Downtown residents as consumers

10/09/17

The addition of new residents into downtown is a boon to both landlords and commercial tenants, creating a new (or enhanced) source of revenue for landlords with vacant upper floors or dated apartments, and a reliable stream of accessible customers for retailers and restaurants. Since residents within walking distance of a business have been found to frequent local shops twice as often as driving-distance customers, and with the average downtown household in Wisconsin making $9,000 worth of discretionary purchases within the state, the addition of only a few units can result in a dramatic increase in local spending.

The case for residential development downtown

10/02/17

Downtowns are the original live/work neighborhood. Traditionally, small business owners lived above their shop, which was a convenient and cost-effective way to sustain a household. Especially profitable business owners might live elsewhere, instead allowing employees to live above the business, which was both a good business practice (increasing employee availability) and an employee perk. Over time, social norms, development patterns and zoning standards in all but the largest cities made it less common, resulting in many upper floors being relegated to storage uses. The combination of shifting demographics, increasing demand for low-maintenance residential options within walking distance of amenities, and preference for unique architecture and authentic experiences has led to a resurgence in demand for downtown living space

Downtowns are the original live/work neighborhood. Traditionally, small business owners lived above their shop, which was a convenient and cost-effective way to sustain a household. Especially profitable business owners might live elsewhere, instead allowing employees to live above the business, which was both a good business practice (increasing employee availability) and an employee perk. Over time, social norms, development patterns and zoning standards in all but the largest cities made it less common, resulting in many upper floors being relegated to storage uses. The combination of shifting demographics, increasing demand for low-maintenance residential options within walking distance of amenities, and preference for unique architecture and authentic experiences has led to a resurgence in demand for downtown living space

In many communities demolition of nearby buildings or creation of new parking lots, have exposed previously hidden facades, yet these spaces lack any aesthetic appeal to welcome customers. Unlike the front façade, visual improvements in ancillary spaces can achieve a dramatic impact at little cost.

Not all alley renovations involve costly makeovers. There are many examples where the programming of the spaces made them destinations, rather than physical improvements. For instance, Buckham Alley in Flint, Michigan. Back in 2011, in an effort to attract pedestrian traffic to the businesses located alongside this downtown alley, local residents organized a one-day music festival called the Buckham Alley Fest. In that first year, they had nine bands, fifty vendors, and nearly 1,500 attendees.

In nearly every historic commercial district, there are two sides: the “public face”, which includes the storefront, the streetscape, and most of the activity; and the “behind-the-scenes area”, which includes the back alleys, utilities, and delivery zones. But more and more, these behind the-scenes spaces are being transformed into vibrant, active, public spaces, often for very little cost. And the great thing is, the “unfinished” or “gritty” appearance of these areas actually creates a perfect backdrop for the types of activities often held within them.