Downtown Findlay – Program Coordinator
Downtown Findlay (OH) is embarking on the Main Street program and is seeking a full time program coordinator to lead the effort. The on-site staff person is charged with developing, organizing, implementing and documenting the Main Street approach through the Alliance and its divisions (Economic Development, Chamber of commerce, Convention & Visitors Bureau) http://www.findlayhancockalliance.com/DowntownFindlay/downtown.aspx . He/she will be responsible for managing relations with and focusing the work of business owners, property owners, committee members, volunteers to accomplish the goals and objectives of the annual work plan. Those interested should submit their interest and resume to info@FindlayHancockAlliance.com on or before Monday, April 15. The position is full time and includes benefits.
Last week I spent an afternoon with the City of Painesville Economic Development Director and the Downtown Painesville Organization Executive Director. We were out meeting with business owners to discuss the upcoming streetscape construction project scheduled for this summer.
I learned a great deal regarding streetscape projects and what it takes to prepare for a project. It seems the main theme of the day was communication. The Painesville representatives have already done a great job of communicating the details of the project with the business owners. Projects like this are enormous undertakings and have so many moving parts that they can be hard to keep under control. While city leaders and downtown folks are typically very excited about these projects, they can be very daunting for business owners and it is imperative that they are kept in the loop. In Painesville, the business owners were contacted early regarding the project and given some rough ideas what to expect. When plans were complete, business owners were visited and construction plans were reviewed in person. This gave the business owners a chance to understand the process and how it would impact them, it also gave the city and downtown representative a chance to hear property owners concerns and address any questions. This also gives the project leaders ample time to make adjustments to suit the business owners and address concerns.
Business owners were informed when the construction would take place and how it would impact them. These impacts included reduced parking, reduced store visibility, increased noise and dust and reduced customer access. By better understand when and what was taking place, business owners are better able to prepare. Preparation most often included communication with customers to make them aware of the impending construction and let them know the store would be open, or in some instances have them enter the store from the rear. Some business owners were also making plans for temporary signage, changes in lighting or valet parking.
We also discussed the importance of finding the right contractor for the project. There are plenty of horror stories from other towns where a contractor was not sensitive to the needs of business owners and communicated poorly. In one of the worst cases, this situation lead to business owners suing the city over lost revenue during construction. Finding a contractor that has experience with streetscape construction is a must. This contractor must be willing to do the project in phases and try to keep the impact on business owners to a minimum. The contractor must also be willing to communicate on nearly a daily basis to keep everyone informed on the progress of the project.
Streetscape projects can and should be a tremendous benefit for a downtown or commercial business district, but if mismanaged, can be a potential debacle. I was very appreciative of the time I spent with Jen Reed and Cathy Bieterman of Painesville. I learned a great deal about what it takes to prepare for a streetscape project and feel confident that Painesville’s project will run smoothly. As always with Main Street Communities, advice and suggestions were shared from communities that have already been through the process and Painesville will share their experience with cities going through the process down the road.
Every month, ever year, since 1998, we have required the Ohio Main Street Communities to submit monthly reinvestment statistics. We do this because we stand behind the Ohio Main Street Program and we know the numbers will justify the effort. We also do it, so when we seek new legislation from our state legislators, we can prove the impact of downtown revitalization. The Ohio Main Street Communities use these figures to garner local support and for their own advocacy efforts.
In 2012, 26 Ohio Main Street Communities reported their reinvestment statistics. There were 104 facade improvements undertaken, totaling over $5 million. Eighty buildings were rehabilitated at the cost of amost $15.5 million. Over $40 million was invested in new construction in these districts and 44 pubic improvement projects added another $2.8 million to the totals. Two hundred and eight new business opened adding an additional 536 full-time employees and 600 part-time employees. Amazingly 84,536 vollunteer hours were logged in these 26 communities. The total investment was over $63 million. Considering the average Main Street budget of around $130,000, for every $1 invested in a Main Street Program, there was $18 reinvested in the district.
