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Downtown Digest

Repurposed Underpass Provides Connectivity and Public Gathering Space

November 16, 2017

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Downtown Digest

A new park on eight acres beneath an Interstate 93 underpass now links two downtown neighborhoods in Boston, MA, while also providing an active urban space, cultural attraction, and parking amenity.

Landscaped pedestrian boardwalks and bicycle paths along the Fort Point Channel create new connections between communities previously separated by highway infrastructure. This new park adds to the transformation of the area known as Ink Block, a seven building mixed-use community that has revitalized a section of the South End.

Amenities at the park, known as Underground at Ink Block, include world-class street art, a dog park, curated retail, fitness, and food and beverage options, as well as a bike storage facility, 24-hour security, and 175 commercial parking spots.

"The goal of the project was to activate a previously desolate area of the South End by making it an engaging, active park," says Ted Tye, a managing partner at National Development, which operates the park. "Working with MassDOT, we embraced the art culture of the area while creating a space that could be used both passively and actively."

"An active event schedule is planned for the spring," Tye says. "Based on the success of our opening event, which drew approximately 4,000 people, future events will focus on art, food, music, and fitness."

The full article on Underground at Ink Block appeared in the November issue of Downtown Idea Exchange.

Complete Streets Project Improves Safety and Accessibility

November 2, 2017

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Downtown Digest

Millburn, NJ, adopted a Complete Streets program in 2014, outlining a series of goals and objectives to make the streets safer for pedestrians, improve traffic flow, address intersection congestion, and slow traffic where appropriate.

A three-phase implementation plan was developed with a robust series of traffic calming and other improvements that include road-diets, curb bump-outs, bicycle parking, widened corners, high-visibility crosswalks, pedestrian lighting, signage, and more.

Work on phase I began in July when a stretch of Main Street was converted into a downtown event space featuring widened sidewalks, a concrete roadbed, and overhead strands of lights.

Next, the adjacent Millburn Avenue saw wider sidewalks, fresh landscaping with more than 40 new street trees, corner bump-outs, and high-visibility crosswalks. Modern traffic signals and timing were also incorporated into the design to improve traffic flow.

Positive impacts of Phase I were already being noted in September, including a reduction in average roadway speeds down to 29 mph, and a 23-percent reduction in motor vehicle and pedestrian accidents.

The full article on Millburn’s Complete Streets project appeared in the November issue of Downtown Idea Exchange. The Township Committee Presentation is online at the Downtown Development website.

DIY Retail Development Fills Vacant Block

October 20, 2017

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Downtown Digest

Demolition of a downtown shopping mall in Muskegon, MI, several years ago created a gap in the retail fabric of the city center. This year, the city and Downtown Muskegon Now filled the vacant block with small prefab retail spaces in an effort to create more connectivity for pedestrians.

Six buildings were constructed over the winter, with another six to be constructed on site this spring. The low maintenance storage sheds range in size from 10- to 20-feet wide and feature details such as simulated wood shingled roofs and clapboard wall panels.

The response was positive from the beginning says Ann Meisch, city clerk. "We put one press release in the newspaper and one post on Facebook and had 12 vendors apply immediately."

The project has also proven successful in unanticipated ways. "People think of these as incubators for small businesses, and they could be, but that wasn’t our intention. We just wanted retail. At least three [tenants] have storefronts in other locations. It did also allow for incubating businesses — some people that have been selling at the farmers market for several years took this opportunity for a permanent storefront," says Meisch.

The full article including funding details appears in the October issue of Downtown Idea Exchange newsletter.

Property Owners Fund Bus Passes to
Reduce Parking Congestion

October 5, 2017

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Downtown Digest

A pilot program providing free bus passes to select downtown employees has been successful enough to inspire a broader, four-year program offering free public transit to all city center workers in Columbus, OH.

In 2015, the Capital Crossroads & Discovery Special Improvement Districts won a grant from the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission to provide four downtown companies with unlimited bus passes for an 18-month pilot program.

Passes were made available to all employees in some companies, and to specific divisions within others.

Over the first three months, the percentage of the pilot program employees using the bus jumped from 6.4 to 12.2 percent. "These results were really encouraging to our board and advisory committee," says Kacey Brankamp, director of strategic initiatives for the SID.

To move forward with a broader program, district members agreed to an additional assessment of three cents per square foot for certain classes of properties.

The remainder of the funding need will be met through a corporate fundraising campaign and a grant writing/under-writing campaign.

The full article including funding details appears in the October issue of Downtown Idea Exchange newsletter.

Streetscape Upgrade Clears the Clutter,
Reinforces Downtown Brand

September 21, 2017

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Downtown Digest

The streetscape project currently underway in Rosslyn, VA, aims to strengthen the city’s brand, decrease visual clutter, and improve the pedestrian experience.

A formal inventory of everything on the streets revealed that the BID had "quite a mish-mash of elements, just hundreds of various pieces that didn’t match, and that adds to visual clutter," says Mary-Claire Burick, BID president.

Instead of the mish-mash, the BID wanted attractive, sleek, modern designs in keeping with its brand for the district.

"A lot of places have off-the-shelf elements," Burick says. "The primary reason for us wanting to do our own branded elements is that we’ve gone through a lot of effort to articulate Rosslyn’s brand and character, that we are very different from the county, which is suburban in nature. We thought, in keeping with that, we would make sure everything we are putting out in the public realm is not only practical and helps to convene people, but is beautiful, as well, and builds on a sleek, contemporary aesthetic in keeping with the neighborhood."

To clear the clutter, existing light poles and street planters were repainted to create a more consistent color palette. While outdated benches, tables, chairs, planters, and more were replaced with sleek metal designs depicting the city skyline.

Many of the new elements simply replace items already within the district on a one-for-one basis, says Doug Plowman, the Rosslyn Business Improvement Corporation’s urban planning and design manager.

But there will also be a number of new elements on downtown streets. These include a mobile solar charging station, roving information cart, and newsbox organizer or corral.

StoryWalk Brings Children and Their Parents Downtown

September 7, 2017

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Downtown Digest

This summer, Maine’s Gardiner Main Street program partnered with Literacy Volunteers of Greater Augusta to bring a StoryWalk downtown.

The goals for the event were two-fold: to promote family literacy and to introduce people to downtown businesses.

StoryWalks have taken place in all 50 states and 11 countries. For the basic event, laminated pages from a children’s book are attached to wooden stakes, which are installed along an outdoor path. As children follow the trail, they are directed to the next page in the story.

Gardiner Main Street changed the format slightly to include a business-introduction element. The StoryWalk began at the downtown library. The story pages were posted in front of downtown businesses and children were asked to find a specific item related to the story in the business. Once children had found and checked off all of the items on their lists, they returned to the library to claim a small prize.

StoryWalk was developed by the Kellogg-Hubbard Library, in Montpelier, VT, which provides information and resources, including a fact sheet with useful guidance such as project costs, book preparation, copyright issues, and more.

The Gardiner Maine Street StoryWalk appeared in the September issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter along with details on events that attract college students, foodies, and art lovers.

Quality is Key to a Successful On-Street Vendor Program

August 24, 2017

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Downtown Digest

The presence of street vendors downtown can add or detract from the area’s image, depending upon the quality of the product, service, and presentation. That’s the premise behind the Downtown Boston BID’s street vending program for the Downtown Crossing district in Boston, MA.

Street vending has a long history in the area. "From a planning perspective, we’ve always felt that it adds vibrancy to the streets and provides a service to our visitors," says Anita Lauricella, senior planner and project manager for the BID.

In 2013, the BID began a process of evaluating its pushcart program with an eye toward the contemporary vendor and customer.

The BID has now replaced its out-dated 1970s-era pushcarts by installing five new retail merchandising units or RMUs. The units are just four feet by four feet in size when closed and locked, expanding to four-foot by eight-foot display areas when fully opened.

The design is meant to compliment both historic and modern structures near which the RMUs are located. "So we can put them in front of historic buildings like the Old State House, or on the street in front of a new tower," Lauricella says.

Under the direction of the BID, RMU vendors are carefully selected and the units are positioned within the district to avoid conflicts.

The next phase of a more modern, unified vending fleet will be to work with food vendors.

Details on the Downtown Crossing districts vending program appear in the August issue of Downtown Idea Exchange.

Marketing Campaign Attracts New Residents from Neighboring Cities

August 10, 2017

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Downtown Digest

An integrated marketing campaign in Berwyn, IL, is attracting new residents and businesses, and changing public perceptions of what a small suburb close to one of the country’s largest cities can provide in terms of amenities and lifestyle opportunities.

Berwyn’s success comes in part from promoting its inclusiveness.

The city sets itself apart "because we truly are a unique place with lots of character and are home to hardworking and creative people," says Mayor Robert Lovero. "We don’t just accept diversity but actively welcome it. This assertive approach has contributed tremendously to the vitality we have in Berwyn today."

Berwyn has had particular success with attracting the LGBTQ population, and now ranks third for total number of same-sex couples in Cook County outside of Chicago.

The city advertises in nearby LGBTQ-friendly neighborhoods, and has a presence at local pride parades and festivals, as well as including "sexual orientation" in its human rights ordinance.

Details on Berwyn’s marketing program, as well as quirky events to set any downtown apart, and tips to ensure broad event participation, appear in the August issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter.

Smoking Bans Sought to Reduce Nuisance Behavior, Better Reflect Downtown Brand

July 27, 2017

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Downtown Digest

Cities nationwide are considering bans on smoking in select areas downtown, and in Fort Collins, CO, the existing smoking restrictions have been expanded. Smoking is prohibited in Old Town Square, all city-owned or operated facilities, grounds, parks, trails, and natural areas, and most city-approved events and festivals.

Eugene, OR, is also looking to expand current smoking prohibitions near public doorways and in parks to include alleys, plazas, and sidewalks downtown.

Owners of downtown bars and others say the proposed ban represents an overreach by government and would hurt their businesses if customers couldn’t smoke outside while drinking or enjoying social time at an establishment. State law already bans smoking inside businesses open to the public.

Supporters suggest that a ban will improve public health and reduce litter from discarded cigarette butts.

The proposed ban stems from a city council meeting last fall during which city staff presented strategies to deter illegal behavior and create a healthy, welcoming downtown.

Details on these, and additional cities seeking to ban smoking downtown, appear in the July issue of Downtown Idea Exchange.

March Madness Inspires Downtown Dining Campaign

July 14, 2017

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Downtown Digest

Downtown Madness in Pueblo, CO, is highlighting the city center dining scene and helping restaurants attract new customers.

Structured much like basketball’s March Madness, this popular campaign pits 16 restaurants against each other in a good-natured elimination-style competition that narrows the brackets down to eight, then four, and finally two, before the "Chompian" is selected.

Bracket phases are themed as well, including Eat 16, Great Ate, and Final Fork.

The competitive nature of the promotion caught the attention of many local media outlets including one lifestyle reporter who covered the event weekly as the competition unfolded.

Customer engagement was also high as the general public cast votes in each bracket. The online voting was handled via the Association’s Survey Monkey account.

The top four Final Fork winning restaurants receive framed certificates to display, while the "Chompian" receives a traveling trophy that changes hands with each new year’s winner.

"The feedback we got last year and again this year is that it brought new people in," says Margaret Ward-Masias, executive director of the Downtown Pueblo Association. "A lot of our restaurant owners felt they had picked up new customers. It wasn’t just a one-time shot."

More on Downtown Madness, ambassador training programs, and downtown branding appear in the July issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter.

Crosswalk Art a Safety and Funding Concern

June 29, 2017

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Downtown Digest

In light of Federal Highway Administration concerns about safety, some cities are prohibiting artistically painted crosswalks. That’s the case in St. Louis, MO, where the city has prohibited future crosswalk art projects.

Doug Hecox, a spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration explains the safety concerns to Downtown Idea Exchange newsletter, "the road surface needs to look consistent everywhere so no one is confused about where the crosswalk begins and ends."

Consistent visual cues are vital to help drivers and pedestrians know where to expect people walking and where it is safe to walk, he says. "If it becomes art, it is something that is not identifiable as a crosswalk, and could offer a visual distraction to drivers that makes the road less safe."

Additionally, says Hecox, state departments of transportation are at risk of not receiving federal funds if they don’t comply with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways.

For downtown groups determined to install public art, Hecox adds this recommendation: "if art is the goal, and having some way to display local culture or aesthetics, fine, but we don’t know that a crosswalk is the best way to do it. Nearby walls or sidewalks might be a better way. We encourage them to work with their state department of transportation, [which is] a very good place to begin that conversation."

More on crosswalk art, filling vacant spaces, and downtown Wi-Fi appear in the June issue of Downtown Idea Exchange.

Fashion Trucks Enliven City Centers

June 16, 2017

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Downtown Digest

First it was food trucks adding vitality to city centers, and now fashion trucks are making their way downtown. From Fashion Truck Fridays hosted by the Rosslyn BID in Arlington, VA, to the weekly rotating fashion trucks in Houston, TX, these small, mobile shops are drawing the curious, as well as serious shoppers.

In Denver, CO, a new Nosh & Posh event brings together food and fashion trucks to activate the 12-acre Civic Center Park during the colder months when there is less programming in the park.

The monthly "gatherings" have been popular with downtown workers and others, however, local businesses have expressed some concerns.

"There are always going to be challenges with local businesses and bringing in mobile vendors that aren’t there every day. There’s always that tension," says Eric Lazzari, director of programming for the park.

Fortunately, businesses were open to learning about the benefits. "We worked with our local business community to help them understand that we are activating this public space that would otherwise be dormant, they have realized that making the space more vibrant ultimately makes the downtown more vibrant and attractive."

Planning outdoor events during a Denver winter "is always challenging," Lazzari says, "but we’ve been fortunate. We got six great days of activation during the winter. As with everything we do, this helps inspire additional activity. By getting people here just for those six days, it gets them thinking about downtown’s outdoor spaces as usable spaces."

More on working with fashion trucks, bringing low-cost art programs downtown, and engaging the public with photo contests appears in the June issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter.

New Technology Offers Public Amenity Along with Data-Gathering Capabilities

June 1, 2017

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Downtown Digest

Several cities nationwide are testing solar-powered products that provide free Wi-Fi and smartphone charging stations while simultaneously gathering pedestrian activity and traffic pattern data.

In Oak Park, IL, the first Soofa Core unit was installed in a city park last August, closely followed by units in three other urban parks. The device, located adjacent to existing seating, offers visitors a free place to charge mobile devices. It also tracks how many people visit the parks by tracking the number of Wi-Fi enabled devices in the area.

"Technology and smartphones have become part of our day-to-day lives," Bobbi Nance, senior manager of strategy and innovation for the Park District, told the Chicago Tribune. "With this new equipment, it only takes four bolts in the ground and a little sunshine to provide a new service to park users as well as new data to help the park district better serve the community."

The Park District imports raw data into its agency-wide dashboard, and is then able to analyze correlations such as how temperature and events impact park use. The District can also evaluate the success of different marketing strategies with information on how many people came out based on a particular marketing initiative.

Details on experiences with Wi-Fi enabled benches and core units appears in the June issue of Downtown Idea Exchange. To learn more about soofa visit www.soofa.co.

Turning Construction Gridlock into a Downtown Happening

May 18, 2017

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Downtown Digest

With the closure of a main thoroughfare looming in traffic-clogged Seattle, WA, the Downtown Seattle Association launched a campaign aimed at turning traffic jams into an opportunity to miss the rush and enjoy the evening in the city center instead.

The #WhyRushHour campaign allowed the Association to highlight two urban parks it manages and fills with activities and food trucks. Also highlighted were two notable local chefs with a high enough recognition factor to become the "face" of the campaign.

"The campaign took restaurateurs Tom Douglas and Thierry Rautureau over to Westlake Park in the heart of downtown," says James Sido, senior manager of media relations and issues with the Association.

With the help of a creative firm which is a BID member, "we staged seven different short videos that had them doing any number of things in the park, like playing ping pong, corn hole toss, sitting and chatting at the tables and chairs, and ordering from a food truck — which was pretty funny, because they are these renowned chefs."

The 20-second videos were pushed out via social media. The campaign also included still shots of the duo enjoying the urban park, a radio ad campaign, and more. Downtown businesses were encouraged to get involved in the campaign by offering specials and products themed around the closure. "And it was all framed around the idea that there was no reason for doom and gloom while the Viaduct was closed; instead, enjoy downtown," says Sido.

