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.

How To Promote Your Local Downtown Business

If you own a small store or cafe in a busy downtown and want to increase the amount of local traffic that stops through your doors you should consider investing in something that will catch pedestrian’s eyes. The truth is that most local businesses survive by counting on regular customers who pass through the area and make regular stops into the stores. Therefore, you want to make sure you catch the eyes of those who regularly pass through the area because they are the most reliable customer base for you to build your reputation from.

One way to do this is by considering purchasing custom window stickers that you know they will be able to see from the road or sidewalk as they pass by. Given the fact that the aim is to make them take a second look at your store, by offering something in the window that they cannot help but take a second look at you will have caught their attention long enough to make them consider either stepping into your store, or returning at a later date to do so.

Even if the customer does not actually step through your doors the important thing is that you got them to consider the idea, because once they start thinking about making a stop into your store it is only a matter of time before they do so. This is why custom stickers that are eye catching and unforgettable are often the best method to attract new business into a store. It may seem too simple to be effective, but millions of small business owners have been using this tried and true promise for years and have experienced great success as a result.

You may want to think about choosing stickers that offer glimpses of what your business has to offer them by stepping through the doors. For instance, if you have a website that they can check out to see what you have that may intrigue them to actually make a stop into your doors you may want to consider creating a graphic that makes your website easy to read so that they can find it when they return home. After sifting through your website they may find themselves enticed enough to make some time to browse through your store next time they are downtown.

On the other hand, you may want to choose graphic images that will quickly catch their eyes and alert their senses making it almost a compulsion to want to stop in your doors. For instance, if you own a caf you may want to place pictures and small graphics of what you have to offer on your window such as deserts, breakfast dishes, or cups of hot coffee in order to create a craving that will draw them into your doors. In the end, whatever you choose to go with should represent your business enough that they will find themselves unable to resist from checking out your business.

Downtown LA – That’s Where the People Are

“Downtown has sharpened its focus as the regions’ employment, transportation, and culture arts hub,” “…its no longer a 9 to 5 area but rather a 24-hour place, setting the standard for the Los Angeles region in terms of all its growth, vibrancy and offerings.” All of this is according to a new demographic study commissioned by the Downtown Center Business Improvement District.

No longer an afterthought, low rent district or drop off for unfortunate souls with no place to go, Downtown has found its voice, literally and figuratively with 40,000 permanent residents who call the city center home. Add to that 10 million annual visitors and a 500,000-weekday population and we all start to see how LA is finally embracing its core.

Contrasting demographics with a 2006 study completed after many new housing options were completed, but well before the community began to gel, the study helps to clarify who lives downtown, what they want, and how they tend to live.

What do “Downtowners” look like?

First of all they are predominately renters (60%), a trend that is likely to continue for a short while, with the collapse of the real estate lending market and many condo buildings converting back to apartments. They’re smart! 78% of the population has completed four or more years of college; and they make a lot of money with an overall median income of $96,200.

53% of the residents are male and 64.3% of them are between the ages of 23 and 44, prime earning and spending ages. Compared to 2006 fewer are college students, as 70% hold down full time jobs. The population is also becoming more diverse. Still predominately Caucasian (53.8%), more Hispanics and African Americans are discovering downtown at what seems to be the expense of the long time Asian populations found in Little Tokyo and Chinatown.

How do they get around?

Fewer by Car! Two-thirds of our city dwellers get to where they’re going by public transportation, bicycles or get this, walking… This tells me two things really. First, businesses located downtown are benefiting from the new housing options provided by the city center (63.5% in 2008 v. 55.1% in 2006 live and work downtown). Whichever the reason, young educated workers are ready willing and able to tackle the urban environment. Second, an important note for the rest of Los Angeles, young people in LA are willing to break the auto driven ideology that has become so much a part of the Southern California culture. Essentially the hub of the ever-expanding transit system, Downtown has declared loudly that they are out of their cars and ready to explore the city by foot.

What do they do?

They watch a lot of TV and do a lot of computing. However compared to the 2006 survey more downtown residents do what they do near home. Going out for a drink and dining out were reportedly done far more often at the local watering holes and restaurants.

Many also have pets. 40% of Downtowners spend time with a furry friend. Whether a cat, dog, parakeet or ferret downtown residents seem to get the benefits of sharing time with a non-human best friend.

What do they want?

They want upscale grocery choices. In particular Whole Food and Trader Joe’s if you’re listening – here’s your cue. Over 89% were hoping for the Southern California based specialty retailer, while 68% hope to wake up one day and find the natural and organic grocery hawking fruit. They like going to movies and feel in desperate need for a new cineplex to fill the need. What a terrific opportunity for the LA Conservancy and their followers to encourage bringing Broadway back.

They also want more discount department stores like Target, specialty stores like Barnes & Nobles and to accommodate all the emailing and TV watching a Best Buy wouldn’t hurt. I also note when reading the study, it seems that Downtown LA is a Mac! Sorry PC…

Observations…

For a long while, LA’s elite have believed that the fate of this city was inextricably tied to the fate of its downtown. The reasons for this conclusion differed depending upon whom you asked. Politicians pointed to the importance of a thriving center as a symbol of our progress and prowess. Supporters of the arts suggested that every great city must compete culturally with the other great cities of the world. Homeless advocates and preservation pointed to downtown as the last safe haven for a forgotten few or the inextricable link to our city’s past. Finally, the developers all with different plans and target markets, pointed to a vibrant commercial core and housing market, proof that LA’s economy functions properly.

Ultimately however a city’s people determines its character and influence. Los Angeles has long been a city of eccentricities, creative minds and visionary dreams. Often locked in a cycle of constant flux and new invention LA is less about its lost past and more about its unlimited potential. This ideal has always been at the city’s core, and our core will always be Downtown LA.