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Bringing winning ways to downtown.

A number of focus groups throughout the country were convened late last year to discuss the anticipated evolution of our nation's downtowns over the last years of this decade'and the changes this evolution will require in our actions during that period of time.

The sessions, convened by the firm HyettPalma, Inc. included participants from 27 states, as well as Canada. In each of the sessions, participants were asked to discuss the roles they anticipate our downtowns will play by the year 2000 and the innovative actions that will be needed over the next seven years to secure these future roles.

The patterns of responses that emerged in these discussion are documented in the 1993 publication entitled "Winning Ways." A.synopsis of those responses follows.

Anticipated Roles

For Downtown to thrive and flourish into the year 2000, we must draw a mental picture of the roles we believe downtown can play by that time. This vision of the preferred future downtown is an important first step, for it will allow us to identify the actions that are needed between 1993 and 2000--so that the vision can be attained.

The roles it is anticipated downtown can play --and will play if purposive and intentional action is taken--by the year 2000 include:

Multi-Faceted Hubs

It is anticipated that, in the year 2000, our downtowns will play a multifaceted role in the lives of our communities. In essence, this will be a returning of Downtown to a multi-use area, much as it was when originally developed. No longer will downtown be relegated to the role of "just a center of commerce" or to the role. of an office center where the sidewalks are rolled up at 5:00 p.m."

Instead, if downtown revitalization efforts are successful, the downtown of 2000 will be a multi-use hub of housing that is highly desired by the baby boom and the grey markets; housing for recent retirees and about-to-beretirees; art, culture, entertainment, sports, and recre-. ation options; government services; tourism; and transportation facilities.

Commercial Hubs

In addition to those uses listed above, downtown will continue to be a commercial hub. Professional offices, financial institutions, retail businesses and service businesses, which equal the major concentration of commercial uses found in most downtowns today, will remain a focal point.

It is also anticipated that downtown will become the preferred location of the dominant business units of the future--independent, entrepreneur-owned small businesses. In this way, downtown will be yiewed as the small business commercial park of the future.

Community Hubs

Possibly most significant of all, it is expected that downtown will play an increasingly important role in shaping a community's identity. Downtown is now, and must remain, a community center that welcomes people from all walks of life. Where else in a community can people come together to participate in events such as political rallies and traditional holiday parades? downtown must be that place that allows, and encourages, all members of the community to come together to take part in the life of the community. In this sense, downtown will be the recognized center of community life and "everybody's second neighborhood.

Actions Needed 1993-2000

The aforementioned roles will not "just happen." Instead, for our downtowns to secure these roles, aggressive and intentional action will be needed on the part of the private sector, the public sector, and the community of downtown professionals. The following specific actions are needed now, so. hat the downtown 2000 preferred roles can be secured.

Private Sector Actions Management

Without a doubt, the private sector must be the driving force that spearheads the downtown revitalization effort. This will involve aggressive action on a number of fronts.

First, quality downtown management willbe essential. Without strong, private sector management our downtowns' will not be able to reach the roles envisioned for them in the year 2000. This is, without a doubt, the most critical ingredient for Downtown success:

To better manage downtown over the remainder of this decade, the private sector will have to take a no-nonsense, self-help posture. This will involve looking inward, maintaining old partnerships while looking for new partners (such as environmental groups), and developing strong, knowledgeable leaders.

A management tool coming into wide use across the country is the designation of downtown as a business improvement district. As business improvement districts become more widely used, care must be taken to ensure that downtown remains a public space-- one that accommodates a community's diversity--rather than becoming like a private commercial center that might not be welcoming to all members of the community.

Flexibility, Adaptability and Creafivity

Downtowns are not static-- and neither are their markets or competitors. Therefore, downtown's future health will rely on the flexibility, adaptability. and creativity of its business community. To meet this challenge, it will be paramount for downtown's business community to keep abreast of the demographic changes ocurring in the trade area. By the year 2000, we will see a cultural diversity and a "grey boom" that are unparalleled in this country's history. Downtown's business owners must not only understand these changes but must accommodate these changing population groups.


The private sector will continue to have a responsibility to reinvest in its downtown investments. Without this, all other revitalization efforts will be futile. Private reinvestment in Downtown must include exhibiting a positive attitude, taking pro-active steps, regardless of how large or small, which set a good example, and participating in the overall game plan which has been established for downtown.

