Sunday, October 19, 2014

As Baby Boomers age, are commercial districts poised to make a comeback?

The Shoppes of Avondale, Jacksonville, FL -
are walkable mixed use communities like these poised
to see an influx of Baby Boomer residents?
Is your downtown ready to take advantage of the downsizing Baby Boomer? Downtown Seattle, specifically the area surrounding Pike Place Market is one community seeing a growth in residential development fueled by aging Baby Boomers. In August of last year, the Wall Street Journal reported ("Hip, Urban, Middle Aged", WSJ, Aug. 2013) that a 34-unit condo with prices hovering over $1 million mostly went to Baby Boomers, many of whom were leaving their larger homes in suburban areas and heading to older, more walk-able urban neighborhoods. A recent study that LOA completed in Seattle found a similar trend - the projected Median HH Income growth rate in the downtown area over the next five years is 6.6% - significantly higher than that of Seattle as a whole, which is 4.39%. These "moneyed buyers [have] created a gold rush" according to Seattle realtor Dean Jones. In Denver, one resident quoted specifically mentioned the desire to "stop driving so much". The Washington Post went so far as to announce, "The kids gone, aging Baby Boomers opt for city life"(The Washington Post, July 2013)

This specific issue - what to do as Baby Boomers age and cannot drive - is increasingly fueling planning that must, by necessity, include downtown and mixed use districts. This week, the New York Times wrote about just this kind of retirement planning, "When Planning for Retirement, Consider Transportation", NYTimes, Oct. 2014. The couple profiled live in a San Diego neighborhood where "If you don't have a car, you're stranded". They are now exploring public transportation options that are weak at best, and are considered moving, but aren't quite ready to make the leap just yet. 

Another issue is the fact that transportation - specifically personal ownership of an automobile - eats up a huge percentage of income (25% according to the Federal Dept. of Transportation). As people age and move to fixed incomes, the need to reduce these costs become necessary, and the ability to live close to work, shopping, eating can reduce transportation costs to 9% of income.  

Moving to a more walk-able neighborhood seems like a great option as people age, but how do we reconcile the fact that, according to an AARP survey, 87% of people age 65 and older want to remain in their current communities? The good news is that the study found that this preference decreased with income.  ("Home and Community Preferences of the 45+ Population, AARP, Nov. 2010). 

Developers are also taking note. Toll Brothers, a home builder known more for their suburban tract housing than for their urban projects, has increasingly started developing in the urban core. Initially, they thought their projects would be filled with young people, but they sold a much larger than expected percentage to Baby Boomers. 

So it seems that yes, Boomers are creating a dynamic shift towards urban communities. Is your community seeing a similar demographic trend?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Murals on Pitkin Avenue

I had an opportunity to tour Pitkin Avenue yesterday with Daniel Murphy, the ED of the Pitkin Avenue BID. In addition to some great pizza, we enjoyed a beautiful day on the strip during our diagnostic site visit. Having completed a market study on Pitkin over three years ago before Dan's tenure, it was great to see the impact he has had in relatively short period of time. One thing caught my eye...the stunning new murals that Dan made happen (and that have remained graffiti free!), courtesy of funding from the NEA Our Town program and in partnership with Groundswell and the NYC Department of Probation. This community has seen its fair share of challenges, but these murals speak the potential and future of this incredibly diverse community.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Economics of Fear is Not Limited to Ebola

“Economic consequences also result when fear and concern change behavior…If consumers and businesses retrench…G.D.P. growth rates will fall farther.” 

- David R. Kotok, Cumberland Advisors on the economic impact of Ebola on the African economy.

This quote was in yesterday’s New York Times about Ebola, but the truth is, it could have been written about many low-income urban communities where crime is a concern. In one east coast city where LOA recently conducted a city-wide market study, developers and business owners alike cited “crime” as the number one challenge to overcome in attracting investment. Stakeholders said it again and again, loud and clear, until both real and perceived crime diminished, investors would look the other way. The effect of this fear is one that can quickly spiral out of control, feeding on itself and creating a deeper and deeper economic hole from which it can be difficult to emerge. Consider this, if few developers invest, there are no projects to use as comps for other investors. Without comps, banks don’t have much to look at when underwriting projects, and therefore shy away from what they see as risky loans. Without private financing, the public sector often tries to kick in to make up the difference – but even that is often not enough, particularly in times of increasing fiscal austerity.

The problem has been well documented over the years. In 2004, the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) together with the Business for Social Responsibility asked retailers point blank, “What factors are obstacles to entry into underserved markets?” The number one factor regarded as significant to 80% of respondents was “Crime/Perceived Crime”.

Getting crime issues under control is perhaps the most significant intervention that you can make in setting the stage for successful commercial revitalization. And turning a community around often requires changing entrenched public opinion that has hardened over time – not an easy task – but one that must be addressed if communities are to see improvements and new businesses meeting the needs of local customers.

