Friday, February 28, 2014

Help 'em Yelp it! Six ways to help small business owners make the most of Yelp

According to a recent Fox Business news article small business fail to understand the importance of on-line reviews, and I might agree. But what can you, as a commercial district manager, do to help? (For a link to the article, click here: “Survey: Small Businesses Underestimating Online Reviews" )

What is “On-Line Optimization”?
This is a term we coined a few years ago while working with the New Rochelle Business Improvement District (see “Putting Your District’s Best Foot Forward” ). It simply refers to a process by which a 
Many small businesses use review sites like Yelp
and Foursquare as marketing tools.
Your business should be doing the same.
commercial district manager can actively help local businesses build a positive online presence that generates additional customers and sales. While Google is by far one of the most important search engines, Yelp is nearly as important for small businesses looking for exposure. With an average of 120 million MONTHLY unique visitors, and one of the most downloaded review apps in the nation, being on Yelp assures a business that they will be seen when someone is looking for a place to go, whether on their mobile phone or at their desktop.

But commercial district managers face some challenges in harnessing Yelp as a tool, in part because businesses need to claim ownership of their Yelp page to do basic things, like make sure the business profile is complete, including the name and category of business, detailed contact information, links to website and a menu (if a restaurant). In some communities, mom and pops don’t even have email addresses…so asking them to manage an on-line presence can be near impossible.

That said, many businesses owners do know the power of the internet, but just don’t know where to start. The good news is that you can do something to help them. Below are a few waysyou can play an effective role as an intermediary to help your local businesses use Yelp to attract customers. 

1. Make sure their business pages have great photos. This is really important. People REALLY like photos. In fact, research shows that people are more likely to visit a restaurant or store for the first time if they can check it out first. Consider hiring a professional photographer to take attractive pictures of your district and local businesses. If restaurants are included, be sure to take photos of a variety of dishes. Fortunately, anyone can upload photos to a business page so this is something that you do directly on behalf of your businesses.

2. Building awareness of a business’s Yelp page with check inserts, stickers and tent cards. Did you know that only 13% of businesses owners are approaching customers about posting reviews online? While Yelp actively discourages soliciting reviews and will downgrade reviews that they perceive as solicited, they do encourage businesses to let customers know they are on Yelp. Consider printing small index cards for your businesses that they can include with the bill that say something like, “Hey, check us out on Yelp!” with a link to the business listing. With this you are creating awareness that the business is listed, which in turn will help them get reviews.

You might also consider printing transparent stickers and giving them to local businesses who have a presence on Yelp. These “Find us on Yelp” stickers are different than the “People love us on Yelp” stickers (which are issued twice a year based on having a greater than 3.5 star rating from a certain number of reviews). You can also have table tent cards printed, this might be a better alternative for a business that wants to put this on their counter or by the register. “Find us on Yelp” signs and tent cards can be found on the Yelp Flicker stream

3. Making sure your restaurants have their menus on Yelp. Help your restaurants by making sure their menu and price list is displayed on the businesses page. Send a copy of your current menu directly to Yelp via their contact form. You could also consider having your photographer takes a picture of a menu page for you to post as an image.

4. Unfortunately, sometimes it just comes down to better management. Ultimately, reviews are a reflection of the level business goods and quality of service they provide. The reviews – both good and bad – offer important feedback that an owner ignores at their peril. Don’t let your business owners rationalize away negative reviews and low ratings. If they do, they are killing their own business. According to a study by Michale Luca, a professor at Harvard Business School, there is a correlation between high Yelp rankings and revenues. There is a 5-9% jump in revenues for every star in a review. Considered another way, every loss of a star means loss of revenue. So if worse comes to worse you'll need to do some direct business technical assistance. Which leads us to the next suggestion...