Communication and Marketing

Marketing downtown will continue to be essential for several reasons. First, to attract area residents, users of facilities located elsewhere in the community, and area visitors to become patrons of Downtown. Second, 'to create a community allegiance to downtown. And, third, to develop a community loyalty to downtown by stressing the value of a prosperous downtown to the health of the entire community.

Public Sector Actions -Local Government

Local government officials can play a major role in improving the health of our downtowns by re-evaluating public sector policies, actions, and attitudes. First and foremost, city regulations and ordinances need to be reexamined. Many ordinances and regulations have been in place for decades and do not allow downtown to reach its preferred future.

For example, ordinances which do not allow for mixeduse development, downtown housing, or reasonable parking requirements are a hinderance to downtown's success and must he changed. Along with updating the content of existing ordinances, the process for obtaining permits and licenses should also be updated and streamlined.


The government can also have a positive affect on downtown by more aggressively reinvesting in and around the area. This would involve making long needed infrastructure repairs and improvements, instituting and maintaining streetscape improvement programs, increasing and improving public transportation facilities and services that affect downtown, and upgrading areas around downtown to make sure they do not deteriorate.

Education and Re-Training

Much like private sector business owners, government officials and staff must be educated-and must stay abreast of --the latest knowledge in the field of downtown revitalization. This knowledge is necessary so that government officials and staff have a greater understanding of the economic contribution downtown makes to the health of the community as a whole.

It is also needed so that officials and staff become. more aware of the affects that government actions and policies have on downtown. For example, and overly lenient land use plan, which results in commercial sprawl, can have a negative affect on downtown's health.

Updated Priorities

For our downtowns to be secure and prosperous in the| year 2000, local government officials must make downtown a high priority of their local agendas. This would mean realizing that downtown revitalization is local economic development and taking a more active role in the enhancement of downtown.

Public Sector Actions- State and Federal Government

State government must realize that industrial prospects have become scarce and will continue to be scarce. Therefore, state government must change its economic development approach by focusing on small business enhancement instead of on industrial development.

Similarly, the federal govemment, must also shift its economic development perspective by defining and adopting a national, domestic policy that recognizes the importance of downtown and small businesses to the American economy. This would mean recognizing and addressing the needs of small businesses which are located in downtowns-and not just those located in neighborhood business districts of large cities-through new, national, small business development initiatives.

Downtown Professionals

Downtown professional-- those who serve as directors, presidents, and staff of local and state downtown organizations-must also play an active and aggressive role in ensuring that the downtowns of the year 2000 reach their full potential. A tremendous amount of information exists proving that successful downtown revitalization efforts do indeed improve the local economy. Downtown professionals must package this information into "measures of success." Then, these success stories must be used to encourage leaders--at all levels--to support the cause of downtown revitalization. It is time to make our leaders downtown converts by conveying to them why downtown is worth saving and why downtown revitalization is important--rather than inundating them with the technicalities of how to revitalize downtown.

And, above all, downtown professionals must continue to be innovative and risk-taking pioneers --pioneers dedicated to growing the body of downtown knowledge which will allow downtowns to reinvent themselves and meet the challenges of the future. Are you ready to accept the challenge of revitalizing your city's Downtown?

The National League of Cities is ready to help you{ NLC, in cooperation with HyettPalma, Inc., has a technical assistance pilot program called "Accepting the Challenge: The Rebirth oF America's Downtowns."

It's designed to help 10 cities and towns revitalize their downtowns. To date, NLC has worked in four communities and will soon initiate work with the fifth, Monroe, N.C.

NLC helps cities define a specific course of action for downtown revitalization. An assessment is made of lhe health of downtown and the critical factors affecting downtown. A vision for the future downtown is defined by the city or town with 1he assistance of the NLC/HyeHPalma team. And, each city receives a comprehensive course of action--a strategic action plan which can immediately be put to use.

The Action Plan

* addresses each of the issues identified;

* articulates the vision of downtown defined by the community;

* makes recommendations about necessary local struclures;

* identifies public and private sector roles and responsibilities; and

* defines a specific course of action to enable the community to attain its vision of a revital - ized downtown.

There are only five more openings in NLC's "Rebirth of America's Downtown| Pilot Program. If you would like additional information on the program, please call Virginia Mayer, manager, economic development and technical services, at (202) 626-3170.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related information on downtown revitalization
Author:Palma, Dolores
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jan 18, 1993
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