Karl Seidman, a professor of mine from my MIT days, outlines what “Clean-and-Safe” oriented districts need to do in Revitalizing Commerce for America's Cities (one of my favorite reads). The key approaches he outlines are as follows: 
  • Build relationships between the business community and the police department
  • Educate businesses about public safety and crime prevention techniques (and fund them to implement these techniques when necessary)
  • Apply crime prevention design principles (also known as Crime Prevention through Environment Design - CPTED) to the public realm - streets, sidewalks, public spaces, etc. 
  • Establish supplemental security services (which can be funded by self-taxation mechanisms such as Business Improvement Districts - BIDS)
In his book, he describes how a few communities with significant public safety concerns addressed those issues over time. 

Another great resource for ideas about crime prevention are the Metlife Foundation and LISC CSI "Community-Policy Partnership Awards". Every year they recognize community groups that are addressing crime in creative and impactful ways. You can go back to 2002 to see information about past award winners. These winners offer practitioners a treasure trove of options for crime prevention. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

10 Tips for Aggressive Prospecting

Getting out there and meeting business owners is one of the most important elements of retail attraction. For many of the districts that we work in, attracting national chains is not really a priority. Rather, the focus is on keeping it local and attracting interesting regional independent and/or mom and pop stores to a district. When the focus on the smaller tenants, it’s important to keep in mind that these retailers are not typically out scouting for new store locations, so it’s often critical that you find them. And while e-mail blasts and social media are a good thing to do, nothing replaces the impact of an actual visit and a one-on-one conversation with an owner. 
Are you struggling to find tenants
for vacancies in your district?

How do the experts do it? Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

1. Buy something on the way out the door, this will make you a customer and someone that the owner is more willing to talk to.

2. Stay up to date on who is expanding and who is contracting. Local business media and TV sometimes provide leads, so keep on top of the news.

3. Don’t rely too much on technology. Drive and walk a district and visit business owners personally. Cultivate a personal relationship over time, don’t just go when you have a space you want to market.

4. Stay active with the local Chamber and business groups. You never know who is hoping to expand and this is a good way to keep your finger on the pulse of potential new tenants.

5. Consider local business plan competition winners and partner with your City’s small business services division to help identify businesses who are seeking support and potentially looking for spaces.

6. Attend ICSC Deal-making – the representatives for many retailers change over time, so you will need to keep up with who the new representatives are.

7. Once you’ve started a conversation with a business owner, try to get a sense of when leases are up. A business may be looking to relocate and this will give you an opportunity to sell the story of why your site offers more visibility, foot traffic, etc. than where they are currently at.

8. If you know a vacancy is coming, visit nearby stores and chat with the owners. They often know about other businesses are are looking to expand.

9. Mailings are a good alternative to social media – direct-mail pieces can be a good way to get directly in front of an owner. Many owners still don’t use email, especially in local markets, so mail can be a good way to ensure they hear about opportunities in your district.

10. With a prospect you really like, do your homework about their business in advance. One way is to show them maps showing that your market has voids that their business can fill.

Brokers will say this again and again, nothing replaces pounding the pavement - so get out there and do it!

Credit: This post was developed in part an article in this month's SCT (“Prospect to Prosper”, Sept. 2014).

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The shoppers of tomorrow are here today. How do you capture them?

This month’s “Shopping Centers Today” explores how teens and young adults – a growing and important customer segment – are changing the way malls and by extension, traditional commercial districts need to respond to keep them as shoppers. (“The Young and the Restless”, Sept. 2014, SCT
American Apparel is a popular teen retailer

So what has caused this recent concern? A look at the teen-focused apparel category – including the many Mandy’s and Rainbow’s that dot the urban landscape – shows that they these retailers have had a few soft years. In response, Forest City Enterprises, one of the nation’s leading owners, developers and managers of commercial property, went ahead and tackled this issue by conducting research into the shopping habits and preferences of the teen market. What they found offers both good news and bad for both malls and commercial districts alike.

The Good
  • Physical presence still matters. Unlike the rest of us, younger shoppers have time to kill. 71% of expenditures by those between 13 and 17 occur in brick-and-mortar stores. 
  • While they are shopping, they like to socialize. Proximity of food options, cafes, etc. can help make a place a destination. Westfield Malls in London have socialization spaces that encourage teens to linger, including couches, coffee table, etc. Free concerts are another way to create an experience. Westfield offers free concerns Thursday through Sunday to drive traffic to their malls. Forest City has offered concert tickets to shoppers. 
  • The ubiquity of smartphone and on-line shopping options allow teens to browse on-line, but the good news is they still like to buy in the store. This is called “pre-shopping”. 
The Challenges
  • Teens are shopping less frequently – before the recession, teens went on roughly 40 shopping trips per year. Today that number has dropped to 30 per year. 
  • The teen jobless rate is 22% - and as a result teens are frugal and price-sensitive. They respond well to sales and discounts, so it is important to offer promotions to motive this group to shop. Forest City malls incorporate the Facebook and Twitter Feeds of many of the national brands in their malls. 
What Can you Do?
Mall managers are increasingly looking to offer the following to attract the teen market...
  • Offer an experience. Make sure you offer activities – from live music to farmer’s markets that provide more than just shopping. 
  • Offer a comfortable “third place” – a comfortable place to socialize that is not home or school. To this end, the cafĂ© is an important offering. Other options include landscaped outdoor areas with benches and tables. 
  • Offer discounts. Sidewalk sales events and in-store promotions (connected to school opening, for instance) can be a good way to get these price sensitive customers in the door. 
  • Engage shoppers with social media. According to ICSC, the top three sites for teens are Instagram (30%), Twitter (27%) and Facebook (23%). Connect with any stores in your district that have their own feeds. 
These are simple, yet effective ways to ensure your teens are having the kind of experiences that keep them coming back to your district.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"2-in-1" Storefronts Keep Corridors Bustling Day and Night

