January. 

Image via coronewyork.org
Who is the NL program targeted for?
“For those leading commercial revitalization efforts in their communities-whether working in a Business Improvement District, Merchant Association, local development corporation, Chamber of Commerce or other nonprofit organization- Coro's Neighborhood Leadership (NL) program provides the city's top talent with the resources they need to understand how to influence meaningful change and address complex challenges within their neighborhoods.”  In Coro’s NL program participants “are given the opportunity to build leadership skills through intensive training and peer-to-peer learning. Participants leave the program equipped with the knowledge and skills to drive change in their own neighborhoods, and an unparalleled network of engaged civic leaders from which to continue to build and grow.”

What are the benefits of the program?
The Coro NL program notes key benefits to this program:

  • THE NETWORK: NL connects participants to an accomplished community of Coro NL alumni, City leaders and the broader Coro community, who are dedicated to supporting one another.
  • THE KNOWLEDGE: NL deeply immerses participants in building individual and collaborative capacity for practicing leadership and bringing about change in their communities.
  • THE SKILLS: NL uses the City of New York as a lab to explore, test and build effective commercial revitalization strategies to adapt and thrive in challenging environments. In particular, participants hone the skills needed to get things done in a multi-stakeholder environment.
Image via coronewyork.org
What is the time commitment?
Neighborhood Leadership meets January through June  and requires a significant time commitment of attendance including: A three-day overnight Opening Retreat, Saturday Leadership Retreat days (4), Bimonthly Networking Evening Events ("Coronect" evenings), Tuesday Strategy Day Sessions (5), Closing Session & Graduation (1), and one Follow-Up Session in October.  Click here to view the NL 2015 program calendar.

Who are the participants?
Approximately 20 successful nonprofit management professionals whose work is focused on commercial revitalization are competitively selected to participate each year. Selected participants reflect the demographics of New York City with at least half serving low to moderate income neighborhoods.  Those selected have interest in joining the Coro community and NL alumni network.

What is the cost?
The kicker is that there is no tuition due to the generous support of the program’s partner and funders. 

Applications for NL 2015 can be found here. The application deadline is Saturday, November 15th.

Questions/comments, contact - Garrett Lucien, Program Director of Neighborhood Leadership, at 212 248-2935 ext. 308 or glucien@coronewyork.org.

Innovation Through Competition: Grants Available to Enhance Local Commercial Districts

Commercial District Advisor would like to share some exciting news!

The NYC Department of Small Business Services, in partnership with the New York City Economic Development Corporation  and the New York City Business Assistance Corporation, has again launched Neighborhood Challenge after a successful year in 2013. "This is a competitive grant initiative designed to encourage Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) and Community-based Development Organizations (CBDOs) throughout the five boroughs to execute innovative and forward-thinking ideas that address challenges faced in many business corridors."

Last year's initiatives included storefront improvements, district marketing campaigns, and public art installations. The winning programs and initiatives are currently being implemented in business corridors across the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens.

This year grant awards of $30,000, $60,000, and $100,000 will be given to the boldest ideas in four categories:
  • Business Attraction, Retention, and Growth,
  • District Planning, Streetscape Improvements, and Public Space Activation, 
  • District-wide Marketing and Events,  and
  • Property Activation and Development.
Image via nyc.gov
CDA supports this initiative because the projects help solve small business challenges, generate, community and economic impact, and receive local recognition.

For all the guidelines, eligibility, and to apply visit: 

Applications must be submitted by Wednesday, November 5th, 2014, at 5:00 p.m.

An example of a project by 2013 Neighborhood Challenge winner:

Winners of 2013 Neighborhood Challenge:

Best Practices in City-led “Parklet” Efforts

Parklets are a growing strategy that commercial district managers are using to drive traffic to their local business districts, and with good reason.  According to the 2011 San Francisco Great Streets “Parklet Impact Study,” foot traffic increased 44% in a studied area, those stopping to engage in stationary activity tripled at another, and business owners denied any decrease in business while some reported an increase.

The term “parklet” was first used in San Francisco to describe a parking spot turned mini-park and originated from the 2009 San Francisco Park(ing) Day.  A typical parklet includes a platform on pavement adjacent to a sidewalk. Many parklets include additional seating, landscape, and tables.  Parklets have now spread to many other cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Oakland, Philadelphia, and Long Beach. (Source: Grand Rapids Parklet Manual)

Many other cities have caught on to the appeal of parklets and have begun parklet pilot programs.  Cities on the list include Seattle, Minneapolis, Miami, and Grand Rapids.

Parklets are a creative solution to the desire for wider sidewalks especially in areas with narrow sidewalks or a lack of open space.  Although parklets are not permitted to engage in direct commerce like sidewalk cafes or table-side service, a 2010 Divisidero Trial Parklet Impact Report noted they do increase foot traffic (13-37% according to the study), economic activity, bike parking, and public relaxation and socialization. http://nacto.org/docs/usdg/divisadero_trial_parklet_impact_report_pratt.pdf

Pilot programs vary from city to city, but there has been an uptick of activity. A few programs that we like here at the Commercial District Advisor include the following:
With many benefits and few disadvantages, withstanding the loss of one or two parking spots, parklets demonstrate the growing impetus to leave the car and gather with your community to laugh, love, relax, and to have a shared experience. 

Photo by: San Francisco Planning Department
Lessons Learned
It appears that parklets have common themes.  They generally take up one to two parking spots, have seating and landscaping, and the overall responsibility lies on the “host” to maintain.  What other lessons are there to be learned moving forward with parklets:
  • Are there some places that shouldn’t do parklets? Raleigh completed a Parklet Feasability Study and noted specific locations within their city that parklets shouldn’t be.  One could induce from their results that parklets should not occur in areas with low pedestrian destination traffic, in places with sufficient plaza or open space already, high parking demand, busy or dangerous streets or streets that need reconfiguring, and streets entering residential neighborhoods. (http://www.raleighnc.gov/content/extra/Books/PlanDev/ParkletFeasibilityStudy/index.html#/30-31/zoomed, 2013)
  • Do we need to ensure that someone manages them? It is important for parklets to keep up appearances, after all the purpose is to ensure a little bit of green space for public enjoyment.  The common rule is to hold “hosts” responsible for maintenance and appearance.  Most parklet programs have parameters and specific guidelines in place for hosts to maintain their parklets.
  • Are they best when connected to a local business?  More studies are needed to gauge specific metrics of whether positive effects come from parklets adjacent to businesses.  All parklet programs prohibit direct service to businesses such as table-side service or cafĂ© service.  Nearly every city requires parklets to be open to public use, but Long Beach, CA allows discretion on the owner whether they require patrons to make purchases (http://www.raleighnc.gov/content/extra/Books/PlanDev/ParkletFeasibilityStudy/index.html#/4-5/, 2013).
  • What about the homeless?  Like most urban public plazas and parks, parklets will also have the issue of how to regulate or manage the homeless if their use of the parklet is outside of the intended purpose.   San Francisco has shut down at least one parklet because it had become a prime destination for drinking and carousing (http://www.berkeleyside.com/2013/07/08/berkeley-parklets-stir-up-excitement-apprehension/, 2013).
Image via http://www.minneapolismn.gov/
Additional Resources