When we compile the numbers from 1998 to 2012, they tell a pretty amazing story of the impact of the Main Street Program. Ohio Main Street Communities have added over 1000 net new businesses. Those businesses have created over 4,000 net new full-time jobs and over 3,000 net new part-time jobs. A stunning total of $821,738,306 has been invested in these districts. More than 660,000 volunteer hours have been donated to these organizations which is valued at $12,454,200. Other economic development programs would be hard pressed to boast such numbers as 1 new full time job for every $8,500 invested. The average investment per community is almost $2.5 million and that for every $1 invested in the local budget, $23 is reinvested in the district.
These statistics are a testament to the power of the Ohio Main Street Program. When considering we have experienced two recessions in the last fifteen years and the last five have been historically bad, we can unequivocally say, downtown revitalization is an investment every community should make.
I am fortunate to work in a field that allows me to spend a great deal of my time visiting commercial business districts and meeting with the individuals who strive to preserve and revitalize those districts. They spend countless hours marketing the district through social media and elaborate and laborious events. Money is spent on marketing and district maps to try and attract more people to visit. Committees create business and building inventories to develop a greater understanding of what the district contains. Fundraisers and membership campaigns carry on in support all of these activities. I continue to be amazed at the amount of work being accomplished in these communities where revitalization has been made a top priority and the difference that is being made by a group of committed individuals.
Yet in district after district, the upper floors remain an enigma, a vestige of a quaint era when people used to travel vertically by stairs. First floor space is a priority in downtown as everyone wants to have retail shops to attract visitors and avoid appearing to have a vacancy problem. Upper floors are used for storage, pigeon habitats or district kindling. People seemed surprise when a fire occurs, yet it shouldn’t be a total surprise considering the amount of square footage in a tightly packed district full of flammable materials that goes unchecked for years. The inevitable result of any building that is not maintained is fire or structure failure, it is not a matter of if, but when.
These upper floors are far from a liability though. They are opportunity disguised as storage. Earning income from 1/2 or 1/3 of an asset makes as much sense as buying a car and removing the back seats and trunk. The cost of maintenance remains the same, but the utility is reduced dramatically. While I understand that there will be more debt, utility costs and property management fees associated with occupying the upper floors, it is still proportional and makes for a sound investment. Upper floor housing is actually a much better investment then first floor commercial when you look at typical vacancy rates. First floor commercial space is harder to fill than upper floor housing, which in turn costs the property owner more money in lost rent, turnover costs and marketing fees. A typical property owner must maintain the building systems and exterior with income from one floor instead of spreading the cost over multiple tenants. While any investment is a risk, I believe property owners would find upper floor housing to be a safe bet and may find that their municipality has a plethora of tools and or incentives available to assist with the process.
The benefits of upper floor housing are tremendous and revitalization organizations would do well to make this a priority when it comes time to strategic planning. Upper floor residents generate considerably more income for property owners, providing them with the resources to maintain and improve their buildings. Downtown residents spend five times more in the district then downtown workers. This is a huge benefit to all of the restaurants and retailers located within the district. Residents also give the district a vibrant and welcoming feel by creating a neighborhood ,where before there was just a shopping district or an office park.
The key to sustainable districts is multiple uses, as each use relies on the other use to survive. How many entertainment districts have dried up in previous years? Are office parks and suburbs going to attract the next generation of workers and residents? Mixed use districts have been around since the advent of cities and we would be wise to make sure our downtowns continue to offer every use.
Executive Director Downtown Fremont Inc. – posted 12/17/2012
FREMONT – The Board of Trustees of Downtown Fremont, Inc. is searching for a new Executive Director. Resumes will be accepted until January 4, 2013 or until the position is filled. The position description, list of qualifications and information on how to submit a resume can be found on Downtown Fremont’s website at www.downtownfremontohio.org
For information contact: Mike Jay, Chairman, Downtown Fremont, Inc., 419-334-5905
Last week I was fortunate enough to spend the week in Salem, Massachusetts for a weeklong training session on the topic of Historic Real Estate Development Finance. The training was put on by The National Development Council, The National Trust for Historic Preservation and The 1772 Foundation.