Details on the entire campaign appear in the May issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter. Click to visit the newsletter website and view the short videos. And while you’re there, consider starting your monthly subscription to Downtown Promotion Reporter.

Makerspaces Make Their Mark Downtown

May 4, 2017

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Downtown Digest

Spaces which allow people with common interests to share ideas, equipment, and knowledge are becoming part of the urban fabric in many communities.

Makerspaces provide individual work space, meeting space, networking opportunities, and equipment such as 3D printers, laser cutters, milling devices, and other items that individual entrepreneurs might not be able to afford on their own.

Makerspaces are not only a boon to individuals, but can provide a vital boost to local economies by incubating small businesses and small-scale manufacturing, which has a renewed place downtown, according to Patrice Frey, president and CEO of the National Main Street Center.

"The exciting thing about these types of businesses is that they can be higher paying jobs, and their economic impact is significant," Frey tells Downtown Idea Exchange newsletter. In fact, there is a dollar for dollar return on investment for communities where small manufacturing businesses thrive when the multiplier effect is taken in to account. "That’s a nice return, in terms of investment," she says.

In addition to fostering startups, makerspaces benefit the broader community when they are strategically located to highlight the educational assets of the city center, to add to the hip vibe downtown, or to bring relevance back to public libraries.

More on makerspaces and their contributions to several communities appear in the May issue of Downtown Idea Exchange.

Invisible Art Comes Downtown

April 20, 2017

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Downtown Digest

The availability of paint that shows up only when it’s wet has inspired whimsical, low-cost "invisible art" projects on sidewalks nationwide.

Each project takes a slightly different approach. Seattle’s invisible art is humorous, while Huntsville, AL, aims to bring literature to the public art scene.

"We wanted it to be something unexpected that community members could either stumble upon downtown after a rain, or deliberately seek out," says Daniela Perallon of Arts Huntsville.

The group partnered with a local high school on the project. A teacher selected student work and the students created stencils and applied the water-resistant paint.

To promote the new art installation, Arts Huntsville used a combination of traditional and social media, and blogging. "Our press release included a pre-produced video so they could easily broadcast on air without having to seek out the art on their own," says Perallon. "We wrote a guest blog on the local iHeartHsv tourism site, and shared our video and posts on social media."

Additionally, the local tourism bureau brought a group of travel bloggers downtown and featured the invisible poetry as a stop on their tour, as an example of the community’s creativity.

"Since our goal was simply to give people something new and exciting to seek out or discover downtown, we think we accomplished that," Perallon says. "People showed enthusiasm for the project via social media, students were thrilled to have their creativity on display in such a public way, and it made the community more aware of the arts in Huntsville and around downtown."

Details on additional invisible art projects appear in the April issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter.

Corridor of Light Connects Downtown

April 6, 2017

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Downtown Digest

As roadway and bridge improvements are made along a busy downtown corridor in Rosslyn, VA, city officials are using development funds to add lighted public art that will span the length of the main street and create striking gateways.

The sculptures are giant, stainless steel structures with environmentally friendly lights, which can be programmed to change with the seasons and special events.

In all there will be four different types of sculpture marking the corridor: 26-foot tall sculptures; 20-foot tall sculptures; lanterns, which conform to the county’s lighting requirements for specific locations; and illuminated benches and bike racks.

"The Corridor of Light is a beautiful design," says Libby Garvey, Arlington County board chair, "that will create a memorable public space for all our residents, commuters, and visitors who move through this heavily traveled corridor."

Central to the project’s success was pooling developer funds to create one large, memorable, and cohesive project, notes the light designer, Cliff Garten.

More on Rosslyn’s Corridor of Light appears in the April issue of Downtown Idea Exchange.

Attraction Program Supports Local Businesses

March 23, 2017

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Downtown Digest

A creative new marketing campaign is bringing residents, employees, and visitors to York, PA. The effort includes recruitment materials, a revamped website, and guided tours.

The recruitment packet was created for use by local employers. It highlights all the benefits of living in York, and includes a full-color magazine, a USB bracelet loaded with information about the area, and an attractive rack card.

The rack card, which can be used on its own, focuses on the low cost of living in the South Central Pennsylvania city.

"We have a lot of engineering and design industries in York and a lot of recruiters are confronted with students who say they think they will earn more by going to New York, D.C., Baltimore, or Philadelphia. Students don’t realize that the cost of living is key to how far your money goes, so we created the materials to show them," says says Kim Lentz, the workforce development manager for the York County Economic Alliance, which manages the program.

To further help recruiters show the city in the best light, the Alliance is creating an ambassador team and a set of suggested itineraries, which business recruiters can share with prospective employees.

In cases where an employer doesn’t give out-of-town interviewees the guided tour, an ambassador team will do the honors.

More on York’s recruitment program appears in the March issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter.

Privately Funded Loan Program
Supports Downtown Revitalization

March 10, 2017

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Downtown Digest

Since its creation, the Gateway Mile Loan Fund in Elkhart, IN, has helped finance both interior and exterior renovations of downtown buildings, and allowed new businesses to open.

"What I think is unique about the program is that it is not funded by public dollars," says Burt Troyer, who administers the fund. "This is all private dollars provided by local banks that wanted to be part of a program that would help improve downtown Elkhart."

The program launched with more than $1.8 million available. To date, six businesses have received loans, while other applications are in the pipeline.

The loan program offers lower interest rates than traditional financing, and doesn’t require as large a down payment as would normally be required, Troyer says. "We try to make it a little easier for the loan applicant, as long as they have a good credit history, and the project makes sense and would show good cash flow on a regular basis."

Getting the local banks involved was key to the program’s success and sustainability, Troyer adds. "It’s really about not being dependent on public funding." And there are benefits for the banks. "One thing that does encourage banks to get involved is the Community Reinvestment Act. Participating in this loan fund is a good plug for CRA activity, and they can certainly get points with regulators by what we’ve done here," says Troyer.

More on the Gateway Mile Loan Fund appears in the March issue of Downtown Idea Exchange along with details on a new city center marketing campaign in Danbury, CT, and on regulating ground floor uses in Manhattan Beach, CA.

Downtown Open House Succeeds with Realtor Participation

February 24, 2017

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Downtown Digest

The annual Downtown Lifestyle Tour in Wilmington, NC (est. pop. 106,476), has been offered for the past five years. The goal is to, "introduce people to the unique housing options that downtown offers and to promote how great it can be to live here," says Wilmington Downtown, Inc.

The tour is one effort within the larger long-term economic development strategy to increase the number of downtown residents who will patronize city center businesses, restaurants, and attractions.

"This approach is now paying dividends and downtown’s residential base is expanding," says Ed Wolverton, president and CEO of Wilmington Downtown.

Unfortunately, in recent years the organization has had difficulty finding people willing to do the work of preparing their homes for the tour.

"Last year we tried something different," Wolverton tells Downtown Promotion Reporter, "We worked with our Regional Association of Realtors, and asked if brokers would use this event as a downtown-wide open house. That worked out quite well."

Downtown Wilmington cements its relationship with local realtors with an information session and reception the evening before the tour and with the Downtown Top Producer of the Year Award.

The award recognizes the realtor that had the highest volume of real estate transactions closed within the greater downtown area during the period of December 1 through November 30.

More on Wilmington Downtown’s work attracting residents appears in the February issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter.

Downtown Commission Eliminates Incentives, Fills Vacant Space

February 9, 2017

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Downtown Digest

In an effort to fill vacant downtown space, the Downtown Memphis Commission took the contrarian approach of eliminating some traditional incentives for new businesses.

Leslie Gower, vice president of marketing and communications explains in the February issue of Downtown Idea Exchange newsletter. "We worked with our broker community regarding trends, and what they are hearing in terms of office space," Gower says. "We had been offering some office incentives, but they were very much check-box. If you had one to four employees, you might get $10,000; if you had 11 to 20 employees, you might get $15,000. We tried that, but didn’t get much success."

Brokers told the Commission that a much more individualized approach was needed in the downtown. "What may work for one may not work for another," says Gower. "Some businesses are looking for subsidized parking; some are looking for tenant build-out. So we got rid of the incentives. We work with each broker independently to see what the gap is. That seems to work more than what we offered in the past."

The Commission has also taken steps to ensure that downtown is a fun place to work. "We’ve launched things like alley parties, rodeos, and after-work yoga," Gower says. The organization is also partnering with a local nonprofit, which organizes professional development events featuring food trucks, activities, and guest speakers.

Details on how the Downtown Memphis Commission is attracting commercial tenants via customized new-business incentives, a dedicated website, and events in the heart of the city are in the February issue of Downtown Idea Exchange.

Downtown Leaders Place Renewed Emphasis on Supporting At-Risk Businesses

January 26, 2017

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Downtown Digest

With the new year, comes an increased focus on business retention in many city centers. This trend, noted in Downtown Idea Exchange’s annual outlook article, reflects both the challenges of recruitment and the greying of business owners in many areas.

Baby Boomers are retiring says Patrice Frey, president and CEO of the National Main Street Center. "We will be seeing nearly 10,000 boomers retiring every day between now and 2019, when the Pew Research Center found that 52 percent of existing business owners will need to transition. Thirty percent will transition in the next five years or before then."

About one third of aging owners plan to transfer their businesses to the next generation, says Frey. Another third is hoping to sell to a third party. "And one third will simply close their doors. The challenge for downtown leaders is to get out in front of that, to work with business owners to help them craft a strategy which allows them to transition these businesses," she says.

"I think this needs to be a dialog with each and every business owner potentially of an age to be thinking of transitioning," says Frey. Downtown organizations need to be getting a sense of what business owner’s plans are. "And if it turns out that the owner plans on shuttering, it becomes the focus of the local downtown district manager to work with the city, and other community partners such as the chamber of commerce, to identify others who might be interested in taking over for that business owner."

Michael Stumph, principal of Place Dynamics, agrees, "I am seeing some impacts of that in the smaller communities we work with. They are losing businesses that have been around for five, 10, or 15 years that were started by somebody in their 50s that is starting to think about retiring. When they do, that business is often lost rather than passed on to a second owner. That’s definitely an issue a lot of communities will have to deal with."

The full Outlook Article is now available online.

Supporting Business Startups Takes Center Stage
in 2017

January 11, 2017

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Downtown Digest

Several of the experts who contributed to Downtown Idea Exchange’s annual Looking Ahead article cited a growing emphasis on nurturing startups in cities of all sizes. The first step, they say, is recognizing a new breed of non-traditional entrepreneur.

Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggests that small business startups in rural communities are more important in creating new jobs than most larger existing businesses, notes Bill Ryan, community development specialist with University of Wisconsin-Extension.

"The paradigm for small cities throughout the country for job recruitment used to be attracting a big company from the next town over, or the next state," says Ryan. Going forward, he suggests that small cities look closely at nurturing startups and providing space for them downtown.

One interesting trend revealed in the research is that, other than in larger cities, it is baby boomers, rather than millennials, who are launching startups.

As this demographic retires, and then decides to launch the shop they’ve always dreamed of, or to put their skills back to work, the number of older startup owners will grow, Ryan says. "Downtowns in rural areas should pay attention to these entrepreneurs as they may be a better target for new business development. Research also points out that the new business startups in rural communities are often by people with a Bachelor’s Degree, or with specific skills. In 2017, rural downtowns should increase efforts to reach these people, including those who grew up in the community, but moved away to build their careers."

In addition to start ups, some surprising business sectors are poised for a comeback. "One more thing I think we are going to be watching is the continuing return to small-scale production in manufacturing," says Patrice Frey, president and CEO of the National Main Street Center. "We may see that intensify over the coming year. It really is well-suited to the kind of building stock we tend to see in downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts.

"There’s a whole maker boom that we’re seeing, with independent coffee shops and microbreweries, but also with folks who are producing clothing downtown. The exciting thing about these types of businesses is that these can be higher paying jobs, and their economic impact is significant." In fact, Frey says, there is a dollar for dollar return on investment for communities where small manufacturing businesses thrive when the multiplier effect is taken in to account. "That’s a nice return, in terms of investment," she says.

The full Looking Ahead article is now available online.

Creative Corridor Transforms Main Street

December 29, 2016

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Downtown Digest

Despite being adjacent to the redeveloped riverfront, the Clinton Presidential library, and a sizable convention center, the traditional main street in Little Rock, AR, was largely neglected.

The main street did have one important asset: a professional repertory theater. "But," says Mayor Mark Stodola, "they had no friends, they had no neighbors. I knew that if I could get the arts organizations to all congregate around the repertory theatre, perhaps we could create some synergy."

The overall vision was that Main Street would become a Creative Corridor featuring several anchoring arts organizations, galleries, and artist housing in upper stories over ground-floor shops and restaurants all with low-impact development of the project streetscapes.

Now, with Phase I complete, the city is seeing a 50-to-one return on investment and new businesses are flocking to the downtown.

"The area has transformed," Stodola says. "We’ve had over $100 million in investment in Main Street. The total public investment is about $1 million from the federal government and a little less than $1 million in terms of the city, some of it being for grant match."

Details on creation of Little Rock’s Creative Corridor appear in the December issue of Downtown Idea Exchange newsletter.

Holiday Light Displays Attract Crowds

December 15, 2016

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Downtown Digest

While a tree lighting, caroling, and holiday sales attract visitors, they happen only on certain days throughout the holiday season. However, an attractive holiday light display can be activated in mid-November and add to the festive atmosphere and drawing power of downtown every evening through January.

One of the best-known examples of this type of light display is Nights of Lights in St. Augustine, FL, which features about three million tiny white lights outlining nearly every historic building, business, tree, and light pole in the city center.

The lights can be viewed by foot, horse and carriage, trolley, boat, or from the top of a lighthouse. Local businesses and organizations build on the event, offering their own candlelight tours, sparkling outdoor courtyards, and other enticements to take advantage of the extra foot traffic. Nights of Lights draws tens of thousands of people to the area annually.

Every structure downtown need not be cascaded with lights to be eye-catching. In Libertyville, IL, white LED bulbs illuminate only downtown rooflines. The organization makes lights available to building owners at no cost, and has a contract with a holiday decoration management company to install and maintain them.

Another tack is to create an interesting light show. The Downtown Spokane Business Improvement District in Spokane, WA, purchased eight new projector lights that cast snowflake images on some of the city center’s most iconic locations.

Light shows also work well at a single location. A historic Inner Harbor power plant renovated for retail use in Baltimore, MD, is transformed annually into The Power Plant Holiday Light Spectacular.

The sound and light display was created to play for over 75 performances from mid-November through New Year’s Eve. Using the historic facade as a backdrop, the display projects video, lasers, lighting, and pyrotechnic effects.

Details on these and more holiday light displays appear in the December issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter newsletter.

Multi-facade program drives private investment

December 1, 2016

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Downtown Digest

Ihe typical facade improvement program just wouldn’t do in Rawlins, WY, where 62 of 95 downtown businesses, totaling 62,000 square feet of facades, are undergoing grant-funded improvements all at once.

"We decided to try it a different way," says Pam Thayer, executive director of Rawlins Downtown Development Authority (DDA)/Main Street.

Participating property owners signed easement agreements giving DDA/Main Street control over their facades for eight years. They also contributed 10 percent of the construction costs. The remainder of the $1,630,000 budget came from two CDBG awards and one state grant.

Participant interest and private investment quickly increased that amount. "Since we started this, we’ve had Union Pacific come in and do their own $2.5 million project; another property owner did about $150,000 worth of work; now the museum is putting in another $500,000; and more amazing is that when all was said and done, I had property owners that said they wanted to do more [than the scope of the facade project] and that they would pay the difference."

The total private investment has reached $3.25 million, Thayer says.

Details on the Rawlins program and a related program in Fontana, CA, appear in the December issue of Downtown Idea Exchange newsletter.

Public Input Helps Define the Downtown Footprint

November 17, 2016

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Downtown Digest

In Akron, OH, work is underway to redefine the footprint of the city’s many neighborhoods.

"What we’re doing is looking at
all of our city neighborhoods — Akron has 25 semi-official neighborhoods, with downtown being one of them," says Jason Segedy, the city’s director of planning and urban development.