5. Hold a business seminar about managing on-line listings. Since most of what a business needs to do is manage their own page, consider inviting a specialist to offer a workshop to your business owners. A few things they should cover include:
  • How to “claim” your Yelp business page. It is free and allows the businesses to make sure their business information is up to date and allows them to add photos (which you can do too) and respond publically to reviews (although they should do this very cautiously as it can easily backfire if not handled correctly)
  • How to respond (or not) to negative reviews. 
  • An overview of the various business platforms that exist that allow business owners to manage multiple social media sites, including Locu by Go Daddy (Costs range from $4.49/month to $26.99/month) and Singleplatform by Constant (Pricing is $79/month). 
  • The impact of reviews on sales
6. And finally...measure the impact of your effort! Why? Because you are in the business of showing that an investment in your effort and the work of your organization is an investment in a business's bottom line. The straighter the line you can draw between your efforts and a business' sales, the better poised you will be to ask for and receive more resources that have an even greater impact. In this case, you will want to know whether your businesses are seeing an uptick in sales as a result of your efforts. You can do that by surveying them within a month of the effort taking off. And then an a bi-annual or annual basis thereafter. Another option is to ask them for their Yelp metrics. Every business that claims their Yelp page has the ability to track metrics, including the number of monthly visitors and user views to their page. See if participating businesses will share this information with you for your records. Better yet, require it as a condition for helping them.

5 Interactive Musical Installations

Public art installations are a great strategy for rejuvenating public spaces and connecting with the public in a fun way. There are different approaches a city can take to connect with its citizens, and one approach that has gained prominence in recent years is music. Here are five interactive public art installations that have flooded many ears with the sound of music. 

1) Play Me, I’m Yours
Play Me, I’m Yours began in 2008 when 15 pianos were installed across the city of Birmingham, UK for three weeks. Street pianos are designed to engage with the public by inviting anyone, experienced musician or novice, to try their hand at the piano. They also provide a rare opportunity for musicians to share their creativity by performing to the public. Since 2008, the project has toured internationally. In 2010, Play Me, I’m Yours appeared in New York City. The installation of 60 pianos across the five boroughs was spearheaded by the New York-based nonprofit arts group Sing for Hope.

2) Piano Stairs
In 2009, Volkswagen converted a set of stairs into black and white piano keys inside the Odenplan subway station in Stockholm, Sweden. The initiative is part of a marketing campaign called the Fun Theory, which is based on the idea that the easiest way to change people’s behavior is through fun.  The piano staircase in Stockholm quickly gained attention for its effectiveness, and has been replicated around the world, including in Auckland, Melbourne, Stockholm, Milan, Istanbul, and Colombia. 

3) 21 Swings
Each spring, 21 multicolored swings are placed throughout Montreal’s entertainment and cultural district, Quartier des Spectacles. Each seat is a musical instrument that plays prerecorded sounds while people swing. The more people that swing, the more melodies that form, turning the installation into a giant collective instrument where people achieve more when they work together. 

4) The Kendall Band
The Kendall Band is an installation in the Kendall Station, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that consists of three interactive instruments. To play you need to pull one of the handles, located on either the inbound or outbound subway platform wall. The installation, created between 1986 and 1988, is part of the “Arts on the Line” program - the first program in the nation to incorporate art into public transportation systems.

Image via Cambridge Day
5) ‘Pulse of the City’
‘Pulse of the City’ is an innovative project located in Christopher Columbus Park, in Boston, which utilizes the concept of measuring people’s heart rates to create brief musical compositions. The installation is a solar-powered unit in the shape of a heart with handles on either side. The unit emits white light to attract passerby and creates the musical composition when someone holds the handlebars – a very distinct experience when compared to listening to your heartbeat through a series of beeps and lines on a chart. 

A new musical project has been proposed in New York City by musician James Murphy (former LCD Soundsystem frontman) to turn the beeping sound that occurs each time you swipe your MetroCard at a turnstile, into a pleasant note that harmonizes with other turnstiles. You can learn more about the project here, and if you like the idea, sign their petition to help make it happen!

Guest Blogger Maria Chernaya is an urban planner based in Brooklyn

Friday, February 21, 2014

Round Up: Low Cost, High Impact Tools to Address Common Issues

You don't need a big budget to make a noticeable impact in your commercial district. Here are a few tools that are easy and inexpensive to buy/download/DIY that help to address common problems.

The problem: There's a vacant storefront or lot that has become an eyesore OR You want to solicit community input for a new development, or retail attraction program, but aren't sure how.

The solutionNeighborland's "I want _ in my neighborhood" stickers, or templates for mobile whiteboards to collect input in public space. Buy the stickers from their website ($0.35/each) and team up with the owner of a vacant site. It will draw attention to the space (a plus for the owner) and give you/potential retailers a sense of what people in the neighborhood want.