While the topic of the training may sound painful, it was incredibly informative and fits quite well with the direction of our organization. In the coming months, we will be working with the Ohio Department of Development in helping to administer the Targets of Opportunity Grant. Like other grant programs, the Department of Development aims to see the grant used in a manner that will generate the greatest impact. Our role is to help determine if the proposed projects are feasible and this is where understanding real estate finance plays such a crucial role. A project must include a realistic pro-forma to be taken into consideration for the funding. A pro-forma is a series of financial statements that help paint a picture of the fiscal feasibility of a project, including vacancy rates, lending terms, owner equity, construction costs, lease rates and other pertinent information. These details will help ensure funding flows towards projects that have a high likelihood of being completed.
Beyond the Targets of Opportunity Grant, Heritage Ohio aims to play a much greater part in assisting Ohio communities in assessing local real estate project feasibility. Vacant and underutilized property is one of the greatest revitalization challenges we face in the state and we believe providing civic leaders and property owners with a greater understanding of the costs, will be a major step in beginning to combat the problem. If vacant property is a community issue, civic leaders should make it a priority to understand why properties are not being developed and what can be done to address the issue. At the end of the day, community leaders should be able to determine if there is a gap between developing a building and the cash flow it can expect to return at current lease rates. If there is a gap, then policies must be considered to help address a gap, if not, then other factors are at play and should be identified.
We also are in the process of creating a new presentation titled “Developing Property Owners into Developers.” The goal of the presentation is to help property owners with underutilized buildings realize that their asset retains value and potential and redevelopment is a viable option that can prove quite lucrative.
Salem was more than just “fun with finance.” I feel very fortunate to work for an organization that is willing to invest in its employees to develop greater skills to meet the challenges of the position. The National Trust for Historic Preservation selected the host community for the training and I could not have been more pleased. Salem is a beautiful waterfront town just north and east of Boston. The Hawthorne Hotel, a National Trust Historic Hotel of America, was the training location. Salem is a very interesting town and elicits mixed feelings. The city is the home to many of the oldest structures in The United States, including numerous houses from the 1600′s. At the same time, the city is inundated with witch themed shops and can almost overwhelm a visitor. There is a great deal to see and do and the museums and architecture are unmatched, but one must be prepared to deal with the cottage industry of witch tourism. The training took place in the last week of September, but the fever pitch of October and the impending holiday was almost palpable on the street.
I was fortunate to attend such a great training and bring back knowledge that will assist me in performing my job of helping Ohio communities with their downtown revitalization needs. Like most everyone I know that works in revitalization, the opportunity to get out and see other cities and downtowns, is always such a great experience and provides a very different perspective. If you get the chance, I highly recommend making a visit to Salem, but depending on how you feel about Halloween, you may want to carefully consider when you visit.
The Ohio Department of Development recently released the pre-assesment worksheet for the Discretionary Targets of Opportunity for Downtown Revitalization Grant. The Discretionary Grant Program provides funding for “target of opportunity” community development, housing, emergency shelter and special projects and activities that do not fit within the structure of existing programs and to provide supplemental resources to resolve immediate and unforeseen needs. Please find the worksheet HERE
I am continually amazed at how many Ohio towns suffer from a lack of parking. What is even more surprising is that almost every town that suffers from a lack of parking also suffers from a dearth of successful businesses. How can this be? The answer is, is that it cant. Parking has become the boogie man of downtown revitalization and takes the blame for every other short coming in the district. Don’t get me wrong, parking is important to downtown and necessary for growth, but so few communities actually suffer from this problem, and those that do, are happy to have the problem. It means they are drawing a crowd and crowds are good for downtown. Some of the best downtown in the state have inadequate public parking and even fewer have parking decks. They have a draw and people are willing to walk for a business worth visiting. Think about when people visit a mall. No one thinks twice about walking a couple of hundred yards to get to their destination. The same happens when a downtown has a signature event. People park blocks away and don’t feel put out about walking five minutes, because they have a destination they deem worth visiting. Parking is not a problem; parking is far too often an excuse for a lack of good business. Blaming the lack of parking for an empty downtown is like saying a Jonas Brothers concert would have been better if there were only more seats available. In no other facet of business do we cite a lack of supply as the reason for the lack of demand.
Director of Revitalization