The project is essential, Segedy says, because properly drawn and named neighborhoods should reflect what residents know to be true, but also because city officials can then use those neighborhoods to better gauge what’s happening in smaller segments of the 62-square-mile city, and to figure out how best to serve each individual area.

To gather input, the city created MyAkronNeighborhood.com, and invited people to visit and redraw the city.

The Downtown Akron Partnership is carefully watching the results of this work.

"To the larger community, and to people from outside our city, downtown boundaries do not look the same," says Suzie Graham, president and CEO of the Partnership. "Any time you are approaching the urban core, you say you are going downtown. We understand that while our work sometimes centers on that [Special Improvement District] boundary, we are influenced, and we influence, the work that goes on outside of those borders."

Details on the Akron program along with insights into Cincinnati, OH’s, efforts to reduce panhandling and homelessness and Baltimore, MD’s new retail attraction program appear in the November issue of Downtown Idea Exchange newsletter.

"Small Business Spotlights" connect business owners with the community

November 4, 2016

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Downtown Digest

Downtown Boulder, Inc. has slowly amassed a collection of behind-the-scenes stories about local business owners that have become the core of a robust Shop Local campaign, and several themed breakout campaigns throughout the year.

"People are really interested in everyday people and fun questions, so we thought maybe that would work for our small business owners, and let everyone see the faces behind the businesses," says Terri Takata-Smith, director of marketing and communications for Downtown Boulder. "We’ve been slowly stockpiling business spotlights for going into our third year now. Business owners have been extremely receptive to it."

The spotlights are online at LovetheLocal.com, where each business is represented by name, owner’s names, and one photograph. Clicking on any one of these takes visitors to a more detailed page on Downtown Boulder’s online business directory.

With so many Spotlights to choose from, Downtown Boulder is now able to pull small business stories from particular sectors to support breakout campaigns such as its Fall into Fashion and Independent Retailer Month promotions.

Details on compiling the Spotlights and using them to promote downtown appear in the November issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter newsletter.

Turning Under-Utilized Alleys into Livable Lanes

October 20, 2016

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Downtown Digest

The Laneway Project in Toronto, ON, Canada, is an innovative urban design and planning organization working to change the way people view and use city center laneways, or alleys.

The project brings together diverse stakeholders and establishes community stewards to ensure the ongoing success of individual projects.

Re-positioning alleys as public space has many benefits for a downtown, says the organization, including increased walkability and connectivity, new space for events and informal physical activity, green space, and a venue for public art, outdoor seating, and pop-up or micro-business opportunities.

Two alleys are getting what the group calls the Laneway Puncture treatment. For these, the center of the alley is re-paved with open-celled pavers and planted with hardy plant material. "In addition to beautifying the landscape and enhancing biodiversity, punctures increase ground permeability and divert storm water from the municipal sewage system by allowing it to percolate more slowly into the city’s soil."

Additional examples of laneway treatments appear in the October issue of Downtown Idea Exchange newsletter.

Grant Program Makes Downtown Businesses
More Accessible

October 7, 2016

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Downtown Digest

When the city of Durango, CO, realized that many businesses in its historic downtown buildings were not as accessible as they should be, municipal and downtown leaders took action.

"The approach we are trying to take is that good access is good business. Places that are accessible to people with disabilities are also more accessible to people with their arms full, seniors, those who use baby strollers, and those with temporary injuries," says Sherri Dugdale, assistant to the city manager.

The first step was forming the Accessible Communities Team (A.C.T.) which includes representatives from several city agencies, the Durango BID, the Chamber of Commerce, and others.

The group provides two types of assistance to business owners. The first is an accessibility assessment and recommendations. The second is a 50/50 matching grant of up to $2,000 to make improvements. The grants are funded by the city.

To enlist businesses in the program, A.C.T. members paid personal calls to downtown businesses to explain the process and funding opportunities.

Details on the A.C.T.’s programs and much more appears in the October issue of Downtown Idea Exchange newsletter.

Changing Perceptions of Parking Availability

September 22, 2016

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Downtown Digest

A recent parking study in Turlock, CA, reveals that even though 50 percent of parking spaces are underutilized, 72 percent of residents believe there is a parking shortage downtown.

To correct this misperception and better utilize the current parking supply, the study recommends focusing on more efficient parking management, including changing parking time limits, allocating staff to enforce parking regulations, educating the public about available parking, and creation of an employee parking permit.

Some of the many educational steps include a stronger parking message on the city website, wayfinding signage, window stickers for downtown businesses, and perhaps even a parking app for mobile devices.

Results and recommendations from the Turlock parking study appear in the September issue of Downtown Idea Exchange newsletter along with insights on the many benefits of business clusters.

Light Festivals Draw Crowds to Downtowns

September 8, 2016

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Downtown Digest

Large-scale light installations that blend contemporary art and technology are making their mark, lighting up the night from New Orleans and Baltimore to Sydney and London.

Many of these free light festivals include interactive elements that turn spectators into participants who are able to change colors or patterns by moving or playing a game.

The events are also tourism magnets, attracting locals and out-of-towners alike to waterfronts, historic districts, and other neighborhoods on dark winter nights or during other periods when tourist activity may be low.

This summer’s Light City Baltimore, a free, week-long event featured more than 50 attractions, including large-scale installations, projections, interactive technologies, and performances. The event drew about 400,000 attendees, and contributed $33.8 million to the local economy, according to Forward Analytics, a research firm hired to provide independent data following the event.

For downtowns not prepared to launch a full-scale light festival, outlining an interesting piece of architecture with creative lighting also attracts an audience. In March, a crowd gathered in downtown San Antonio, TX, to watch "Kinetic Skyline" bathe the Bank of America Plaza with color. Created with computerized LED light, the effect is of a series of eight columns climbing up the north and south facades of the 28-story building.

More on bringing light-festivals and other events downtown appears in the September issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter.

Data Drives Transformation of Public Space

August 25, 2016

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Downtown Digest

When the University City District in Philadelphia wanted to convert surface parking to a place for pedestrians to sit, read, stroll, and otherwise enjoy the downtown, it started with data. Lots of data. Over time that data-driven approach has lead to The Porch at 30th Street Station becoming one of the most animated public spaces in the city.

The district’s process involves:

  • Identifying needs by analyzing demand.
  • Experimenting with economical and/or temporary improvements.
  • Evaluating use.
  • Making additions or modifications, as necessary.

"Every day we do data collection, ask people what they want to see, and make those improvements incrementally," says Nate Hommel, director of planning and design at the District.

"The best way of knowing what people want is to ask them," adds Seth Budick, senior manager of policy and research at the District.

In looking back at surveys done when The Porch opened, people wanted food, greenery, and protection from extreme conditions like hot sun and noisy traffic. "These are all things we’ve addressed and I would encourage others to just ask people what they want, as well.

"We have a lot of data on the increases in use that we’ve seen since installing these new amenities, which makes it clear that public spaces need a variety of uses to be attractive to users, and in particular, fun and whimsical ones," Budick says.

More on the iterative approach to placemaking at The Porch, plus bike-friendly amenities, interactive kiosks, and whimsical public art appear in the August issue of Downtown Idea Exchange.

Build Experiences into Events to Draw Larger Crowds

August 11, 2016

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Downtown Digest

The weeklong Dutch-themed Tulip Time Festival in Holland, MI, has been going strong for 87 years.

This year, the festival and its marketing materials were updated to reflect a full calendar of experiential activities.

"People don’t want to be on the sidelines watching," says Susan Zalnis, the festival’s marketing/public relations director. "They want to jump in and participate! We’ve made a conscious effort to add elements every year where people can do just that."

Some of the many experiences at the festival are tulip-themed painting workshops, cooking classes, a costumed-dog parade, dance instruction, and a chance to try to break the world record for largest clog dance.

To promote all of the opportunities to participate in festival activities, a new icon was added to the festival guide. It encourages people to "be at the festival or be in the festival."

More on the value of experiential activities, plus Dunedin’s guerrilla branding, and York’s Downtown Maker Tour appear in the August issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter.

Regional Trail Boosts Economy in Nine Downtowns

July 28, 2016

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Downtown Digest

The 47-mile Pinellas Trail, is connecting communities and boosting local economies along the west central coast of Florida.

While some communities were hesitant to have the trail pass through their city centers, others saw opportunities and positioned themselves to become a vital part of the trail system, says Lynn Wargo, president of the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce. "They were afraid of change, and of what element it might bring into their communities."

Dunedin, on the other hand, embraced the concept. Municipal leaders saw the trail as a downtown revitalization tool, says Wargo. The main street at that time was a four-lane state highway with traffic and a speed limit that were not pedestrian friendly. "Our stores and restaurants were struggling. That trail was part of a reversal for our community."

The highway was relocated two blocks from the city center. A new, two-lane main street with a 15-mph speed limit and multiple crosswalks was built in its place. The 100-year-old building housing the Chamber of Commerce was renovated to serve as an anchor for the downtown. "The trail coming through just breathed new life into our community," says Wargo.

Today, the colorful, walkable downtown features public art, whimsical wayfinding signage, and plenty of signs reminding motorists to stop for the Pinellas Trail, which passes directly through the downtown.

More on the cities that embraced the Pinellas Trail, as well as an alley activation project in Dallas, TX, and efforts to end homelessness in Billings, MT, appear in the July issue of Downtown Idea Exchange.

Helping the Public Enjoy Public Art

July 14, 2016

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Downtown Digest

Nearly 90 pieces of art grace the parks, plazas, and other public spaces in downtown Des Moines, IA. But drawing people through the downtown to see them has been a challenge.

Now, the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation is working to bring all of the art together by creating a 6.6-mile trail.

Sidewalks along the Art Route will feature painted circles about 20 feet apart, and chevrons pointing in the direction of the art. Additionally, six crosswalks will be painted by a well-known street artist. "It will be experiencing public art while walking on public art," says Tiffany Tauscheck, chief communications officer with the Partnership.

A smartphone app will give the project a high-tech touch. It identifies art near the user and provides details about each piece, links to artist websites, and other information.

Art Route is being designed to allow for additional offshoots as more public art is installed. The trail was also designed with an eye toward economic benefits. "There are about 90 businesses along the trail, so this is an opportunity to drive more traffic into those, as well," says Tauscheck.

The July issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter newsletter includes details on the Art Route along with a fascinating look at the Made in New Haven Program.

Relaxing Downtown’s Open Container Laws

June 30, 2016

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Downtown Digest

Downtown leaders nationwide are exploring the option of allowing consumption of alcoholic beverages in designated districts, or at specific events and the results are largely positive.

Alpharetta, GA, passed an ordinance in 2011 allowing one drink per person in a plastic or paper cup of no more than 16 ounces, purchased from a restaurant, to be carried within a specified area downtown. Open containers are allowed during the hours that alcohol is legally served at downtown establishments.

Despite the open container ordinance being expanded to include not only downtown but also the new Avalon district, only a few restaurants have taken advantage of the new law. For those that have, the results have been positive and the ordinance has played a role in attracting new restaurants.

One bar owner reports that the law is great for business, especially on Thursday evenings, when people, "come in, grab a beer from us and are able to walk around town," taking advantage of food trucks, as well as the brick-and-mortar businesses downtown.

In addition, Mayor David Belle notes that the law helps bring a sense of identity to the city. "We wanted to make it an atmosphere that was still family supportive, but at the same time, allow people to come and have fun."

And George Gordon, the city’s public safety spokesman, notes that as long as owners and patrons comply with the law, he sees few problems with enforcement. "It’s a well-written ordinance. Business owners understand the expectations and requirements," he says. "We really have not had any issues with public drunkenness, disorderly conduct, DUIs, or anything like that."

The July issue of Downtown Idea Exchange newsletter looks at experiences with open container laws in Hardeeville, SC, Dalton, GA, and Alpharetta, GA.

Show Downtown Some Love with a Giant Chalkboard

June 16, 2016

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Downtown Digest

Just over a year ago, Racine, WI, resident Dustan Balcom started the Facebook page, Ask me why I love Racine, for people to share what they love about the beleaguered city where they live and work. The next step in his campaign was to convert a downtown construction enclosure into a giant chalkboard where people could answer the question, "Why do you (heart) Racine?"

"People are ready to share their love for this city, but there hasn’t necessarily been a great forum for it all to be underneath one banner," says Balcom.

His Facebook page and chalkboard are providing that opportunity. A time-lapse video of the chalkboard’s creation has even created an online stir, attracting 10,000 views and reaching 21,000 people in the first 24 hours.

This gorilla marketing campaign was covered in the June issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter along with creative ideas for keeping downtown businesses active during construction, and working with local theater owners to keep their doors open seven days a week.

Identifying a Unique Downtown Asset Can Drive Development

June 2, 2016

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Downtown Digest

Uncovering and promoting a long-forgotten waterfall in the heart of downtown is paying a huge return on investment in Greenville, SC. Since Falls Park on the Reedy opened in 2004, development has sprung up all along the Reedy River in the historic West End area downtown.

"We are big believers in accentuating the things that make a city unique and different," says Mayor Knox White in the June issue of Downtown Idea Exchange.

Unfortunately, for almost 50 years, the downtown’s unique waterfall was hidden beneath a four-lane bridge. Today, a 32-acre park surrounds the waterfall. And it is in every respect the "centerpiece of our downtown," says Knox.

Part of the attraction is the 355-foot Liberty Bridge. The pedestrian-only suspension bridge is supported only on one side to provide unobstructed views of the waterfall and to give the impression that the structure is floating in mid-air. Colorful lights along the sides set the bridge aglow at night.

The entrance to the park is located on Main Street. "You walk down some steps into the beautiful garden, and the entrance to the pedestrian bridge," says Knox. The area at the other end of the pedestrian bridge features mostly office buildings now, with a hotel development expected soon. Overall, expenditures on the park have resulted in nearly an eight-fold investment in the surrounding area.

Details on the lengthy development process and economic impact appear in the June issue of Downtown Idea Exchange.

Giant Postcards Encourage Social Media Sharing

May 19, 2016

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Downtown Digest

A new mural trail being created in Stockton, CA, is strategically designed to encourage people to take selfies and share them on social media. The project will eventually feature 15 giant "postcards" at sites intended to draw pedestrians through the city center while also providing education
about local history and culture.

"People don’t really buy and write postcards and stamp them and mail them out anymore, but they do use social media," says Sylwia Lipiec-Qualls, communications manager for the Downtown Stockton Alliance. "We are going to encourage them to take a photo of themselves in front of the murals, or just of the murals."

The mural postcards will feature classic postcard designs and each will say something like "Greetings from Stockton, CA," or "Welcome to the City of Stockton," explains Lipiec-Qualls.

When completed, the mural trail will help focus attention on the core of the
55-block downtown district, "where the majority of the historic buildings and civic centers are," Lipiec-Qualls says. "We want to add to the walkability of downtown, to encourage people to park their cars and walk around looking at the murals, the buildings, and learning something more about our history. We are planning on creating a map, and a publication devoted to the murals, with descriptions of each. We are also planning on having QR codes next to each mural so people who visit can interact by scanning the code to learn more about that piece of art, but also about the site where the mural is located. Once all 15 murals are completed, that will be quite a tour, and it will be a very interactive experience."

More on the giant postcards, celebrating city anniversaries, and creating tours for young professionals appears in the May issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter.

Nurturing New Businesses with an Incubator

May 5, 2016

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Downtown Digest

Providing incubator space for start-up businesses is a trend that will grow stronger as those first start-ups attain independence and fill downtown vacancies, says Michael Burayidi, in an article in the May issue of Downtown Idea Exchange newsletter.

Burayidi, chair of the Ball State University Department of Urban Planning, notes that, "What will help in this approach is for community leaders to put together venture capital by working with financial institutions and community foundations.

"It can be difficult for new businesses to obtain funding from traditional sources, so providing a way for start-ups to access funding is very helpful, and in the long term, beneficial to the downtown, and to the city as a whole."

The article looks at incubator programs in Plymouth, NH, Huntsville, AL, and Memphis, TN, where the MEMShop program is taking a non-traditional approach by incubating businesses in their potential long-term locations, as well as mobile locations, rather than at one dedicated facility.

Marketing Materials and Events Encourage Development

April 21, 2016

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Downtown Digest

The city of Hamilton, OH, has launched several efforts in recent years to attract developers downtown. "We needed to ensure that our progress was communicated to as many people as possible to change the perception Hamilton struggled with," says Jody Gunderson, the city’s director of economic development.

