Key Steps For Improving and Redeveloping Downtown Areas

Downtown areas are the social and financial center of many communities. Some municipalities are looking to revitalize and kick-start development in struggling downtown districts, while others are looking to grow and expand upon quality development that has occurred organically over time. Regardless of the issues, a key to a healthy downtown is continually generating fresh ideas and solutions that are tailored to an individual community’s changing needs.

To fully develop ideas and solutions, there needs to be an evaluation of what is currently working and not working downtown: an existing conditions overview. This includes honest observations that point out how a downtown environment could be even better.

An intensive assessment by a team of downtown professionals typically includes a walking tour of downtown, informal meetings with merchants, residents, staff and officials, review of previous planning documents, and independent analyses and evaluations by an experienced downtown team.

Some of the questions a downtown team will typically ask include the following:

Signage: How are businesses communicating to the public? What do the signs say about the downtown environment?

Street Lighting: Is the downtown well-lit, safe and appealing?

Window Displays: What are shoppers’ first impressions of downtown businesses?

Connectivity: How are neighborhoods connected to downtown?

Downtown Sidewalks: What is the quality of sidewalks? How are the downtown sidewalks functioning?

Streetscape Continuity: How does the streetscape enhance or deter pedestrian movement along downtown streets?

Maintenance of the Public Realm: How well-maintained are public spaces? What private spaces function as public spaces?

Recently, the NEXTSTEPS for Downtown team, which provides expert planning, parking, and traffic services to downtown areas, prepared a downtown evaluation for the Village of Holly, Michigan. The Village of Holly is located in northern Oakland County, Michigan and includes a historic downtown district.

Downtown Holly was developed at a pedestrian-oriented scale that is easily walkable. Recent improvements to the streetscape are attractive and barrier-free.

Battle Alley, a narrow historic street flanked by local shops and the historic Holly Hotel, has a scale and charm that is immediately felt by the pedestrian. Other downtown streets vary in terms of streetscape amenities, street trees, building walls, and the like.

Many storefronts have attractive display windows, interesting merchandise visible, and amenities for shoppers such as wide awnings and recessed doorways. These adjacent private elements augment the public streetscape and are part of what makes the pedestrian experience in downtown Holly unique.

After a site visit, interviews (with staff, merchants, customers, and developers), and review of previous planning documents, the NEXTSTEPS team prepared a user-friendly downtown toolkit. This toolkit included:

• Assessment of the business district by experienced downtown professionals,
• Illustrative report describing what is working and what is not working downtown,
• Series of short-term and long-term action strategies (Next Steps) to enhance & strengthen downtown,
• Best practices report (what’s working elsewhere in downtowns across the country),
• Implementation worksheets (to prioritize and assign tasks that strengthen and grow downtown), and
• An interactive disk containing electronic versions of all the above documents.

The entire NEXTSTEPS for Downtown process is designed to be completed within 30 days of the site visit. It’s an intensive effort that is designed to generate fresh ideas and solutions quickly. Many ideas can be implemented right away at little cost, and others are often more significant in scale and cost. The implementation worksheets provide the tools necessary for the downtown leaders to accept, reject or modify recommendations, prioritize them, and then make assignments to appropriate persons, boards or organizations.

More information can be found at http://www.nextstepsfordowntown.com.

A Quick Guide to Downtown Los Angeles

Many people pick their vacation spots based on their ability to experience something different. After all, what’s the point of going if you’re just going to see the same old things you see every day? If this need for variety describes you, if you’re one of the people who want new experiences, a vacation in Los Angeles will suit you just fine.

Los Angeles is a very large, cosmopolitan American city. It’s a great place to visit because it offers its tourists an incredibly wide array of things to see and do. One of the city’s highlights for people who crave something different is its delightful melange of diverse ethnic groups and cultures. Although their influences can be seen throughout Los Angeles, several of these different cultures are centered or showcased in or around the Downtown district. But even if the multicultural nature of Los Angeles doesn’t really appeal, plenty of other Downtown attractions are available, and some of them will most certainly draw your attention. Downtown Los Angeles, offering something different in every direction, is definitely worth a visit.

No matter where your hotel is located, Downtown Los Angeles is easy to get to. It’s the central hub for transportation throughout the city, and freeways, commuter trains, subways, light rail and buses can all take you there. Downtown isn’t all that large, so whether you drive or take public transportation, once you get there you can take a DASH shuttle or set out on foot for your ultimate destination.

Historic Olvera Street, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Grand Central Market, the Disney Concert Hall, the Japanese-American National Museum, several different ethnic enclaves and stunning American and international architecture are just a few of Downtown’s tourist highlights. Olvera Street is in the oldest part of Los Angeles and it forms part of the Downtown area’s El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument. it’s the perfect place to start if you’re looking for Southern California history or the quaintness of an old-style Mexican marketplace. A living museum lined with 27 historic buildings, Olvera Street also hosts a variety of ethnic celebrations that include Mexican-style music and dancing.