The problem: You have so many great attractions and amenities in your district, but not everyone knows about them, or how to get from one to the next.

The solution: Walk Your City's Sign Builder lets you design your own wayfinding system to make your community more walkable, and help visitors get from place to place. Using their online system - you design it, they print it, you install it.

The problem: You have empty tree pits, a vacant lot, or other spaces that could use a little greening.

The solution:Guerrilla shows you where to buy and how to make your own seed bombs to green your district or beautify vacant sites.

The problem: You've got some underutilized spaces that could be great - if only people had a reason to be in them.

The solution: Red Swing Project hangs swings in public spaces to "inspire playfulness" around the world. Download the free how-to manual on the website to make your own swing.

The problem: You want to do so many fun projects and you don't know where to start.
The solution: has information on projects that communities are doing all over the country - from temporary bike lanes to pop-up stores, as well as a series of questions to help focus your efforts when planning how you are going to make a better block.

Author Kristen Wilke is a Project Manager at Larisa Ortiz Associates.

Walmart opening more Neighborhood Markets

February 21, 2014 - Walmart faces sluggish sales and will seek to double the number of smaller new stores planned in the coming year. The retailer has seen sales increase by 5% last quarter at their smaller format stores, called "Neighborhood Markets", compared to falling sales (.4% drop) at their traditional stores. In an announcement, they called this the "next generation of retail". Analysts suggest they are feeling pressure from the success of Family Dollar, which has expanded rapidly in many under served urban markets the past few years. Walmart announced plans to add approximately
270 to 300 small stores this year, double its initial forecast of 120 - 150 stores. They currently operate 346 Neighborhood Markets and 20 Walmart Express stores. The Neighborhood Markets are approximately 38,000 sf (compared to 106,000 sf for traditional Walmart stores). The company is also testing 2,500 sf, college-based convenience retail called "Walmart on Campus".

If you think you have a site for consideration, you must gather and submit the following information:
1. Site Plan
2. Property Boundary Information
3. Aerial Photography (if available)
4. City Map with Property marked on the Map
5. Zoning Information
6. Your contact information
This information can be sent to the appropriate real estate manager for your region.  A territory map of real estate managers can be found by clicking here.

Resource Articles

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Leadership. What's failure got to do with it?

Neighborhood change doesn't happen without ruffling feathers. But as we all know, pushing people to do things a little differently than they might have done before is not an easy task. Whether it's the store owner who needs to start sprucing up his window display or tweaking his merchandise mix or the property owners who needs to invest in a facade improvement. Getting people to do things differently requires leadership - true leadership - the kind that inspires people - not the kind dictated to them, but rather a slight cajoling at a pace they can manage.

Baby steps are necessary
Sometimes, getting people to do something they haven't done before means setting up opportunities to test the waters. This means taking baby steps to get them to see that a new concept and idea that may seem foreign at first is in fact a good solution to a vexing problem. Let me give you an example.

We recently completed the Corridors of Retail Excellence Program (CORE) with LISC MetroEdge and PPND in Mount Washington, a neighborhood in Pittsburgh. The assessment and recommended investment was fairly simple. Address a vexing challenge (the fact that 1.5 million visitors were taking in the famous view of Pittsburgh but were simply not walking down the street to patronize local businesses) with a solution that our team had seen work very well in other communities. Place hanging blade signs that protrude from the building and offer pedestrians visual cues to the fact that there are businesses down the street. The result? Businesses have reported a 30% increase in foot traffic since the signage was installed. Mount Washington CDC Executive Director Jason Kambitsis told us at a recent CORE wrap-up meeting that other businesses are now stepping up and asking for similar signage - and offering to pay for it. These are the same businesses who initially resisted participation. The success of this effort might also pave the way for a citywide effort to support signage improvements.

The importance of testing new ideas and concepts
One of my favorite books is "The Practice of Adaptive Leadership", by leadership gurus Ronald Heifetz, Marty Linsky and Alexander Grashow. In it, the authors push people to think about leadership as the practice of "stepping into the unknown and stirring things up." I like that concept. And it speaks to the challenges that commercial district leaders face. How many times have you encountered a naysayer who looks at you and says "we tried that 15 years ago" as a way to shut down a conversation? I certainly have. But the market conditions, the stakeholders, the surrounding neighborhood made that situation so different than the one we find ourselves in now.  To quote from "The Practice of Adapative Leadership"...