The marketing program includes:

A quarterly e-newsletter highlights new companies, job growth, business anniversaries, and important projects underway in the city, as well as small business development, downtown revitalization, and other economic success stories. The target audience is local businesses, as well as businesses and developers throughout southwest Ohio and national site selectors.

An annual Initiative Update focuses on completed and ongoing projects to illustrate that the city has reversed its downward economic trend. The Initiative Update is shared in an electronic format via the city’s website, and with links from social media platforms and e-newsletters. Print copies are also distributed widely. They are, "in the lobby of every city department, and shared with every prospective business, current business, developer, and small business owner we meet with," says Gunderson

A Downtown Developers Day brings developers into the community for a half day including a lunch presentation, tours and happy hour. "This was really a way of introducing some of the developers to the city that may not have been up here for a while, but it was also a way of introducing them to the concept that they wouldn’t be the first one in," Gunderson says.

Click to see the 2016 Initiative Update.

More on promoting downtown to local developers appears in the April issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter.

City Identifies Roadblocks to Redevelopment

April 8, 2016

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Downtown Digest

Downtown professionals and city leaders discouraged with lackluster RFP responses or development agreements, which have fallen through can look to Palatka, FL, for inspiration.

The city’s riverfront park and marina redevelopment plan was completed in 2004, but never adopted. Municipal officials hoped the downtown waterfront location of two blocks adjacent to a city park would attract mixed-use development projects.

Instead, the developer chosen for the riverfront project in 2006 withdrew in 2007; a second developer, chosen in 2007, withdrew from the project in 2011; and a third RFP process in 2012 attracted only two incomplete proposals.

The city’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) found that efforts to re-purpose the 2.5 acres was hindered by:

  • a worsening economy and poor development climate;
  • unrealistic expectations by city officials and the public;
  • a lengthy and burdensome public development review process;
  • deteriorated and substandard condition of the existing buildings;
  • minimal CRA and city financial contribution toward redevelopment; and
  • lack of a definitive, unified vision for the properties.

Details on the actions that moved the project into active redevelopment are covered in the April issue of Downtown Idea Exchange.

Social Media "Ambassadors" Promote Downtown

March 24, 2016

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Downtown Digest

The #SeizeDesMoines Share Des Moines program allows the Greater Des Moines Partnership to recruit Social Ambassadors to help share the latest news in economic development, downtown events, and quality of life via social media.

To sign up, new ambassadors simply visit www.seizedesmoines.com and click on Share Des Moines.

The Partnership makes sharing easy by sending out email alerts, along with a suggested post for Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, and a photo that can be shared on Instagram. Social Ambassadors are encouraged to share the news on any social media platform twice monthly.

Social Ambassadors can also show support for Greater Des Moines by using the hashtag to share their own news, announcements, and snapshots of their lives via personal and professional social networks.

In addition, the Partnership encourages all community members to share personal stories about Greater Des Moines on the CarpeDM Seize Des Moines web portal, the user-share website.

It’s a low-cost program which the partnership hopes will engage and educate potential downtown visitors, residents, and investors.

Details on the Partnership’s additional attraction and retention activities appear in the March issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter.

Free, Convenient Trolley Supports Downtown Businesses

March 10, 2016

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Downtown Digest

Getting out of the office at lunch time and visiting downtown retail shops and restaurants isn’t always convenient when the weather is too hot or too cold, or the distance too great, or in less-than-comfortable office attire.

To help downtown employees get out despite the midday heat in Tempe, AZ, the Downtown Tempe Authority launched a free lunchtime trolley in the summer of 2014.

"We wanted to do something to get people out of the office in the middle of the summer," says Kate Borders, the Authority’s president and executive director. "People just didn’t want to walk three or four blocks when it was 120 degrees outside."

The organization intended to offer the trolley for just three or four months. "But the businesses all responded well, and we were seeing anywhere from 750 to 900 riders a month, even though the trolley was only running for three hours a day on weekdays."

The service has since been extended and is currently departing every twenty minutes from eight downtown locations.

Details on the Lunchtime Trolley appear in the March issue of Downtown Idea Exchange.

New Approaches to Restaurant Week Bring Hungry Guests Downtown

February 25, 2016

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Downtown Digest

Restaurant Week has become a popular and recognizable event nationwide. Some programs, like the one in New Rochelle, NY, were created to help support downtown dining during the Great Recession, while more recent events were launched to capitalize on foodie and locavore trends.

Today in New Rochelle, the goal is to draw guests during a typically slow time for restaurants and to build year-round repeat business. "You don’t promote for just the one-time event. You promote to get a message out," says Ralph DiBart, executive director of the New Rochelle BID.

The BID puts together the program, and oversees all of the marketing, graphic materials, and photography so that every restaurant has a high-quality presentation, DiBart says.

"We give them the materials to use on their own websites and Facebook pages to create a certain parity within the campaign. We then use the materials throughout the year for follow-up promotion and advertising," he says. "For example, we have a very busy train station. We worked with the city so we have a monitor well placed in the station where we can advertise events and activities, and we’ll periodically remind people about Restaurant Week." See the video.

Additional information on Restaurant Week in New Rochelle as well as in Newport, RI, Columbus, OH, and Raleigh, NC, appears in the February issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter.

Empty Building Becomes Heart of Community

February 11, 2016

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Downtown Digest

When an underutilized public building won’t sell, creative financing can attract new owners.

An innovative project in Erie, CO, has converted a vacant historic building into a public gathering space while also serving as a catalyst for a significant sales tax revenue increase, and garnering media buzz with a Governor’s Award for Downtown Excellence.

After failing to find a buyer for the former firehouse, Erie’s leaders passed an ordinance approving a Lease/Purchase Agreement with a nearby brewery. The agreement calls for transferring all costs of improvements, repairs, and maintenance from the town to the tenant, while the town retains ownership until execution of the option to purchase.

Having the capital to purchase a building and the equipment can be a struggle for start-ups, notes Paula Mehle, Erie’s economic development coordinator.

It was the town’s development of a successful funding mechanism that allowed a young company with a successful track record a means of bringing their business to Erie, she says.

"The Echo Brewing Company is a sales tax generator, but more importantly, we were able to convert an underutilized building into a community gathering space. And the town now benefits from the retail sales tax generated on this property for the first time in 46 years," says Mehle.

Details on the financing and restoration of the Echo Brewing Company appear in the February issue of Downtown Idea Exchange.

Using the Arts to Attract and Retain Residents and Visitors

January 28, 2016

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Downtown Digest

Downtowns don’t always have the amenities to attract visitors and new residents, but that doesn’t have to stop them. Some are turning to arts and culture to create interesting, attractive city centers that will draw more people to the area.

That’s been the case in Mineral Point, WI, a defunct mining town that has reinvented itself in recent years as a historic arts and cultural center for the region, and a thriving tourist destination.

Efforts to that end have included the creation of mini-sculpture parks, new arts events, and an artist incubator.

The popular "Paint-Out" for example, features up to 60 painters creating works of art at several downtown locations. Visitors can observe the process and participate in an exhibit and art sale.

Details on the public art, art tours, Paint-Out, and more appear in the January issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter.

A Conversation with
Downtown Revitalization Experts

January 14, 2016

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Downtown Digest

The economic outlook for downtowns across North America is more positive than it has been since the Great Recession, says the panel of experts who provided insights for this year’s series of Looking Ahead articles.

The experts selected have been in the trenches for decades, as well as leading some of the most influential organizations of downtown professionals. Their wide-ranging comments indicate the scope of work involved in downtown revitalization in 2016, and point to trends that will shape that work.

The wants and needs of millennials, coupled with rapidly emerging technologies, will impact everything from the types of development projects in city centers to the ways we travel and park to how we shape the public realm.

All of the predictions and recommendations appear in the January issue of Downtown Idea Exchange. You may read the full issue now at our website. And while you’re there, please consider becoming a regular reader of Downtown Idea Exchange.

When you subscribe by January 20, you may take advantage of a special introductory offer for new subscribers and save 20% off the regular subscription price.

Pop-Up Drive-Ins Draw Movie-Lovers and the Nostalgic

December 30, 2015

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Downtown Digest

During the warmer months, many communities offer outdoor movies in downtown parks and plazas. Downtown drive-ins are also gaining in popularity.

In Columbus, OH, a downtown market collaborated with a local film center to offer movies shown on a 30-foot tall screen in the market’s parking lot each month.

Guests could tune in to the movies via car radios, and sound was also broadcast from various points around the parking lot so that those arriving by foot or bicycle could also enjoy the show. The movies, which began at dusk, were family- and teen-friendly offerings. Prices were $18 per vehicle, or $5 per pedestrian. Nearby merchants benefited by providing concessions to hungry moviegoers.

In Camden, NJ, which is reputed to have been home to the nation’s first drive-in theater, nonprofit Connect the Lots brought a pop-up drive-in to the downtown waterfront last summer. The lot opened at 7:30, with drivers paying $15 per car.

And in Winnipeg, MB, Canada, for the past two years, a pop-up Downtown Drive-In has been located in the parking lot of a retail complex in the city center during the summer months. The parking lot opens to the public at 7:30, with films beginning at sundown. Admission is free for those arriving on bikes, transit, or by foot, and $10 for those wishing to reserve a space for their vehicle (spaces can be reserved online at the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ website). Food is provided by a nearby pizzeria and several food trucks.

It’s not too late to plan a new summertime event. Downtown drive-ins, bathtub races, and more appear in the December issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter.

Creating a Walkable City Center Spurs Growth

December 17, 2015

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Downtown Digest

In response to more than three decades of population loss and commercial decline, the city of Birmingham, MI, committed to building a new identity as "The Walkable Community."

A long-range vision, along with traffic-calming measures, ordinance changes, and more over the past two decades has seen the downtown’s Walk Score reach 92, a "walker’s paradise."

"We did a downtown master plan in 1996," says Jana Ecker, planning director for the city. "In that plan, one of the biggest pushes was on highlighting our urban shopping district."

Rather than competing with the malls, the city enhanced what was already good about the downtown by making it more walkable, adding more sidewalks, strengthening the retail base, increasing the number of storefront windows, and activating the streets with outdoor dining and special events.

"If you want a walkable downtown, you can’t take up an entire block with parking, so we put retail stores along the first floor," says Ecker. One example is the 12-screen movie theater downtown. "Its entrance is on the street, but that whole building is lined with restaurants and retail, with the movie theaters tucked in back so that you still have a big, functioning, stadium-sized movie theater, but on the street, it just feels like a regular retail street."

Details on Birmingham’s transformation appear in the December issue of Downtown Idea Exchange.

Stroll Downtown, Get a Cookie

December 3, 2015

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Downtown Digest

City centers are offering cookies as an incentive to get customers into more downtown businesses during the holidays.

In Oak Park, IL, a cookie walk began as part of the annual Winterfest nearly a decade ago, but quickly became the signature event. "People love getting 50-plus cookies and candies," says Shanon Williams, marketing director for Downtown Oak Park.

For the event, Williams works with local bakeries and others outside of Oak Park to provide a wide assortment of cookies, candies, and custom imprinted cookie tins. Participants purchase tins and also receive maps showing 50 shops and restaurants where the individually wrapped treats are available.

Since tins are limited, the Cookie Walk is marketed to locals and neighboring communities. "We do a lot of social media, a press release, fliers to local schools, posters, and we include it in a calendar of events that we create at the beginning of each year," says Williams.

Cookie Walks are one of the featured events in the holiday edition of Downtown Promotion Reporter.

Downtown Organization and Police Partner for Safety

November 19, 2015

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Downtown Digest

A new program in Indianapolis, IN, highlights downtown as a safe area while also educating the public about safety and who to contact with questions and concerns.

Downtown Indy collaborated with the city’s police department to create safety cards that highlight the joint actions of the two organizations, as well as providing phone numbers for non-emergencies and contact information for a panhandling unit trained to connect the homeless with needed services.

The goal, says Kimberly Evans, the Police Department’s community relations officer for the downtown district is to, "be able to physically hand somebody something so that if they have questions or concerns, security issues, or want to ask an officer something, they have our number. It’s a great little piece of information that we have to offer community members. We also get a lot of visitors here. We want to make sure they know we are here, visible, and that they can get in contact with us."

A similar safety card would be effective in any community, says Bettye Dobkins, director of safety and security at Downtown Indy. Partnering with local law enforcement to develop the content and ensure maximum distribution is key.

Details on the Downtown Indy safety program appear in the November issue of Downtown Idea Exchange.

Ads Feature Small Business Owners

November 5, 2015

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Downtown Digest

To bring the independently owned, small business scene front and center in Pasadena, CA, the Old Pasadena Management District has run several cooperative ad campaigns focusing on small business owners rather than on their products and services.

Old Pasadena has roughly 300 shops and restaurants downtown, and about 75 percent of them are independents, but as more nationals moved in, perceptions were changing.

"The bulk of who we are is very much indy," says Steve Mulheim, president and CEO of the Old Pasadena Management District. "The ads help preserve our reputation as having largely indy retail content."

The inaugural campaign included ads highlighting a dozen small business owners at a time, as well as more detailed ads focusing on just three small business owners.

Putting a "face" on a business resonates with potential customers, Mulheim says. "Store owners said they had so many people coming in and saying, ‘We saw your ad in such and such magazine and I think that’s so cool, why you named the store what you did,’ for example. They came in with that personal connection."

Details on the Old Pasadena campaign appear in the November issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter.

Public Space Management Draws People, Revenue, and Partnerships

October 22, 2015

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Downtown Digest

Partnerships between cities and downtown organizations allow the pooling of resources, avoid duplication of effort, and can guide redevelopment and activation of urban parks in the direction most beneficial for downtown residents, workers, and visitors.

That’s been the case in Seattle, WA, where the Downtown Seattle Association and its Metropolitan Improvement District manage two of downtown’s most visible public spaces, Westlake Park and Occidental Park.

The immediate goal was to increase day-to-day use of the parks by workers, visitors, and residents. Ultimately, the Association wants the public spaces to become assets that attract people from adjacent neighborhoods and the greater downtown area, as well as helping nearby property owners attract tenants.

The Association and its members gain other benefits from managing the parks, as well. For now, any income generated via events and permitting is invested back into the parks and their operation. The spaces should eventually become self-sustaining, requiring no city dollars and a reduced contribution level from members, says Jonathan Scholes, president and CEO of the Association.

More on public space management and on making downtowns the place for aging residents, appears in the October issue of Downtown Idea Exchange.

"Street Scenes" Enliven Downtown

October 8, 2015

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Downtown Digest

To increase the appeal and draw more people downtown for Small Business Saturday, Morgan Hill, CA, created "street scenes."

Individual parking spaces in the heart of downtown were transformed by local businesses into activity areas. One parking space was transformed with a holiday theme and featured Santa Claus posing for photos with children. Another spot featured small desks and chairs and a large mailbox so that children could write letters to Santa. Yet another street scene featured table games such as chess.

The event was popular with shoppers as well as merchants. Edith Ramirez, economic development manager for the city said in an interview that, "The response that we got from the businesses was fantastic, with more applications [submitted] than we thought we were going to get. The amount of effort that people have gone to in order to activate these parking places is really tremendous."

More on Small Business Saturday, plus details on a unique dining partnership and techniques for keeping downtown events on budget, appear in the October issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter.

Underutilized Park Transformed into Popular
Public Space

September 24, 2015

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Downtown Digest

What has been described as, "a worn-out, wasted space," and, "a symbol of urban decay" in downtown Newark, NJ, is now an award-winning "outdoor living room" for city center residents, employees, and visitors.

To first redevelop, and later manage, the space, the nonprofit Military Park Partnership was formed. "We also negotiated a 24-year lease of the park with the city," says Ben Donsky, vice president of the Military Park Partnership.

The goal of the project, says Donsky, "was to create a long-term, sustainable town square, one that welcomes and embraces the people who live there and work throughout the district, as well as visitors to the performing arts center, the arena, and the other area attractions."

"Residents embraced the park immediately, but it took a couple of months to convince office workers that it was a safe place and a place where they were going to have fun," says Donsky.

Today, the park is a marketing asset for everyone in the downtown district. "If you look at any of the marketing materials from the office buildings around the park, they all heavily promote the park in their leasing materials," Donsky says. "One of the owners starts his tours in the park! It’s such a huge asset for tenants and employees. "It’s also catalyzed some of the development that was planned; the park had a role in making it happen more quickly."