A cultural experience of another type, the permanent collections and exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) provide a remarkably varied glimpse into post-1940 art in all media. It’s an invaluable cultural resource that Downtown is rightfully proud of. Walk through it and you’ll soon see why.

Grand Central Market is located on Broadway in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles, within easy walking distance of several other area attractions. Full of brisk and bustling activity, it offers opportunities for people-watching in addition to fresh and already-prepared local and international foods. It’s a great place to take a break from the concrete jungle, and while you’re at it, have a cooling drink or a tasty bite to eat.

The Disney Concert Hall is a striking piece of functional architecture designed by Frank Gehry, an architect acclaimed for his talents throughout the world. The home of the equally-renowned Los Angeles Philharmonic, Disney’s acoustics appropriately are among the best in the world. Beautiful music, beautiful building. Need we say more?

Chronicling 130 years of Japanese-American history and culture, the Japanese-American National Museum provides a fascinating look into the interplay of Asian and American cultures. Its collections include a variety of paintings by Japanese-American artists, but the museum’s perspective on the World War II internment camps is particularly poignant.

Three ethnic districts are located in Downtown Los Angeles: a Mexican enclave, including the already-mentioned Olvera Street; Little Tokyo, home of the Japanese-American National Museum as well as a variety of Japanese shops and restaurants; and Chinatown, primarily centered around North Broadway. Little Tokyo, located near the Los Angeles Civic Center, is one of only three “official” Japantowns in the United States. The cultural focal point for Japanese-Americans in Southern California, this almost unique district is well worth a visit.

Many American cities have Chinatowns, but the Chinese community in Los Angeles, with its wide, busy main street, is somewhat different than the usual warren of narrow streets and lanes found in many cities. Yes, this Chinatown features the typical small shops and Chinese restaurants, but it is most interesting for its open-air marketplace where just about everything for sale is open to haggling.

Variety is the rule of thumb with Downtown Los Angeles dining opportunities, too. Restaurants in every price range, from hot dog stands to fine dining, offer cuisine as varied as the city itself. From early breakfasts to get you started through tasty late night snacks to nosh on, if you’re hungry one of Downtown’s cafés, pubs or restaurants can help you. Downtown also offers taverns, lounges and bars galore, and you may want to take advantage, because many of them offer some pretty fine live entertainment. And if you need a place to stay, Downtown hotels range from the hip and trendy to those offering more than a touch of classic elegance. They cater primarily to business travelers, but vacationers can also take advantage of their prime locations in the city center.

Downtown, much like the entire city, has a number of faces. If you’re looking for something different, downtown Los Angeles has it. There’s enough variety to satisfy even the most demanding traveler.

The Downtown Long Beach Business Scene

Downtown Long Beach has a vibrant business scene and has a friendly environment for aspiring entrepreneurs who wish to move there. Some of the top employers in the city include California State University, Boeing, United States Postal Service and Verizon.

Downtown Long Beach’s business scene is also made up of many healthcare professionals and retail owners, and the city has recently made efforts to develop a sustainable green economy with eco-friendly policies and advanced technology. For example, the Chamber of Commerce has a green council that promotes sustainable business methods and last year the city assigned certain neighborhoods in the downtown area bike-friendly zones. Businesses in these zones will give discounts to cyclists who visit those areas.

According to the Long Beach Business Journal, the economy downtown is expected to improve this year but will be a slow process. This is because of the state’s ongoing fiscal troubles that caused a decrease in important business projects throughout the state’s cities.

Another reason for the area’s slow economic recovery this year is because of a decline in trading partners with the state in recent years. In addition, Boeing laid off hundreds of its workers in the city last year. But overall, the town still has a good business scene despite these problems.

Because progressive attitudes always increase a city’s business reputation, it’s important to note that according to the LGBT-oriented magazine The Advocate, Long Beach was ranked #14 among the most gay-friendly cities in America. This is good news because the area has a strong gay community and this enables LGBT persons who want develop businesses to feel welcomed and comfortable while setting up shop.

Downtown Long Beach’s business scene is also made up of green jobs and examples of these include eco-friendly home furnishings manufacturers, solar panel and wind turbine manufacturers, natural health food businesses, online writing jobs, recycling companies, community gardens, fuel companies and nonprofit jobs which promote sustainable living in the city.

This California coastal city also has an Enterprise Zone Hiring Tax Program that offers tax credits to business owners in this city. According to the city’s website, businesses in Long Beach can save $37,000 in business taxes if they take advantage of this tax credit program and hire more workers each year. The tax credit also reduces businesses’ labor costs.

The one thing that’s missing from the growth of the downtown business climate is minority-owned businesses. While some minority-owned businesses currently exist in this area, there is more room for aspiring minority entrepreneurs to set up shop in downtown Long Beach. One good business idea for minorities is to open a Farmer’s market or a clothing store which includes primarily clothing that’s made from eco-friendly materials. There are also hundreds of other ideas the can help the revitalization of the downtown area.