"Leadership is an improvisational art. There is no recipe...The experimental mind-set opens up the possibility of running several initiatives at the same time to discover which approaches work best. Experiments involve testing hypotheses, looking for contrary data, and making midcourse corrections as you generate new knowledge."

I try to compel my clients to think about their work in the same way. Getting better at what you do, affecting neighborhood change, is sometimes uncomfortable for those leading the effort as well. True leaders need to "expand their bandwidth", which basically means trying new ideas that move you outside of your comfort zone. I actually have a magnet on my apartment door that I look at every day as I leave my home, and it says "Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone." Easy enough to say, right? But here is your challenge, which comes with a risk. It is precisely when you push yourself to do new things that your incompetence may be put on display. And that is sometimes scary for people, especially for those who define themselves as "leaders". Aren't leaders confident, successful people who always get things right? I might say just the opposite, a true leader is marked by their ability to take risks and inspire, which may mean approaching a project and acknowledging that it might not work. But then it also means trying something new and remaining innovative and experimental until something does work. And you know what? It will.

I say all this to underscore the importance of leadership in managing and improving commercial districts. People sometimes think that tactics and best practices are the most important thing for successful commercial district practitioners to learn about (and this is basically the philosophy that under-girds most  professional development training programs). But for every wonderful best practice and tactic in our practitioner's tool box, there is a little something intangible called leadership that actually makes the difference.

Author Larisa Ortiz is Principal of Larisa Ortiz Associates.

Monday, February 17, 2014

What does kidnapping have to do with retail attraction? Just ask the former Mayor of Pittsburgh

The successful effort to bring Home Depot to East Liberty was a
game changer for Pittsburgh's efforts to revitalize
the then downtrodden neighborhood of East Liberty. 
Last week I served on a two-day ULI/ICSC/HUD roundtable with about 30 of the nation's leading retail developers, retailers, financiers, policy analysts and retail consultants. The goal of the meeting was to develop a set of strategies that ULI and ICSC can act upon to help the commercial real estate industry better address the retail needs of under served markets.

I particularly enjoyed a presentation by the former Mayor of Pittsburgh, Tom Murphy and Mulu Birru, former head of the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). During Mayor Murphy's tenure these two men were at the forefront of an innovative investment strategy that produced outcomes that were nothing short of amazing. Much of Pittsburgh's current Renaissance can be attributed to their work in the late 1990's. My favorite anecdote was a story that Murphy told the group about the City's efforts to turn around the neighborhood of East Liberty.

In 1994, the City of Pittsburgh bought a former Sears site (an abandoned department store on about 7 acres) in East Liberty, a neighborhood that had once been the State of Pennsylvania's third largest retail hub. To that they added an additional 10 to create an 18 acre assemblage. The first question most would ask is, how did a broke City like Pittsburgh get to the money to buy the property? Well, part of what was so innovative about the effort was the creation of a Development Fund, controlled by the URA, of $65 million dollars. The money was raised by siphoning off $6 million in operating funds from the City budget, which was then used to raise bond money for a dedicated acquisition fund. In a City replete with vacant, post-industrial land, this effort was tantamount to turning the City into the prime driver of development. It was a risky maneuver at the time. 

But back to East Liberty. The site the City purchased was strategically positioned and located between two neighborhoods - one the poorest and one the wealthiest in the Pittsburgh region. After some planning and research, the decision was made to pursue Home Depot as an anchor tenant for what was essentially a wholesale strategic repositioning of the district. Like many communities who embark on retail attraction efforts, early outreach to Home Depot was unsuccessful. No one thought the site had potential. Not easily deterred, Murphy called the Mayor of Atlanta where Home Depot is based in search of some intelligence on the owners. The Mayor of Atlanta shared with Murphy that one of the owners, Bernie Marcus, was a philanthropist and very involved in Jewish issues. With that, Murphy hatched a plan. He asked Pittsburgh's Jewish community to invite Marcus to speak. At a reception, Murphy's body guard approached the Home Depot owner and opened his lapel to show his gun, at which point he said, "we're kidnapping you". Murphy then took the owner on a 20-minute tour of East Liberty. Later that night, Marcus committed to building a Home Depot with the City as a partner.Wow. 