More on Military Park, and the year-round programming that keeps it active, appears in the September issue of Downtown Idea Exchange.

Inflatable Events Are Enlivening Downtowns

September 10, 2015

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Downtown Digest

When it comes to radically changing the downtown streetscape, it doesn’t get much lighter, quicker, cheaper, or more accessible than temporary installations of inflatables.

Event producers are offering giant waterslides, obstacle courses, and even public art installations of the air-filled variety. Better yet, some are partnering with nonprofit organizations, giving downtown groups opportunities to raise funds while also drawing crowds to the city center.

In one example, Miami-based artist Alejandro Mendoza has created a traveling public art exhibit called Giants in the City, which he has installed in downtowns around the globe. The inflatable sculptures include a nearly-50-foot tall arm grasping for downtown towers, a net full of clouds captured from the sky, a giant key, a rainbow, puffy topiaries, and more.

And when the event is over, the artwork is deflated and this limited time exhibit is gone.

More on inflatable art, inflatable water slides, and an inflatable obstacle course appear in the September issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter.

Leadership Programs Attract and Retain Young Professionals

August 27, 2015

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Downtown Digest

Offering a downtown leadership program provides an opportunity to engage active, energetic young people in downtown revitalization efforts and to gain their input in creating a more desirable downtown for their demographic.

The Downtown Akron Partnership in Akron, OH, established its Emerging Leaders program in 2010. The group, which aims to increase the number of people investing socially and economically in the city center, includes members 35 years of age and younger from a variety of businesses and organizations.

In 2014, the Emerging Leaders group took on several downtown projects, including Kickstarter fundraising for a 700-foot-long mural, and working with the Partnership on their annual Downtown Akron Restaurant Week.

More on engaging Millennials with a leadership program appears in the August issue of Downtown Idea Exchange.

Attracting Millennials to Live and Work Downtown

August 13, 2015

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Downtown Digest

Cities across the nation are vying to attract and retain professionals aged 25-34 through social media and advertising campaigns, as well as with incentives which include internships, housing subsidies, student loan reimbursement, and more.

For example, in an effort to retain students attending colleges and universities in the metro area, Philadelphia, PA, launched Campus Philly.

What began as a city initiative has now become a nonprofit, which receives some city funding.

The focus, which was initially on encouraging students to explore the city, has expanded to include linking young professionals with internships at local companies while also exposing them to the arts and volunteer opportunities.

Efforts are paying off says a report from the PEW Charitable Trusts. Retention of out-of-town students following graduation has risen from 29 percent to 51 percent.

Meanwhile, in Niagara Falls, NY, efforts are also focused on retaining local students. Two years ago, the city started offering up to $7,000 in student loan reimbursements to young adults willing to move downtown; as of this spring 13 renters have taken the city up on its offer.

More examples of programs designed to retain students after graduation appear in the August issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter.

Incentives Attract Businesses While Improving Buildings

July 30, 2015

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Downtown Digest

The city of St. Charles, IL, has put together a trio of incentives aimed at improving the downtown building stock while also encouraging new and expanding businesses to locate in ground floor spaces.

Because so many downtown buildings are historic, business owners who want to change building uses or expand often face issues around fire and safety codes, as well as out-dated heating, cooling, plumbing, and electrical systems.

"The goal is to encourage people to still want to relocate into these buildings," says Matthew O’Rourke, the city’s economic development division manager. "We also want to improve and modernize the existing building stock so that it is adaptable for more businesses in the future. And we want to fill vacancies in our downtown, on the first floor, specifically. We really wanted to focus the impact on filling those vacant spaces that everyone sees when they drive through town."

The Downtown Business Incentive Award is a matching grant for permanent structural, plumbing, electrical, mechanical, and safety upgrades, rather than cosmetic improvements.

Awards of up to $10,000 are approved by the Economic Development staff, with awards over that amount and up to $25,000 available with city council approval.

Details on Downtown Business Incentive Award program and much more appear in the July issue of Downtown Idea Exchange.

Financial support fills downtown event calendar

July 16, 2015

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Downtown Digest

To entice more festival and event producers to the city center, the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ in Winnipeg, MB, Canada, launched the Host it Downtown campaign this spring.

The organization seeks to, "solidify downtown Winnipeg as the premier destination for high-quality and outdoor events year-round by providing individuals or organizations with the opportunity for seed funding and event support; creating new events and attracting existing events to the heart of our city."

"Fifty festivals already run in the downtown, attracting well over 950,000 people annually, generating economic and social activity, activating our streets, and giving Winnipeggers great reasons to come downtown," says Stefano Grande, executive director of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ. Host it Downtown aims to encourage even more downtown visits especially during the evening hours and in the winter.

The Host It Downtown eligibility criteria include:

  • Event must be located within the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ operating zone
  • Organizers must show a commitment to minimize the environmental impact of the event
  • Priority will be given to events that focus on winter, evening, and weekend programming.

Details on Host it Downtown and much more appear in the July issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter .

Making Better Use of Bumpouts

July 1, 2015

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Downtown Digest

Innovative funding and the efforts of the Downtown Development Authority are transforming several bumpouts in Traverse City, MI.

Last year, bumpouts at either end of one city center crosswalk were repurposed, with another set due to see improvements this summer.

Spaces that formerly held trash receptacles and bike racks now offer public seating and a street bar on which people can place beverages and computers — just in time to take advantage the downtown’s new free public Wi-Fi.

One parking space adjacent to the bumpouts was repurposed to hold relocated bicycle racks, while trash receptacles were moved to the side of the bumpouts to open up the space. "The whole point was to take the bumpouts and turn them into people spaces," says Rob Bacigalupi, executive director of the Authority.

In an effort to fund additional bumpout conversions, the Downtown Development Authority partnered with the state-based crowdfunding platform Patroncity to solicit support for the project.

More on the Bumpout Project, a downtown micro-incubator program, and introducing bike sharrows to the city center appear in the July issue of Downtown Idea Exchange newsletter.

Partnering with Nonprofits to Draw Customers Downtown

June 18, 2015

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Downtown Digest

Offering customers extended shopping hours, discounts and specials, plus the chance to contribute to local nonprofit organizations proved a winning combination in Franklin, TN.

For the first Open Your Heart event, more than 20 downtown merchants remained open past their normal business hours, and donated 15 percent of sales from 4 to 9 p.m. to the nonprofit of their choice.

The extended hours, combined with the lure of supporting a favorite charity, drew many customers into downtown shops and restaurants for the first time.

The success of this type of event, says Marianne DeMeyers who serves on the board of the Downtown Franklin Association, depends on working closely with the nonprofits.

By cross-promoting, nonprofits can encourage their supporters to go downtown and visit new businesses. "Ninety-five percent of the people on the street that night are there for their charity of choice, and while they are on the street they are going to go into a few other shops that are open late," she says.

More on working with local charities appears in the June issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter newsletter.

Mobile Workshops Bring Planning to the People

June 5, 2015

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Downtown Digest

Innovative public out-reach has piqued curiosity and boosted public input for downtown plan updates in Laguna Beach, CA.

Building on successful Plan Van workshops in other cities while also highlighting Laguna’s downtown trolley service, the city offered Plan Trolley workshops.

The trolley, loaded with information about the Downtown Specific Plan including, display easels, and public-input materials such as surveys and comment cards, “would go to key events in the city where we would be able to reach out to community members that wouldn’t normally come to workshops at city hall. We wanted to make sure we touched on different locations, different times of day, days of the week, and different kinds of areas,” says Wendy Jung, senior planner for the city.

At each event, guests were given comment cards to fill out on site or take home and mail in later. And “temporary transitions” such as green space, bike lanes, and street music and food were added to highlight downtown’s potential for more vibrant streets.

More on the Plan Trolley, pop-up workshops, and demonstrations appear in the June issue of Downtown Idea Exchange newsletter.

Downtowns Band Together for Greater Impact

May 21, 2015

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Downtown Digest

When one community lacks the critical mass to attract tourists, residents, and businesses by itself, bundling what it has to offer with the attractions available in adjacent communities offers cost savings and higher visibility for all.

That’s the theory behind the Eagle River Valley Cultural & Economic Corridor, now in its third year.

The Corridor comprises the neighboring towns of Hancock (est. pop. 1,031), Deposit (est. pop. 1,663), and Windsor (est. pop. 916), New York and focuses on attracting tourists, businesses and residents, specifically retirees.

This is an attractive demographic for the Corridor, “as they require no jobs, and need many of the services that provide jobs and income to the local community,” say organizers.

Each town has formed a nonprofit partnership group, which participates in the Corridor effort.

The Corridor has its own board, which includes representatives from all three communities tasked with carrying out the mixed-media marketing campaign.

Details on the Eagle River Valley Cultural & Economic Corridor, appear in the May issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter.

Wedding tours attract visitors while supporting businesses

May 7, 2015

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Downtown Digest

Bridal shows have long appeared on downtown event calendars. Increasingly, however, downtown organizations are moving guests from place to place rather than bringing them together under one roof.

Wedding walks and tours highlight city centers as wedding destinations while showcasing a wide variety of downtown businesses, including hotels, event venues, florists, photographers, printers, caterers and restaurants, limousine services, clothing stores, and more.

In one example, the Downtown Mesa Wedding Walk in Mesa, AZ, now in its third year, continues to grow. It draws hundreds of couples along with their friends and family to the city center. Business participation is also strong with the Downtown Mesa Association reporting that 50 percent of the people who attended the first tour booked a downtown service or venue for their wedding.

Details on downtown wedding tours, a grant program that’s boosting business advertising, and more appear in the May issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter.

Creating pedestrian-friendly city centers

March 26, 2015

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Downtown Digest

The paths to walkability are as diverse as the cities that implement them, and include upgrades to alleyways that provide additional pedestrian connectivity, pedestrian-friendly sidewalk design, centering development around public transit, and more.

One community that has made great strides in enhancing walkability is Bethesda, MD. The work extended to downtown alleyways, some of which were converted into pedestrian spaces so that backdoor access was available into downtown restaurants and retail locations.

In Salt Lake City, UT, a more pedestrian-friendly city center is also being achieved via mid-block streets and walkways. The Walkable Salt Lake organization is conducting walking tours, surveys, debates, and more to educate and hear from the public about the city’s underutilized mid-block alleyways.

The organization’s website features a “Break the Blocks” speak out page on which citizens can fill in the blank at the end of the statement: “I’d love Salt Lake’s downtown alleys if...” and giant chalk boards featuring the query were posted at strategic locations downtown to capture additional feedback.

Phoenix, AZ, has also adopted a new strategy to reduce sprawl and create a more walkable city center. Step one was to install a new light rail line connecting neighborhoods. Now work is underway to create pedestrian-friendly areas around the public transit stops.

Details on these programs and more appear in the March issue of Downtown Idea Exchange.

Regional approach to marketing helps downtowns

March 12, 2015

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Downtown Digest

Just as downtown businesses are realizing that advertising the downtown as a whole benefits individual businesses, whole communities are reaping the benefits of a more regional approach to marketing.

"We know that people travel from place to place and town to town and don’t necessarily travel by county or state lines,” says Lisa Challenger, director of Worcester County Tourism in Snow Hill, MD, who heads up the multi-state Tourism, Arts, and Downtown Development Initiative.

The program is meant to attract visitors to downtowns as they travel through the region by highlighting what each community has to offer.

Based on the assets in each participating community, an overall brand and theme was created. The "Eat. Drink. Buy Art." campaign boasts a website, a Facebook page, and a 16-page brochure highlighting member communities.

A passport contest was also created to encourage people to visit as many member towns as possible. Special weekly contests were offered on the website to encourage people to post photos and comments, and to answer some of the questions posed in the brochure.

Representatives from each downtown run the program and meet quarterly in one of the member communities.

"There are just so many benefits, and it’s not really that time consuming or difficult to put together, so I would just say, do it. Wholeheartedly go for it. It’s only going to bring good stuff," says Challanger.

Details on the Eat. Drink. Buy Art. program appear in the March issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter.

Facade Improvement Programs Produce Real Economic Benefits, Study Says

February 25, 2015

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Downtown Digest

Increases in new customers, rental incomes, and property values were seen in a recent study of the impact of facade improvement programs.

To help downtown professionals better determine the ROI of these types of improvements, a team at the University of Wisconsin-Extension examined the impacts of storefront improvements over the past 15 years.

“The intent is to help business and community leaders make more informed investment decisions,” say authors Bill Ryan, Amy Greil, Dayna Sarver, Joe Lawniczak, and Errin Welty.

Overall, the report, An Analysis of Downtown Storefront Improvements, is favorable. Among the findings:

  • Business operators generally experience an increase in the number of first-time customers.
  • Many, but not all, business operators experience an increase in sales.
  • Property owners generally generate increased rental revenues.
  • Properties are often converted to a perceived better use.
  • Nearby businesses often enjoy increased sales and initiate their own storefront improvements.

Download An Analysis of Downtown Storefront Improvements.

Housing Fair and Incentives Attract New Residents

February 11, 2015

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Downtown Digest To overcome negative perceptions that might discourage new residents, the city of Dundalk, MD, launched a branding campaign backed by an ambitious public engagement process, and featuring a new website, media partnerships, public events, incentives for home purchases, and more.

Central to the program was a housing and neighborhood tour hosted by the Dundalk Renaissance Corporation. Attendees had opportunities to speak with real estate agents, mortgage lenders, housing and renovation experts, and others.

In addition, the organization partnered with local employers willing to offer “Live Where You Work” grants of $1,000 to any employee who attended the event and subsequently purchased a home in the community. The organization also offered $5,000 Golden Key grants to 30 new homeowners.

Details on the multi-faceted residential recruitment program appear in the February issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter. Subscribe today.

Increasing Demand for Urban Living

January 29, 2015

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The January issue of Downtown Idea Exchange looks ahead to some of the challenges and opportunities that face downtown leaders in 2015.

One of many important trends is an influx of millennials and baby boomers seeking urban living. This group is creating the most demand for downtown housing, as well as specific types of amenities, and more transit options, experts say. Downtown Digest

Not just an opportunity for mid-sized and larger cities, residential development presents opportunities for cities of all sizes.

Recent research in North Carolina found that for every one unit of housing added to a downtown, between $7,000 and $19,000 of investment downtown is generated just in spending by that resident, “so when you start talking about five, 10, or 20 units, that’s a huge impact,” says Patrice Frey, president of the National Main Street Center. “That’s something very exciting for smaller communities, because you don’t necessarily need hundreds of units — you can begin to see the impact with just a few.”

For more on the challenges and opportunities facing downtowns, read the article Looking Ahead to 2015.

Alcohol-friendly events one of 10 trends to watch in 2015

January 15, 2015

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The January issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter takes a look back at marketing and attraction activities that will set the direction for the year to come.

One of many trends is an increase in alcohol-friendly downtown events and activities.

An increasing interest in wine and locally brewed beer is bringing success to brew festivals, pub crawls, wine walks, and other events focused on adult beverages and those who enjoy them.

For example, the Main Street organization in Gardnerville, NV, hosts a Thirsty Third Thursday wine walk each month from May through September that draws about 350 people downtown to visit between 35 and 45 businesses offering locally produced wines, food, demonstrations, prize drawings, and special sales and discounts.

Downtown Digest Even events not directly related to alcohol are seeing increased participation when adult beverages are part of the fun. Greeley, CO, is one of many communities to allow outdoor consumption within designated areas.

Inside the Go-Cup Zone at Greeley’s Friday Fest, patrons may stroll from shop to shop or stop to watch street entertainment while sipping beverages from Go-Cups from participating establishments.

For more on the 10 trends to watch in 2015, you may read the full report at our website. And while you’re there, please consider becoming a regular reader of Downtown Promotion Reporter.

When you subscribe by January 19, you may take advantage of a special introductory offer for new subscribers and save 20% off the regular subscription price — this is our lowest price of the year.

