Many downtowns in America are struggling or are failing to meet their full potential. Even wealthy communities in high growth areas of the country are not immune from lack luster performance. There are many reasons for this phenomenon such as competition from strip centers and malls, limited parking, absentee landlords and urban blight. Many of these factors are beyond the control of downtown business owners. However, there are things they can do. By focusing on the following 8 things will help develop a vibrant and profitable down town.
- Create and maintain a strong, and focused organization. This should be the first and foremost
priority. Let’s face it, downtown
entrepreneurs can be difficult to get along with. They like independence and being in
charge. They are also energetic and
smart. The organization needs strong,
focused leadership to capitalize on that energy and intelligence and pull those
independent minds together. The
National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “Main Street” program is a good
model to build on.
- Develop a strategic plan and stick with it. While this sounds obvious, many
organizations do not do it. The plan
needs to be strategic in nature and focused on the long term. It should lay out what the Downtown’s goals
are and the concrete steps necessary to accomplish them. I discussed how to do this in my blog post “Goals,
Plans and Responsibilities”.
- Develop Leaders. Running
a business is hard. Trying to run a
business and a downtown organization is REALLY hard. Board turnover is inevitable. But it does not have to be a negative
situation. By taking the time to develop
leaders, organizations can ensure that turnover is a great opportunity to bring
in fresh ideas and new energy.
- Know your market.
Knowing market capacity is vitally important. You must learn which customer demands are
being met and which ones are not, referred to as leakage. This
knowledge should be used to recruit businesses to fill unmet demand.
- Develop a succession plan.
Businesses and building ownership will change over time. By planning
ahead for it and using market knowledge, the organization can recruit the types
of businesses they want ahead of time.
The same goes with building ownership.
Leaving this to chance can have disastrous results for the downtown,
especially if there are a lot of absentee landlords who don’t care who their
tenants are, they just want the rent money.
- Make impactful infrastructure improvements. Working
with the local government to make improvements that positively affect the downtown
is vitally important. High on the list
are wayfinding systems, parking, and place making improvements.
- Remove blight. One
run down building or overgrown lot can negatively affect an entire block. The organization should first try to address
the issue with the property owner and tenant.
If that fails, then enforcement action by the local government may be
necessary to remedy the problem.
- Make parking easy and free. In many communities, there is little or no public transportation, especially in small rural towns. That means that people will need to drive and then park their automobiles. Good signage is imperative to getting people to available parking spaces, especially if people are traveling from out of the area and therefore are unfamiliar with the layout of the downtown. Walmart, your direct competition, doesn’t charge for parking and neither should Towns. However, there should be parking limits and enforcement. This is necessary to keep business employees and others from parking all day in spots needed by shoppers.
Picture Credit: Cathy Shiflett Photography