Murphy and Birru knew that concessions were going to be required - and those concessions were not insignificant. For every $1 of Home Depot investment there was over a $1 of incentive required. For Home Depot, this was an untested market and they were a first mover who wasn't sure if the project would work. The project was a resounding success, and the store become the highest volume Home Depot in the Pittsburgh region. In addition to real estate taxes, nearly 250 jobs were created and according to Murphy, 80% of employees at Home Depot walked to work. This particular point is important because some of the neighborhoods surrounding Home Depot are quite poor. It's also important to note that future development did not receive the same incentives. In fact, the last project, Bakery Square, received $0 in public monies. Now the area includes a Trader Joe's a Whole Foods and a Target. 

Not every community has a visionary leader like Tom Murphy, someone with a clear vision and a forceful personality to make it happen. But what other lessons can we take from this story?

  • The importance of eminent domain to pull together an assemblage. We cannot forget that urban sites are often not large enough to support the kind of retail that is competitive in today's economic environment, so the ability to use a mix of traditional property acquisition with eminent domain is an important and not to be overlooked policy tool. 
  • The importance of the Development Fund, which gave Birru the legitimacy to enter into conversations with developers. Without the ability to write a check, he would have had significantly less leverage.
  • Let us not forget aggressive salesmanship! While I wouldn't suggest trying to kidnap a senior executive, Murphy knew it would take a national brand to change the perception of the area, and he did whatever was necessary to get to a decision maker and get past the traditional site selection gatekeepers. "Go around the brokers" was something we heard a few times during the round table. 
  • The acceptance of risk sharing for early catalytic projects is critical. While inducements over time from the City fell to zero, public funding was critical when the market wasn't working.
For those interested in learning more about what happened in East Liberty, here is a good story from the Wall Street Journal, printed in 2012. "A Neighborhood's Comeback: Part of Pittsburgh Finally Recovers From 1950s Planners; Google Sets Up Office"

Larisa Ortiz is Principal of Larisa Ortiz Associates, Commercial District Advisors.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Will you be our Valentine?

 Have you come across yet? Their clever Valentine's Day cards for "planners, architects, urban designers, landscape architects, transportation engineers, and those who love them." have been making their way around the internet the past week. If not, you should take a look because they are pretty great.
They inspired me to come up with a few of our own commercial district-themed Valentine's wishes.

and a few more:

Your business district doesn't need any improving in my eyes
I want you like downtown business districts want a Trader Joe's.

I'll give you an Exclusive Use Clause to my heart
Let's get together and open a mom and pop shop.

So, will you be our Valentine?

The Commercial District Advisor

Author Kristen Wilke is a Project Manager at Larisa Ortiz Associates

Thursday, February 6, 2014

How Malls "Strategically Position" themselves – and what you can learn from it

I often use the term “strategic positioning” when I want to describe a shopping district by lifestyle, price point and tenant mix. This concept is not new to the shopping center industry – and it undergirds how shopping mall operators execute tenant mix in their shopping centers. I recently read an article that really drove this point home (“FIGat7th Bring Big Retailers to Downtown Los Angeles”, 2/5/2014).

Take FIGat7th shopping center, which happens to be located in Downtown Los Angeles at the intersection of Figueroa and 7th Streets. The 28-year old, 330,000 sf property is getting a makeover by new owners Brookfield Office Properties, who purchased the site in 2011. When Brookfield looked at the demographics here is what they found -  a population of 530,000 living within a three-mile radius. Most are affluent and young, with an average age of 37 and average household income of $80,000. Additionally, 35,000 students live in the surrounding area, which is also close to public transit. And there are 10,000 downtown professionals who work within a four-block radius.

What Price Point and Lifestyle?
This is a hypothetical, but I’m sure the owners looked at that data and asked themselves "what retailers are the right fit for the shopper profiles we identified?" Was their target shopper going to patronize upscale shopping options? Or mid-market shopping options? The answer, according to the article was “chic but affordable”. With that strategic positioning in mind, the retailers they chose to pursue reads like a who’s who of affordable and contemporary offerings, including Zara, H&M, California Pizza Kitchen, Sports Chalet and City Target, along with “mall staples” Victoria’s Secret, L’Occitane and Bath and Body Works. Additionally, strategic positioning refers to tenant mix and in the case of FIGat7th, Brookfield ultimately decided to emphasize apparel and comparison shopping. 