It’s all here: www.DowntownDevelopment.com/dprtrends.php

Vibrant Street Scene Emerges in Downtown Pittsburgh

December 30, 2014

With the downtown an economically stable commercial center, but, “totally dull,” the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership in Pittsburgh, PA, created a new grant program in 2007 to encourage restaurateurs to bring new vitality to city streets by moving their restaurants outdoors. Downtown Digest

The program offers a 50-percent matching grant of up to $30,000 ($60,000 for corner properties). Funds may be used for cafe tables and chairs, cafe umbrellas, operable storefront systems, increased facade transparency, awnings, planters, removal of roll-down security gates, signage, lighting, and accessibility improvements.

As a result of that investment, street life downtown has increased dramatically. “People are going out, enjoying the downtown, and sitting outside. These projects make Pittsburgh look like what we want it to look like — a fun, inviting place,” says Geof Comings, the Partnership’s economic development manager.

Details on this award-winning project and more appear in the December issue of Downtown Idea Exchange. Subscribe today.

Social Sports Draw Participants and Spectators Downtown

December 18, 2014

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Hosting one of the popular themed runs (zombies, color, Santa, etc.) draws a different crowd than a typical run, and must be organized and marketed differently.

The theme is a successful gimmick to attract participants, says Bryan Ganek of Adrenaline Sports Management. “It’s a race, yes, but we are creating an atmosphere of fun, that is family friendly and corporate friendly. It’s more of a social event than a regular race.”

Because these events are social, much of the marketing is done via websites and social media to reach potential runners, as well as spectators who might come downtown to see, hundreds or thousands of Santas or zombies running down the street.

Increasingly, downtown organizations are turning to producers of “canned” events that already have a public and media following, interested sponsors, and a process that keeps things running smoothly.

Here are 17 runs that get social:

5K Foam Fest Downtown Digest

Bad Prom Run

Boston Urban Idiotorama

Bubble Run

Color Run

Dirty Girl 5k Mud Run

Electric Run

Hot Chocolate Race

Krispy Kreme Challenge

Neon Night Run

NYC Pizza Run

NYC Triathlon (Diaper Derby, Doggie Dash, Underwear Run)

Ridiculous Obstacle Challenge

Spartan Race

Tough Mudder

Warrior Dash

Wicked Wine Run

More on social sports, subscription boxes, and increasing local tourism appear in the December issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter. Subscribe today.

12 Strategies that Will Transform Your Downtown

December 4, 2014

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Downtown Digest In the December issue of Downtown Idea Exchange, guest columnist John Karras shares 12 strategies that can transform virtually any downtown into a more vibrant place.

The list includes structural changes, like street reconfiguration (Turn one-way streets into two-way streets), short-term steps (Establish a regularly occurring public event), and management approaches (Consolidate regional economic development partner organizations into a single downtown location).

Regular readers will note that many of the strategies appear frequently in pages of Downtown Idea Exchange, while others offer new perspectives and examples.

You may read the full article at: www.DowntownDevelopment.com/perspectives.php

Finessing the Shop Local message

November 20, 2014

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The pre-holiday “Shop Local” message is being refined in numerous ways in an effort to reach more potential customers for downtown’s businesses.

Nearly every community endeavors to educate consumers about the economic benefits of shopping locally — some take a logical, numbers-based approach while others tug at the heart strings.

Most tie into the national Small Business Saturday movement launched by American Express in 2010, which denotes the Saturday after Thanksgiving as a time to avoid big box stores and support local merchants.

Many communities are asking consumers to shift a percentage of their shopping dollars, while others are making “Shop Local” a year-round mantra.

The November issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter looks at examples of these approaches and more including the Eat, Drink, & Buy Local 365 campaign, in Chicago, IL, which aims to expand the Shop Local spirit to a year-round phenomena. Downtown Digest

The nonprofit Local First Chicago created a website for the campaign at which visitors can learn more about the impacts of shopping locally, view business listings and upcoming event details, and take the Pledge, which reads, “I pledge to shift at least $365 annually from chain stores to locally owned stores.”

Those taking the Pledge are asked to provide their first and last name, email address, neighborhood, and to write a few words about why they shop locally. In return, they are entered into a prize drawing.

While email addresses and last names are kept confidential, first names, neighborhoods, and reasons to shop local are visible to visitors on the website.

“Together we are working to keep millions of dollars in Chicago,“ says the organization.

More on Shop Local campaigns, expanding the holiday season, and attracting sponsors with social media perks appear in the November issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter. Subscribe today.

Community Engagement Drives Change Downtown

November 6, 2014

Downtown DigestTo draw the community into an ongoing conversation, the city of Hagerstown, MD, launched its engageHagerstown website.

The city posts questions and moderates discussions about important topics that will shape the future of the downtown.

The inaugural question was: “What’s your big idea for downtown?”

That first question generated “a ton of feedback,” says Sarah Nelson, planning and outreach coordinator for the city.

Building on that success, the city has queried the public and kept the conversation going around topics including public art, walkability, the downtown farmers market, and more.

“We have a team that works on the questions, and our staff meets regularly to talk about what topics to post,” says Nelson. “We review a large portion of the ideas and let participants know if they are feasible, which ones we are working on, what we are able to do, so they are getting feedback from us in real time on how their ideas are informing city decisions.”

More on engageHagerstown, complete streets programs, and a downtown living initiative appear in the November issue of Downtown Idea Exchange. Subscribe today.

Changing Perceptions About Downtown Parking

October 23, 2014

Downtown Digest

Over the past four years, the Norwalk Parking Authority in Norwalk, CT, has transformed negative public perceptions about parking while also improving the motorist experience and increasing revenues.

Rebranding the parking system, lighthearted promotions, and art in parking garages all helped to spread the word about the ease of downtown parking.

A “Mr. Smiley” parking meter mascot was created, and integrated into all of the authority’s communications, including general advertising in area print and online media, and environmental media/signage which includes kiosks, train platforms, parking facilities, and wayfinding signs.

An interactive and mobile-friendly website was also created, as was a Facebook page that is updated on a regular basis. Regular e-communications with permit holders were initiated, and whimsical warning stickers were created to give first-time offenders a gentle reminder of parking regulations.

Details on Norwalk’s parking program, plus downtown scavenger hunts, extended business hours, and pop-up art appear in the October issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter. Subscribe today.

Bicycle Lanes, Stations, and Share Programs

October 10, 2014

Downtown Digest

As Americans become more focused on fitness and the environment, commuters, as well as recreationalists, are learning the value of pedal power. As a result, projects to boost bike-centric amenities in city centers are flourishing.

This month Downtown Idea Exchange newsletter looks at bike share programs, making way for bikes on city-center streets, and facilities for bike riders such as the 1,450-square-foot Downtown Bicycle Station, which is managed by the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis.

The station, accessible 20 hours per day, features showers, locker rooms, and more than 100 bike racks, all meant to make bicycling to work more convenient for downtown commuters.

The project was funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy through the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program. In addition to improving personal health and reducing the number of cars on downtown streets, the city credits the bike station with the expansion of a local bike shop and other businesses near the Station.

More on bike-centric downtowns, green parking lots, and community gardens appears in the October issue of Downtown Idea Exchange. Subscribe today.

New Wayfinding System Directs Locals and Visitors

September 25, 2014

Downtown Digest

Doing a complete overhaul of downtown signage can be a lengthy-but-worthwhile process, as has been the case in Knoxville, TN.

The city started gathering public input for its comprehensive wayfinding program in 2009, and hopes to see the project completed this year.

“Our wayfinding program was really intended to do three things,” says Anne Wallace, the city’s project manager. “The most intuitive is that it guide both residents and visitors to our various destinations.

“Second, it will give an identity and a brand to downtown Knoxville, so that when people see those signs and images, it helps create a sense of place for them.

“And third, the program is meant to build economic development. What we have found in our research and in working with folks who do wayfinding all over the country, is that wayfinding signage is a way to help people find additional points of interest that they may not have been aware of so that they will extend their stay and spend more time, and more money.”

While not a primary benefit, Wallace says, another substantial perk of the program is that, “we have a lot of visual clutter from signs put up piecemeal over the decades to try to direct people to our various resources. This program will create a cohesive format for signage, and we are taking out about 400 signs and putting in only about 250.”

Details on Knoxville’s wayfinding program, plus dining promotions, and ladies-only events appear in the September issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter. Subscribe today.

Multiple Goals Means Multiple Funding Sources

September 12, 2014

Downtown Digest

Ambitious projects to revitalize underutilized green space in Charlotte, NC, are improving the quality of life for residents and downtown employees while also showcasing all that the city has to offer, and providing vital connections that bring more people downtown.

The Little Sugar Creek Greenway project included restoration of an urban stream and creation of a linear park along its banks, while the proposed Charlotte Rail Trail project will provide amenities along a concrete walkway following the path of the city’s light rail service.

The multiple goals of the project, which included creating a destination for tourism and recreation, improved water and air quality, providing a safe alternative transportation route, and improving health and fitness, put the project in line for varied funding sources including federal, state, and local government sources as well as private foundations and organizations.

Every dollar spent on the greenway is expected to generate at least $3 of private development. One early indicator of success on that front is a new multi-use development that has gone up beside the greenway.

Details on this project and on dealing with multiple vacancies, increasing events with a streamlined permitting process, and luring residents downtown with tax breaks appear in the September issue of Downtown Idea Exchange. Subscribe today.

To Attract New Businesses, Downtown Reaches Out to Employees

August 27, 2014

Downtown Digest

A new business recruitment campaign in Providence, RI, is reaching out not only to business owners and top executives, but to their employees.

The Bring Your Company to Life campaign encourages employees to “start a movement” or “bribe your boss” in order to move a job they love to a place they can love equally.

The campaign is part of the Providence Downtown Improvement District and Providence Foundation’s ongoing initiative to attract new businesses. The work also involved freezing commercial tax rates and streamlining the permitting process for small tenant improvements.

The campaign’s Bring Your Company to Life website appeals directly to employees when it says:

“You want food trucks, coffee shops, outdoor movies, and bocce games? Looking to choose from hundreds of continuing education courses? Want to rub elbows with smart, creative people? Of course you do! Funky, fun, and affordable, downtown Providence is an amazing place to live and work. How can you get your company to move downtown? Start here.”

Details on this campaign and on Tourism Improvement Districts, community gardens, customer service, and more appear in the August issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter. Subscribe today.

Making the Case for Downtown Housing

August 14, 2014

Downtown Digest

Some have questioned the value of residential and mixed-use developments in downtown areas, and citywide.

Their question: “Don’t we need jobs, not housing?”

The answer: residential and mixed-use projects will produce jobs, as well as other long-term benefits in downtowns, cities, and statewide.

Dan Baudouin, executive director of The Providence Foundation, makes the case for the value of downtown housing in the August issue of Downtown Idea Exchange newsletter.

You may read the full article at: www.downtowndevelopment.com/perspectives.php

Public Space Fitness Programs Draw Crowds

July 31, 2014

Downtown Digest

Dance, yoga, CrossFit, and more are enlivening public spaces in downtowns across North America.

In one example, the Waterfront Partnership in Baltimore, MD, offers a Waterfront Wellness Series on weekend mornings from late May through late September, which includes free yoga, boot camp, CrossFit, and Zumba.

“I think a lot of us have gym memberships, but it’s a unique experience to be able to work out with others, especially with the waterfront as a backdrop,” says Beth Laverick, events manager for the Waterfront Partnership.

The classes are drawing people who live within driving distance of the city, as well as visitors to the area. “They come for the classes and then spend the day at the harbor. We took something that’s not the biggest thing in the world and turned it into an experience,” says Laverick.

Details on how this and other downtown fitness programs are organized and funded appear in the July issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter. Subscribe today.

Courting Successful Business Owners

July 17, 2014

Downtown Digest

A new initiative in Gardiner, ME, is encouraging businesses with a proven track record in other communities to open new downtown locations. Two years of planning and consideration went into the program design, which is being hailed as, “a model for redevelopment efforts” statewide.

Businesses accepted into the program are eligible for a number of financial incentives, along with a pledge of support from larger existing businesses in the area.

The Gardiner Growth Initiative launched in April. By mid-May, the first deal had been signed, with a donut shop with a wholesale operation and several retail locations. “We’re really happy about that,” says Patrick Wright, executive director of Gardiner Main Street. “We’ve passed on two businesses. There are a bunch of others interested. We are actively getting out there and having conversations as much as we can. For being only a couple of months into it and already having our first one, that’s really good. And I suspect having one new business to show for it will have a domino effect.”

Details on the Growth Initiative, along with information on how to position the downtown area for more support from city hall, and the benefits of mid-block crossings appear in the July issue of Downtown Idea Exchange. Subscribe today.

Record-breaking Marketing and Public Relations

July 2, 2014

Downtown Digest

In May, Philadelphia, PA, attempted to break the world record for the most people on a pub crawl. While the team at Guinness World Records tallied the attendance figures, Downtown Promotion Reporter looked at downtowns that drew record crowds with their own events.

Livermore Downtown Inc. in Livermore, CA, organized a dance flash mob. The event took place during the Livermore leg of the eight-day AMGEN cycling road race, giving race attendees and the media an additional reason to visit the town. The dance flash mob was also promoted as an opportunity to potentially be entered into the Guinness Book of World Records for the most people dancing in the street to music by the Monkees.

In Pasadena, CA, the Chalk Festival gives thousands of colorful sticks of chalk to hundreds of Madonnari (Italian for street painters). Street artists have two days to create “murals” on downtown streets. In 2010, the festival’s 179 murals set the Guinness World Record for the largest display of chalk pavement art.

And during a live music series in downtown Concord, CA, a special event involved 2,052 guitar players strumming This Land is Your Land, by Woody Guthrie, breaking the world record for largest guitar ensemble playing the same song.

Need more ideas? Consider the most people dancing with hula hoops (637); the most people planting flower bulbs at the same time (636); the largest painting by numbers (40,000 square feet); or the largest house made from interlocking plastic bricks (15 feet 4 inches high).

Details on how to host a pub crawl, along with information on coping with increasing city fees, hosting outdoor fitness events, and sponsoring community-wide garage sales appear in the July issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter. Subscribe today.

Downtown Site Seeker Program Fills Vacant Space

June 19, 2014

Downtown Digest

The Site Seeker program in Dayton, OH, allows the Downtown Dayton Partnership to provide a valuable service to members while also attracting new businesses to the city center.

Tenants interested in moving downtown fill out an online form which asks how much square footage the business seeks, whether the owner wants to lease or buy a space, and what the unique needs of the business owner might be.

“We follow that up with a phone call because a conversation is helpful in understanding the prospective tenant’s other space needs,” says Scott Murphy, director of business development for the Partnership.

“We package all of that information in an RFP format and distribute it electronically to leasing agents. We give them a little time to respond back to us, and when we get those available listings back, we sit down with the prospective tenant and talk all of them through. Based on their interest, we can set up tours and help them connect with particular properties.”

Through the third quarter of 2013, the Partnership had conducted 47 searches for prospective tenants.

Details on how to run a successful real estate matchmaking program, along with creative business retention and attraction ideas appear in the June issue of Downtown Idea Exchange. Subscribe today.

Simple Seating Drives Change in Public Spaces

May 29, 2014

Downtown Digest

Making lighter, quicker, cheaper improvements can mean something as simple as providing seats in public spaces.

For example, when the public library in Wallkill, NY, wanted to activate green space around the building, it installed colorful lawn chairs along with signs inviting people to relax.

“This effort changed the look and feel of the library lawn from formal and manicured to comfortable and playful,” say organizers. “The area now serves as a gathering place for kids and families to play, have lunch, make music, and meet with friends.” This type of low-cost program is popping up across the country.

In Frankfort, IL, Adirondack chairs are converted to art pieces that invite the public to linger outside downtown businesses. The Sit a Bit Chair Art is then sold as a fundraiser for the local historical society during a wine walk and “chair-ity” auction.

And in New York City, the DoTank is credited with developing the chair-bombing movement. Chair-bombing involves building chairs out of used materials such as shipping pallets, and then placing the chairs in public spaces in order to improve comfort, social activity, and sense of place.

Simple seating programs from around the country appear in the May issue of Downtown Idea Exchange. Subscribe today.

Demonstration Project Makes Downtown Better

April 24, 2014

Downtown Digest

The Better Block project got its start in Dallas when a group of community organizers, neighbors, and property owners partnered to revitalize a single commercial block for a weekend.

Since that time, Better Block projects have spread around the world. These volunteer-based projects, often referred to as “living charettes” or even “Extreme Home Makeover for cities,” create on a temporary basis the infrastructure improvements, business mix, amenities, and programming that residents would like to see on a more permanent basis.