The outcome? Simone Tatro, the store team leader for City Target was quoted saying, "We have exceeded the company’s expectations on sales since opening”. I’m sure the other retailers in the center would share similar sentiments.

So, how can you use strategic positioning to inform your efforts to manage tenant mix?
First, you need to ask yourself whether your businesses are reflective of the lifestyle and price point of your target customer. We recently worked in a community that had seen some significant demographic shifts over the past 10 years towards a younger, more trendy population of young professionals. But the retail mix still read like a page from an early 1990’s mall, including Gap, Express , Conway, Claire’s Boutique, NY&Co., Benetton Outlet and Bakers. Not bad, but not great. To add insult to injury, the stores had not been updated in that long either, so the street read as tired, old, and in need of a major face lift. Not the kind of place that young, trendy professionals go when given options. Moreover, nearby shopping malls were creating more and more competition for these shoppers. When we talked to businesses, what we found was not surprising, store sales were slipping and the street was not attracting the same number of shoppers, despite the improving demographics. Yet property owners were still living in the hey-day of the street, demanding rents that exceeded what current sales could support.

So what were the major take-aways?  Keeping in mind the limited staff resources available for the retail attraction effort, we focused on four key strategic tasks as follows:
  • Focus significant effort on attracting a brand-name retailer that is both affordable and contemporary/trendy. Think H&M or Zara. We developed a hit-list of about 23 handpicked prospects that fit squarely within their strategic positioning statement - they were contemporary/trendy in their offerings, their price point was mid-level or value-oriented, and they square footage they were looking reflected the kinds of spaces that were available on the street. We then developed an outreach plan to begin identifying vacant properties that might be a good fit for those tenants. The next step involved sit downs with property owners to enlist them in the recruitment effort. This also included educating them on the kinds of rents that major credit tenants would pay - and what they wouldn't - for spaces on the street. 
  • Communicate the retail strategy, again and again. Enlisting property owners and brokers is critical for successful retail attraction efforts. While the “prospect hit list” we prepared for our client is a basic tool that the BID can use in initial outreach efforts, property owners and brokers will have their own hit lists. The goal is to get them to buy into the strategic position as a "theme" to follow. So while we may have suggested H&M as a potential tenant, there might be other similarly positioned retailers with an interest in the street. In cases like this, brokers can be your best friend. They have deep knowledge of the local market and may come up with other retailers that are just as appropriate as the ones you want. Either way, it’s a win-win for the street.
  • Façade Improvement for Regional Independents and Mom & Pops. Fortunately the street looked really good owing to the excellent job the BID had done in landscaping and street maintenance over the years. But the dated facades were a real problem, so we recommended a façade improvement program to help existing businesses refresh their facades and signage.
  • Develop a campaign to get Nationals to clean up their act. Given the predominance of national chains on the street, we recommended developing a targeted campaign to get national retailers to refresh their stores through outreach to corporate headquarters (and letter writing campaigns if necessary). Update: since our study, Express and Gap have both upgraded their stores.
The update? The effort is still in its early stages, but tenant mix on the street continues to improve. Within the past year, a Blink Fitness opened (this is a younger, trendier version of Equinox), two new organic food stores have opened, the Express store got a facelift and expansion, and the Gap store got an interior store redesign. Not bad - and all moving in the direction of the district's new strategic position. 

BEFORE: Express is in need of a facelift. Sun faded awnings covered in
pigeon poop are not quite the right image for the street.  

AFTER: New awnings, clean facade AND an expansion.
Seems that Express knows that this street is a good investment after all. 

Author Larisa Ortiz is Principal at Larisa Ortiz Associates. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Chattanooga Proves the Power of Economic Development Planning

Author Larisa Ortiz is Principal at Larisa Ortiz Associates. 

Great article today in the New York Times ("Fast Internet is Chattanooga's New Locomotive") on the power of “The Gig”, a city-owned high-speed fiber optic connection that is helping to transform downtown Chattanooga into a destination for high-tech firms. More than anything, it speaks to the power of economic development planning. When stimulus money was available in 2009, the City already had a plan in place with elements that needed funding. The impact of the investment on downtown was felt fairly quickly. “Since the fiber-optic network switched on four years ago, the signs of growth in Chattanooga are unmistakable. Former factory buildings on Main Street and Warehouse Row on Market Street have been converted to loft apartments, open-space offices, restaurants and shops. The city has welcomed a new population of computer programmers, entrepreneurs and investors. Lengthy sideburns and scruffy hipster beards — not the norm in eastern Tennessee — are de rigueur for the under-30 set.”

The River City Company, Chattanooga's economic development agency,
has also commissioned marketing material to help attract retailers downtown.
This piece was developed by Stevaker, a Chattanooga based graphic design firm. 

This is Why Economic Development Planning Matters
The high tech development plan was part of an economic development initiative that really took off when the city received a $111 million federal grant in 2009. While the stimulus money – and leveraged private investment was critical – without a ready to go plan in place it’s likely that those funds would have gone elsewhere.

Additional Economic Development Tactics Also Played a Role
If economic development is about creating a positive business environment. the City of Chattanooga seems to be ahead of the curve. But the high speed internet connection is not the only tool in the Chattanooga’s Economic Development toolbox. According to the Times the city has “cleaned its air, rebuilt its waterfront, added an aquarium and become a hub for arts in in eastern Tennessee.”

Another important component is that the network is municipally owned – a powerful commentary on the need for public investment in large infrastructure. (Although the article does state that Google is building similar networks in Kansas City - both MO and KC - and Austin, Texas)

The City has also leveraged partners in its efforts to spearhead the tech sector. One successful tactic is an entrepreneurial contest that came with a $100,000 prize by The Company Lab, a non-profit that conducts programs and events to support start ups and entrepreneurs in Chattanooga. The contest helps to raise the profile of Chattanooga among start ups – and the winner of the contest was Baynan, a firm that relocated to the City in 2013.

The economic renaissance that seems to be taking hold in Chattanooga is a powerful testament to the needs for thoughtful public investment - what I call "outside the store" investment - by the public sectors. It is also about being prepared so that when opportunities and investment opportunities arise, your community is prepared and ready to take advantage of them.

Additional Useful Links
The River City Company, Downtown Chattanooga's economic development agency has links to a number of studies they have commissioned. This site is geared toward the investor and real estate community.

Downtown Chattanooga's  website is a great place to go to find out about events and going's on. This site is geared toward the casual visitor who wants to know about events downtown, as well as folks who might be considering moving to Chattanooga. 

Increasing (Four-Legged) Foot Traffic at Your Downtown Events

Author Kristen Wilke is a Project Manager at Larisa Ortiz Associates

Many downtown organizations host kid-friendly events to attract shoppers to their districts. Well, I don't have any kids. But what I do have is a puppy, so I (selfishly) present to you a round-up of some dog-focused downtown events.

First some stats:
My dog, Pig, shopping in Brooklyn.
  • According to the American Pet Products Association's 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey, 62% of U.S. households own a pet (72.9 millions homes).  
  • 32% of dog owners take their pets with them in the car when they are away for two or more nights. 
When planning your next downtown event, whether it is for locals or visitors from out of town, consider some pet-friendly programming to attract attendees and increase foot (paw?) traffic. Here is some inspiration:

Annual Pet Parade, Milwaukee, WI
Organizer: Brady Street Business Improvement District
Highlights: Discounts at local businesses during the event, pet parade, pet blessing, Human Bark Contest, tail wagging contest, and pet/owner look alike contest

Annual Pet Parade, San Diego, CA
Gaslamp Pet Parade, via San Diego Pets Magazine

Organizer: Gaslamp Quarter Association
Highlights: Costume contests, pet expo, parade

Downtown Dog Day Afternoon at the Cathedral, Los Angeles, CA
Organizer: Downtown LA (Downtown Center Business Improvement District)
Highlights: Doggy FroYo, pet expo, DJ
The BID's website also includes itineraries for "Dog-Friendly Tag Alongs" including Beverages with your best wingman, classy dining with your furry pal, and office space for professional pooches.

Boardwaddle, Ocean City, NJ
Organizer: Tri-State Basset Hound Rescue
Highlights: Walk-a-thon for homeless basset hounds, awards to the top 10 pledge-getters, best trick, best costume, best float, and the basset look-alike contest.

Do you have any events or programs to bring pet owners to your community? If so, let us know so we can pay you a visit!