By creating a vision of what could be, Better Block projects have rallied the public demand necessary to change city ordinance, generate permanent infrastructure improvements, and attract new businesses.

Details on the first Better Block project and steps to create one in your community appear in the April issue of Downtown Idea Exchange. Subscribe today.

Busker Event Takes Over Downtown

April 10, 2014

Downtown Digest

Creativity is filling city centers with whimsical creatures, exciting acts, and potential customers who flock downtown to see buskers perform.

The Ellensburg Downtown Association in Ellensburg, WA, networked with other busker festival producers and blended lessons learned with its own unique touches to create its highly successful Buskers in the Burg festival.

The unique event draws large crowds from surrounding areas to see sword swallowers, fire jugglers, and giant puppets! It is also a big day for local businesses.

“I had four merchants tell me it was their best Saturday of the year,” says Carolyn Honeycutt, director of the Ellensburg Downtown Association. “And we have a ton of events in this community, so it’s good to hear when something we’re doing is really working for the merchants.”

Details on how Ellensburg structured and promoted this event appear in the April issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter. Subscribe today.

An Incubator Model for Smaller Communities

March 27, 2014

Downtown Digest

The Merrimack Valley Sandbox has created an incubator model, which it says will boost the social and economic vitality of cities with populations under 200,000.

The model is more inclusive than most, the staff works with everyone from high school students and their teachers to senior citizens, as well as entrepreneurs from varied ethnic and educational backgrounds.

The program offers an Entrepreneur Program featuring outreach to early-stage entrepreneurs, pitch contests with cash prizes, and 12-week Accelerator Programs that include workshops, mentor matches, the availability of 24/7 workspace, and more cash prizes.

A Student Entrepreneur Program pairs the Sandbox with local nonprofits and universities to identify student entrepreneurs, to help build student skills, and to provide small grants that allow students to test their ideas. The Education Innovation Challenge works closely with local public schools to identify teachers who have innovative ideas to improve students’ experiences inside and outside the classroom — and provides small grants to move those ideas forward.

And the Lanza tu Idea Program connects with area churches and nonprofits to identify Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs, to provide them with workshops, and to give them opportunities to participate in pitch contests with cash prizes.

Details on the programs success and funding sources appear in the March issue of Downtown Idea Exchange. Subscribe today.

Downtown Invites Millennials to Settle Down

March 17, 2014

Downtown Digest

Mentor, OH, identified social marketing as the best way to attract area millennials to explore the community and settle down.

The city ran a commercial on Pandora online radio and an ad on Facebook. The Facebook ads had the potential to reach 400,000 Facebook users and were targeted to those aged 18 to 35 who live within 25 miles of nearby Cleveland.

Traffic on the website and Likes on Facebook grew exponentially. The Pandora ad ran for 14 weeks, reaching over two million users and leading to an interview with Crain’s Cleveland Business, an online business publication. The city gained 379 new Likes on Facebook over 12 weeks, as well as 856 clicks.

Details on the planning process and marketing materials that Mentor produced appear in the March issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter. Subscribe today.

10 Rules for Downtown Chief Executives

February 28, 2014

Downtown Digest

In his 40-plus years working with nonprofit organizations, David Feehan, president of Civitas Consultants, has learned a thing or two about how downtown chief executives can ensure that the vision, mission, goals, and objectives of their organizations are on course.

The February issue of Downtown Idea Exchange newsletter includes the first five of his 10 rules. These are:

#1: Be sure that you and your board thoroughly understand the nature of your organization, and its mission.

#2: Know where the money comes from, where it is going to, and keep the board informed.

#3: Be visible. Set aside at least a half-day each week to visit with store owners and managers.

#4: Talk to each board member once a month.

#5: Create multiple channels for communication and feedback between business owners and managers, residents, and your organization.

Downtown Partners Create Visitor’s Center

February 13, 2014

Downtown Digest

In Durango, CO, the city, the business improvement district, a local college, and the tourism office have created a new welcome center that addresses each of their marketing needs, and more importantly, the needs of visitors to the downtown.

“In the first year of operation, we are going to be well over 100,000 visitors, so we’re amazed,” says Bob Kunkel, the city’s business development manager. “Many people come in to use the restroom or ATM, or to use the water fountain, but end up getting maps, information on the national park and mountain bike trails, or suggestions for restaurants and shopping. It becomes one-stop shopping for everything.”

By working together, the group was able to create a custom space to better meet each partners needs without increasing any one group’s costs.

Details on how the center was created and the resources it provides appear in the February issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter. Subscribe today.

Reconsidering Portable Signage Ordinances Downtown

January 30, 2014

Downtown Digest

In an effort to balance sidewalk safety, downtown aesthetics, and small business owners’ desire to increase outreach to customers, many communities are re-examining portable signage ordinances.

Because digital signage has become more affordable, it is also increasing in popularity and must be taken into consideration when drafting new regulations.

Downtown DigestThe February issue of Downtown Idea Exchange looks at changes underway in a number of cities including the Village of Osceola, WI, where the goals were to create uniform standards regarding the appearance and location of portable signs, allow individuality and creativity to enhance the character of the downtown district, maintain safe conditions for pedestrians and motorists, and meet the need for additional regulations without creating cumbersome requirements.

To ensure that everyone understands the new rules, an illustrated appendix accompanies Osceola’s sign ordinance.

Additional information and examples of changing sign design guidelines appear in the February issue of Downtown Idea Exchange. Subscribe today.

Ten Trends That Will Shape Downtown Marketing
in The New Year

January 16, 2014

Downtown Digest

As Downtown Promotion Reporter looks to 2014, it is clear that a number of trends are shaping the way that downtowns are marketed to shoppers, visitors, residents, and investors.

For example, as the nation continues to focus on the obesity epidemic and the benefits of healthful lifestyles, downtown promoters are using these trends to bring more active residents and visitors downtown.

They are hosting dance and other fitness classes in public spaces, bike and foot races through downtown streets, and they are advocating for the addition of fitness zones complete with exercise equipment in public parks.

Downtown Lafayette Unlimited in Lafayette, LA, has even partnered with a local fitness club to sponsor a summer-long outdoor event called Downtown Phys Ed.

Nine additional trends are covered in the January issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter. Click to see the full trends article.

Downtown Organization Funds Events for Everyone

December 30, 2013

Downtown Digest

For Downtown Long Beach Associates, the secret to hosting over a dozen major downtown events each year, is to act as an event backer.

The Downtown Event Sponsorship program makes $15,000 available to sponsor downtown events with funds that are awarded in amounts of up to $2,500.

A multi-step application process ensures that all sponsored events are well conceived, meet the organizations goals, and will be run professionally.

Applicants must provide background information about the producer, a line item budget, a marketing plan, any sample advertising or collateral materials available, and a list of all available sponsorship packages. A list of all secured and anticipated sponsorships is also required — the downtown association will not consider events that do not have at least 50 percent of their funding in place.

In addition to a hugely successful Zombie Walk that drew over 12,000 people to the city center last year, the association has provided funding for the East Village 2nd Saturday Art Walk, Rainbow Harbor Mardi Gras, the Long Beach Green Prix, and more.

See the applications here:

Application: Soundwalk

Application: Film and Music Festival

Application: Oktoberfest

Additional information on the Downtown Event Sponsorship program appears in the December issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter. Subscribe today.

Saving Historic Theaters is an Economic Development Mission

December 12, 2013

Downtown Digest

A downtown theater provides not only entertainment, but a venue for other events that attract people downtown, and cross-promotional opportunities with nearby synergetic businesses such as restaurants, bars, book stores, and arts-based retail.

The Great Recession of 2008 left many small downtown theaters struggling financially. On the heels of that, theater owners must now finance conversion from 35mm to digital projectors by the end of 2013, when first-run movies will no longer be available in the older format.

Not only are the digital projectors and surround sound systems costly, but owners must ensure that historic theaters and projector booths are properly prepared for the new technology.

The December issue of Downtown Idea Exchange covers strategies communities are using to save their theaters and a link to an archive article describing how the shuttered Fox Theater in Hays, KS, was reopened as an event space. Click here to see the Fox Theater article.

Small Business Saturday Can Be A Year-Round Event

November 26, 2013

Downtown Digest

The Small Business Saturday event launched by American Express in 2010 has been a boon to independent retailers in many communities each November. But in Concord, NC, downtown stakeholders were not content to mark this event only on the Saturday following Black Friday.

Instead, the Concord Downtown Development Corporation carefully crafted a campaign to celebrate one Small Business Saturday a month throughout the year. Launched in January, 2012, Small Business Saturday in Historic Downtown Concord is still going strong and has gained statewide attention.

The event’s success is due in part to the clear guidelines for organizing the program:

  • Choose a date that is easy to remember
  • Have an identifying graphic used in all promotion of the campaign
  • Provide an incentive to shoppers and diners to support the event
  • Create a campaign that is easy to administer.

Small Business Saturday continues to be a strong event for downtown Concord almost two years after it was launched.

Details on event appear in the November issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter. Subscribe today.

Building Artistic Neighborhoods

November 15, 2013

Downtown Digest

An innovative pilot program in Cleveland, OH, is providing affordable artist housing while also building a stronger creative economy for the city.

The Artist in Residence Program is a joint venture between the Northeast Shores Development Corporation and the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture.

Several tools have been developed to attract artists and help them succeed.

A low-interest loan program is offered as well as grants to support community art projects. Rehab houses are available to artists willing to “roll up their sleeves” for as little as $6,500, while fully rehabbed, modernized, energy-efficient homes are available for as little as $75,000.

Additional grants and loans are available for building repairs, maintenance, and upgrades.

“Beyond this, we also offer a range of services to help people get connected in the neighborhood and elsewhere in Cleveland,” says the development corporation. “We help people work through their business start-up ideas, provide fiscal sponsorship services for artists who want to start a neighborhood community initiative, and can get artists in contact with our arts anchors and groups like block clubs and merchant associations.”

Details on the program appear in the November issue of Downtown Idea Exchange. Subscribe today.

Shopping Events Draw Men Downtown

November 1, 2013

Downtown Digest

Offering men the opportunity to attend a fun event while getting some help with holiday shopping and wrapping is a good way to encourage more male customers to venture into downtown shops.

Many individual retailers offer men-only holiday shopping events, and downtown organizations are beginning to see value in this approach, as well.

For example, an “exclusive men’s shopping event” offered at the Sherway Gardens Mall in Toronto, ON, Canada, would be replicable in any downtown. The event included food, drinks, “dude-friendly” movies, personal shopping assistance, complimentary gift wrapping, and courier service.

The Downtown Alexandria Merchants Association in Alexandria, MN, hosts a Girls Night Out during its annual Fall Festival, so during the Hometown Christmas Experience, the organization offers an event just for men. Participating merchants are listed on a wish list that men can share with the women on their shopping lists — and can bring with them to the Men’s Night Out event. In addition to discounts during the event, men have an opportunity to enter wish lists into a drawing for a $250 gift certificate good at downtown businesses.

And in downtown Easton, PA, a trolley shuttles men around to a dozen downtown shops offering Men’s Shopping Night specials, and perks such as free gift-wrapping, beer, and personal shopping assistance. Free parking is available to all downtown customers on Saturdays in December at specially marked meters, as well.

Details on these and many more men’s shopping events appear in the November issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter. Subscribe today.

Quantifying Event Benefits

October 15, 2013

Downtown Digest

An effective, accurate survey can help demonstrate the economic boost brought to city centers during downtown festivals and events. Having those numbers in hand can help event producers defend budgets, attain funding, and quell objections from those who think downtown events are too disruptive.

This month in Downtown Promotion Reporter newsletter, Patrick Tierney, chair of the Recreation, Parks and Tourism department at San Francisco State University, explains how to gather and analyze event data. But first, Tierney considers who will do the heavy lifting.

The hard work of gathering and analyzing economic impact data can be done in-house by the event organizer, by a local college or university, or by a consultant. For those on a tight budget, partnering with a university brings experience and credibility to the process, says Tierney, because, “you have somebody else doing all the work and doing it in a consistent and tested manner. Or you can do it yourself, knowing that your numbers will be viewed suspiciously by political foes or funding organizations, but that the information will still be very helpful for your organization.”

Details on how to gather and analyze event data appear in the October issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter. Subscribe today.

Data Drives Creation of Successful Public Space

October 1, 2013

Downtown Digest

Through an intensive data gathering process, the University City District in Philadelphia, PA, has converted a barren stretch of sidewalk into a successful public plaza. The space was originally devoted to 33 parallel parking spaces, but was converted to a 55-foot by 500-foot sidewalk area during a DOT project.

The District, “quickly humanized the space” with a relatively modest and fully removable set of furnishings, and then enlivened the space with an eclectic range of programs.

These improvements were accompanied by a rigorous study of site usage patterns intended to inform a more capital- intensive, long-term vision for the space. One year after The Porch at 30th Street was unveiled, it was already the site of: 250 places to sit; 20 gourmet food trucks; 1,300 pop-up beer garden patrons; 19 farmers market days; $1,165,000 private dollars raised; and 1,600 rounds of miniature golf.

Details on how the data was collected and used appear in the October issue of Downtown Idea Exchange. Subscribe today.

Defining Your Community’s Brand

September 13, 2013

Downtown Digest

While there are many rewards to be gained from downtown branding, misunderstandings about what branding is, and is not, can make these efforts less effective.

Branding is not simply a matter of a new tag line, logo, or ad campaign; it is about accurately identifying and communicating a promise about the most valuable aspects of your community, and then consistently delivering on that promise.

“Your brand is your anticipated promise of performance,” says Bill Baker, president of Total Destination Marketing, and author of Destination Branding for Small Cities. “It must be grounded in truth and reality. If you don’t live up to it, your community will have a weak and unsustainable brand and it will not generate the ongoing support of either customers or stakeholders.

“Essential to developing a successful brand strategy is following a systematic and collaborative planning process that thoroughly involves prospective customers, reviews competitors, and engages stakeholders.’

In the September issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter Baker reviews this seven step process and shares examples of his branding work for Grants Pass, OR.

Maximizing Downtown Event Space

August 30, 2013

Downtown Digest

In an effort to encourage owners of parking garages to activate their spaces during down times, the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative created a pop-up rooftop performance venue at a downtown parking garage.

“We were hoping owners would see that garages could be put to really good use during the evening hours when it’s not as busy downtown,” says Terry Schwarz, director of the collaborative, noting that top floors of parking garages often have good acoustics, nice views, and, “make pretty nice venues.” Especially since event parking is available on the lower floors of the same building.

The group transformed a barren concrete parking garage into a glittering space featuring inflatable art, balloons, twinkling lights, a fountain pond, an artificial grassy green space, a sound stage for live music, and more.

While the event has not been replicated by Cleveland parking garage owners, an unrelated development in Miami, FL, indicates that the trend could catch on. A $65 million parking garage was designed to provide event space and is the site of weddings, charity events, wine tastings, and more.

Information on other creative uses of vacant downtown spaces appears in the September issue of Downtown Idea Exchange. Subscribe today.

To Attract Tourists, Court Travel Writers

August 15, 2013

Downtown Digest

One of the quickest ways to get the word out about community assets is to attract travel writers.

The August issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter looked at two small communities’ successful media programs and provided tips on how to garner press coverage.

Downtown Digest

For example, every state has one or more writers
associations that can be found via an Internet search. In addition, there are associations focused on particular areas
of interest, including travel writers associations and outdoor writers associations, with members specializing in highlighting
what an area has to offer visitors. State and regional tourism
organizations often maintain lists of writers or writers
associations that may be helpful.

Downtown Digest

Travel writers can also be found in the pages of the publications and websites in which your community would like to be promoted. Many writers include contact information with their articles and blogs, and can be contacted directly.

Professional networking sites like LinkedIn are also a good source for locating writers. And there are websites, such as www.mediakitty.com and www.travelwriters.com that
will post invitations for FAM (familiarization) tours to
their membership.

Downtown Digest

It is also helpful to create a web page devoted to information for writers, including data and graphics relevant to your community that will assist them in researching the area; any incentives offered to visiting writers; and resources for setting
up site visits and interviews.

Details on the joint media program in Parksville and Qualicum Beach, British Columbia appear in the August issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter newsletter.

Bring More Retail Downtown with a Collective

August 1, 2013

Downtown Digest

Bringing more retail downtown may require an unconventional path. In St. Louis, MO, that path saw the downtown organization develop a retail collective.

When a developer purchased a significant amount of property downtown, the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis stepped up to advocate for a larger retail presence.

“We were concerned we would miss an opportunity to establish retail downtown because of the number of non-shopping businesses going in. I decided we had to find a way to at least get some new retail downtown, and do it in a way that addressed a lot of the concerns that retailers have — affordability, ease of operation, and quality co-tenancy,” says Kevin Farrell, senior director of economic and housing development for Downtown St. Louis.

The solution is a hybrid collective/incubator. But, Farrell says, “This is an incubator, not necessarily for startup retailers, but for retailers who want to be downtown.”

The store is operated by a manager and staff, so individual retailers simply provide products. “The idea was to limit risk for the retailers,” says Farrell.

Details on the Collective at Mercantile Exchange appear in the August issue of Downtown Idea Exchange. Subscribe today.

Promoting Downtown With a Comprehensive Plan and Monthly Themes

July 15, 2013

Downtown Digest

When the city of Sebring, FL, completed its marketing plan in 2010, better outreach to locals and people visiting the area was identified as a key component in business retention and attraction.

The strategies include:

  • Developing a theme/brand that promotes downtown as a unique and sociable city, in order to enhance, strengthen, and establish new business opportunities.
  • Generating excitement and fostering a more collaborative working relationship within the downtown business community.
  • Creating monthly, themed campaigns focusing on specific categories of downtown businesses, as well as existing monthly events downtown.

Monthly themes kicked off last fall with the city’s Centennial Celebration in October. Going forward, October’s theme will be Spooktaclular Sebring. In November, customers are invited to Savor the Flavor; and in December, to Shop, Wrap, and Roll.

January has a health and wellness theme; February focuses on Art, Heart, and Soul; March’s theme is The Need for Speed; Celebrating Mother Earth is April’s focus; in May, Mom’s the Word; in June, the Dog Days of Summer are the focus; in July, the theme is Celebrate “4” for the Fourth; in August, it’s Kids Can; and September’s theme is Oh So Local.

Details on how all downtown stakeholders are brought together under these monthly themes appears in the July issue of "Downtown Promotion Reporter."

Effective Public Outreach Essential for Every Plan

July 1, 2013

Downtown Digest

Building consensus from day one can push a plan or project through the local and state approval processes more quickly.

The public outreach done during the creation of the Town Center Plan in Dana Point, CA, has been called a “model of how to do it right.”

The outreach process included formation of a 15-member Town Center Subcommittee comprised of a cross-section of stakeholders. The city hosted numerous public meetings, including four public forums, and joint planning commission and city council public workshops. There was also a year-long series of public meetings hosted by the subcommittee.

Toward the end of the process, two Town Hall meetings in a community gymnasium drew attendees with a creative downtown atmosphere.

The standard information stations were turned into downtown storefronts, which were complemented by “restaurants” featuring seating and soft music. Lots of trees, flowers, and shrubs, loaned by a local nursery, completed the effect.

Details of the Town Center outreach campaign appear in the July issue of Downtown Idea Exchange newsletter. Subscribe today.

Homegrown Event Creates Buzz, Builds Business

June 17, 2013

Downtown Digest

Having a multitude of great dining venues downtown only benefits the city center if people know about them, and visit them. To spotlight the vibrant downtown dining scene in Elgin, IL, the Downtown Neighborhood Association launched an annual Downtown Madness campaign.

Much like the National Collegiate Athletic Association's March Madness basketball tournament, Downtown Madness is structured to tap into the competitive spirit of diners loyal to specific downtown eateries.

The Downtown Madness brackets are filled with restaurants, rather than basketball teams, with the competition focused on a particular food or beverage for which each establishment is best known.

To keep the tension high, voting updates were posted daily on all of the organization's social media platforms and in its blog.

Details of the Downtown Madness campaign appear in the June issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter. Subscribe today.

Communities grow DIY grocery stores

June 4, 2013

Downtown Digest

When downtown residents are asked what they most want to see added to the business mix, a grocery store often tops the list. Post-recession economics may reduce the likelihood of chain grocers opening in downtown locations, but have instead spurred a new crop of grocery store co-ops.

The June issue of Downtown Idea Exchange looks at two communities that approached the development of a food co-op from very different directions.

Typically, a co-op first gets organized and builds membership, eventually forming a board, locating a space, and hiring a manager, but for New Haven’s Elm City Market in downtown New Haven, CT, things were done in reverse.

When plans for a chain grocer to occupy the first floor of a new mixed-use tower under development fell through, the developer rallied residents to create their own grocery store.

With space already available, the developer committed to funding half of the $7 million price tag for the new store. And he approached institutional lenders and secured another $1.3 million — but only if the market could attract at least 300 members to prove the viability of the idea.

When the concept was introduced at a public meeting attended by over 200 residents, a manger for the grocery co-op had already been hired, floor plans designed, and an online membership site created. The membership drive was also successful. The market has about 1,850 members, and employs more than 100 people.

Details on the Elm City Market and the Hudson Grocery Cooperative appear in the June issue of Downtown Idea Exchange. Subscribe today.

Guerilla placemaking highlights downtown character

May 15, 2013

Downtown Digest

Guerilla placemaking initiatives are often low-cost, yet create a high-impact and unexpected vibrancy downtown with minimal municipal input.

One example featured in the May issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter newsletter is the Eye Love You project, which, “connects people with people, and people with places.”

The movement began in New Zealand, but has gone global. The premise of the project is this: it’s kind to make people smile; people and places come alive when we love them; and you are loved and you can love anyone or anything.

Participants show their love by first using their own eyes to look at places in a new way, and then giving various inanimate objects a personality by pasting eyes on them. Photos are then shared on the website and via the project’s Flikr account.

The May issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter includes a half-dozen more guerilla placemaking activities. Subscribe today.

Dedicated recruitment staff draws businesses

May 1, 2013

Downtown Digest

Attracting retail to the city center is easier with staff dedicated to that mission. In York, PA, a creative funding solution has allowed Downtown Inc. to hire a recruitment specialist, and retailers are moving downtown.

“We are a 28-year-old Main Street organization and BID so we are sort of a hybrid, which affords us a sustainable income,” says Sonia Huntzinger, executive director.

“But one key component that was missing was somebody actively out recruiting new businesses, to tell the story of revitalization efforts downtown. We went to our city, our philanthropic organizations, our countywide economic development council, and the convention and visitors bureau and partnered to pull together a salary for three years.

After 22 months on the job, the downtown’s business development liaison has made over 300 recruiting visits, developed recruitment materials, helped new businesses locate space, and fast-tracked them through the permitting process.

Additional information on this successful retail recruitment program appears in the May issue of Downtown Idea Exchange. Subscribe today.

Pet-friendly downtowns activate streets, support businesses

April 15, 2013

Downtown Digest

As more people embrace the urban lifestyle, pets are moving to city centers with their owners. That trend has increased the demand for downtown dog parks, which in turn, attract more pet-loving residents and visitors, creating a cycle of revitalization that benefits people, pooches, and businesses. Increasingly, communities are realizing that being people- friendly means being pet friendly, too.

Knoxville, TN, has committed to making the city the “Most Pet Friendly Community” in the nation.

Activities include opening new dog parks, encouraging downtown restaurants to allow dogs in their outdoor dining areas, and partnering with www.petfriendliestcommunity.com, to connect pet owners to pet-friendly events, activities, and businesses.

Among its many initiatives, the city also hosts a series of dog-centric events that raise funds for local shelters and give pet owners a chance to socialize with their four-legged friends and with each other.

The Mardi Growl each March includes a costumed parade for dogs with prizes for categories including Best Costume, Best Naked Dog, Dog/Owner Look Alike, and Most Congenial. The registration fee is $20. Low-cost rabies vaccinations and microchips are also available, and vendors are on hand to display pet-related products.

The Bark in the Park event each June includes live music, food for two-legged and four-legged guests, pet product vendors, games, and contests. Registration for the Memorial Walk during the event costs $20 in advance; $25 that day, and includes swag for the pet and its person as well as a one-year membership to the local chapter of the Humane Society.

Other offerings include Doggie Date Night, and Yappy Hour events.

Additional information on dog-centered events appears in the April issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter. Subscribe today.

Stimulating Downtown Housing

April 1, 2013

Downtown Digest

Knowing the market potential, offering incentives, creating appropriate zoning, and facilitating connections between the city, developers, and potential residents all play a role in creating more housing in downtown Ithaca, NY.

“There are three major things we’ve done to stimulate development of residential,” says Gary Ferguson, executive director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance.

“We’ve worked hard to put together an incentive program, a tax abatement program with a downtown focus, which can provide stepped abatement for mixed-use and residential projects,” Ferguson says.

Second, the alliance is working with the city on a downtown rezoning package designed to create more opportunities for vertical density by changing building height restrictions, and that will extend the commercial business district borders, allowing for larger downtown development projects.

And third, the Alliance does housing studies on a regular basis, says Ferguson. “We contract with folks to come into our community to do market demand and absorption studies for our downtown market so that we can squarely, accurately, and earnestly sit down with a downtown developer or investor and say where the market presents opportunities. Over the years, that has opened the eyes of a great many people to our downtown opportunities.”

Full details on Ithaca’s targeted effort to attract retail appear in the the April issue of Downtown Idea Exchange. Subscribe today.

Online and On-The-Street Events Promote Downtown Fashion

March 15, 2013

Downtown Digest

A week-long celebration of fashion in Philadelphia, PA, is promoted with Random Acts of Fashion, which take place on city streets and on social-media platforms. The creative promotions includes:

  • Ambush makeovers for four individuals in the weeks leading up to fashion week. The makeover winners are “revealed” on the local morning talk show.
  • Remote Red Carpet, which features a series of pop-up red carpet backdrops where the public can pose and have their photographs taken. Those photographed may then visit the event’s Facebook page to tag themselves and their friends.
  • Own It contest, during which retailers tag hot items throughout the store with “Own It” signage. Hints about locations of Own It items are posted on the event’s social media platforms. Shoppers who locate and photograph the tagged items, and then post photos on the event’s Facebook page or Twitter account are entered for a chance to win the item in their photograph.

Full details on the week-long event and how it is marketed appear in the March issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter. Subscribe today.

Co-work Spaces Support Start-Ups

March 4, 2013

Downtown Digest By securing the right space and offering a creative mix of programs, events, and office amenities, the Alliance for Downtown New York shows the way to draw entrepreneurs downtown.

Co-working spaces, which provide access to office equipment, support, and networking opportunities, were a relatively new concept in the city when the Hive at 55 opened.

Two of the many important start-up lessons shared in the March issue of Downtown Idea Exchange are:

1. Gather input from potential tenants early in the process. As part of its market research, the Downtown Alliance hosted a jelly, a small, informal co-working meeting. The event had a good turnout and indicated a demand for expanded co-working opportunities.

2. Find the right space. “It’s important to have a landlord who is on board and understands the concept, and that there may be people working all night, visitors constantly coming and going, and a lot of events,” says Daria Siegel, director of the Hive at 55. “A constant influx of people doesn’t work in every building,’ she says.

Additional information on Hive at 55 appears in the March issue of Downtown Idea Exchange. Subscribe today.

Highlighting Downtown’s Heritage Draws Visitors

February 15, 2013

Downtown Digest In an effort to highlight downtown heritage, add visual interest, educate people about the community’s history, and draw visitors downtown, Chillicothe, MO, embarked on a mural program

“Work on the murals started in the mid-1990s,” says Crystal Narr, director of Main Street Chillicothe. There are currently 17 murals and two “ghost signs,” which are business signs from the past re-created on selected buildings.

Each building with a mural also features a plaque explaining the history of the building and why it is significant, as well as the names of any benefactors. A colorful map that includes information about the artist, as well as photographs of each mural and information about each site is available to guide visitors through the downtown.

“The murals are one of our greatest assets downtown because they are lit and visible 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Narr says.

Additional information on how Chillicothe and Excelsior Springs, MO, are highlighting their downtown’s heritage and drawing visitors appears in the February issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter. Subscribe today.

Creating Practical Low-Maintenance Public Art

February 1, 2013

Downtown Digest When the Pasadena Playhouse District Association decided to embrace public art, the resulting utility box covers and crosswalk paintings were created with an eye toward aesthetics and practicality. It’s an approach that can work in any community.

The utility box covers are done with vinyl wraps so that, “if graffiti or something else happens and we want to freshen up the art, all we have to do is replace the vinyl instead of hiring the artist to come back to put paint to the utility box,” says Erlinda Romo, executive director of the association.

And the crosswalk art project “Moonwalk” is done with stencils, so that when paint needs to be refreshed, a road painting crew can do the job.

“A year later we’ve only had to replace one panel of the utility wraps, and it worked out as anticipated — much cheaper to replace one than to do everything over,” says Romo. “And we’ve also refreshed the paint on crosswalks by hiring the same kind of company that paints the traffic demarcation lines. You don’t want to install something that has significant maintenance issues that would be very costly to either repair or replace.”

Additional information on how Pasadena is bringing art into the public realm appears in the February issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter. Subscribe today.

Challenges and Opportunities for 2013

January 15, 2013

Downtown Digest Each year in the January issue of Downtown Idea Exchange, editor Sheila Grant speaks with a wide range of experts to learn what the New Year holds for downtowns.

This year, the experts are anticipating the availability of new project funding sources, an emphasis on programs that support healthy living and sustainability, an increase in residential demand, and a continued need for enhanced internet access downtown.

You may read the full Downtown Idea Exchange annual Looking Ahead report online at: http://www.DowntownDevelopment.com/

Bringing Busy Women Downtown

January 3, 2013

Downtown Digest Creating events that will appeal to women, and hosting them at times when women are most likely to attend, is a great way to highlight downtown’s assets to a demographic that might otherwise never explore the city center.

In San Jose, CA, a new “HER city” after-work social series launched in August is successfully attracting about 75 participants to each event

Each HER city event couples a lesser-known venue with food, fun, goodie bags, and more.

In October HER city had a Broadway theme, and included cocktails and appetizers at a historic downtown hotel with entertainment by a female blues singer, followed by pedi- cab rides to the Center for the Performing Arts, where participants had premier seating, followed by a backstage tour and the opportunity to chat with one of the female leads in the show as well as female production staff.

Details on the “HER city” program appear in the January issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter. Subscribe today.

Art As an Economic Development Tool

December 4, 2012

Downtown Digest The Office of Arts, Culture and Tourism in New Haven, CT, is using art to fill downtown vacancies and revitalize neighborhoods while also transforming would-be entrepreneurs from hobbyists to small business owners.

The department looked at models of how art addresses the issues of vacancy and revitalization in other cities, and found pop-ups interesting, but wanted a more permanent solution, says Vivian Nabeta, director of Arts, Culture and Tourism for the city.

The result is Project Storefronts, a program that provides artists with the skills to build a business around their art, and matches them with affordable temporary workspace downtown.

But it’s not enough to get the public through the doors of new small businesses, Nabeta says. The public needs to be engaged. To this end, each entrepreneur hosts events specific to his or her skill, whether that be lessons on wreath making, or organizing a children’s activity.

“We’ve had four locations already, three of which we were kicked out of,” Nabeta says. All three, once activated with entrepreneurial businesses, got noticed by new tenants outside of Project Storefronts.

Additional information on Project Storefronts appears in the December issue of Downtown Promotion Reporter. Subscribe today.

Meeting the Need for Public Restrooms Downtown

November 15, 2012

Downtown Digest A lack, or even perceived lack, of public restrooms downtown can lead to visitor dissatisfaction, as well as the more unsightly problem of public urination.

Communities are finding that the expense of adding public restrooms is worthwhile because it keeps downtown cleaner, and provides visitors with a more comfortable experience, which in turn encourages them to remain downtown longer.

Some cities are financing new construction, while others are finding innovative ways to meet the need while keeping expenses to a minimum. For example, in Traverse City, MI, the Downtown Development Authority is partnering with businesses on Main Street, which have agreed to be designated as having public restrooms.

Additional information on downtown restrooms appears in the November issue of Downtown Idea Exchange. Subscribe today.


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