Last year, I worked in a neighborhood that was becoming a destination for dining and nightlife. Every time a space became available, a new bar or restaurant opened. This trend is continuing and they all seem to be doing really well.

The downside to this, however, is that the daytime businesses there are struggling. They are seeing less foot traffic now that most businesses there open after 5 pm.

While this isn't a viable solution for every retail space or business, it got me thinking about singular storefronts that house different businesses at different hours of the day, or businesses that combine two (somewhat unrelated) concepts into one. Could these "two-in-ones" be the solution to keeping corridors vibrant both day and night?

Here is a round up of businesses around Brooklyn that are keeping the gates up longer by combining uses:

Uses: Flower shop by day, Bar by night
Hours: Flower shop: 11am - 6pm, Bar: 12pm - 4am 
Amount of time gates are up: 17 hours

image via

Whole Foods Market (Third and 3rd, Brooklyn)
Uses: Supermarket, bike repair, knife sharpening, record store, rooftop taproom and restaurant, coffee bar
Hours: Cafe: 7am, Everything else 8am - 11pm
Amount of time gates are up: 16 hours
image via

Bar Chord  
Uses: Bar and vintage guitar shop
Hours: 2pm - 2am
Amount of time gates are up12 hours
image via

Space Ninety 8

Uses: Urban Outfitters, Gallery, Bar 
Hours: Shop and Gallery: 10am - 10pm, Bar: 11am - 12am
Amount of time gates are up: 14 hours
The Gorbals at Space Ninety 8.
image via

Red Lantern Bicycles 

Uses: Bike shop, cafe and bar
Hours: Bike Shop: 9am - 9pm, Cafe/Bar 7am - 11pm
Amount of time gates are up: 14 hours
Image via

Uses: Bar and Arcade
Hours: 4pm- 4am weekdays, Noon - 4am weekends
Amount of time gates are up: 16 hours

Blind Barber 
Uses: Cafe, cocktails and barber shop
Hours: Barber: 12pm - 6pm, Cafe: 7am - 2am
Amount of time gates are up: 19 hours
image via

Now go forth and visit your favorite local "2-in-1"!

Author Kristen Wilke is a Project Manager at Larisa Ortiz Associates.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Regional or Citywide BID Associations: Don't underestimate the value of a local BID support network.

Scant attention is paid to the non-profit member associations that serve Improvement Districts, so I was excited to see a news article on the Long Beach Council of Business Associations that was formed six years ago in Long Beach, California.

There are an increasing number of cities around the county that have a critical mass of Business Improvement Districts. These organizations have a strong rationale for coming together on a regular basis to network, learn from one another, and advocate for policy issues that affect them all.

Coming together with other BIDs is important because much of the work of a commercial district practitioner is inherently local in nature. From regulatory and permitting challenges to state specific grants and funding sources, knowing the local experts and resources available to get the job done can be critical to success. Moreover, receiving referrals for local marketing professionals, website developers, service providers, etc. can make the job easier. 

In Long Beach, the gatherings were initially hosted by the City, but as time went on the organization became increasingly member-led. "Those who attended the meetings began to get to know one another personally and professionally and discovered that their neighborhoods and businesses often faced some of the same challenges. Working together, sharing their concerns with city staff, they are beginning to create change."

So, what has COBA done for its members? Besides the peer-to-peer learning and networking, the outcomes for COBA members were quite tangible. For example, COBA conducted city-wide surveys of business owners and compiled those results in 2012. The surveys helped to “give the city feedback from the ground level” and allowed members to push for a streamlined business licensing and permitting process at City Hall.

What do other BID Associations do?

The models for BID Associations differ, so we offer three profiles of associations. Advance warning. This overview is based almost entirely on what we could glean from their websites…so keep in mind that the story may be somewhat incomplete, but at the very least it offers a good start for understanding the variety of models and services that are typically provided. We'd love to hear additional info about these and other organizations in the comments section. 

New York BID Managers Association

# of BIDs in City: 69
Year Founded: 1995
# of Full Time Staff: None, this is an entirely volunteer led organization. The organization's budget is capped budget of $100k a year, and dues are pro-rated based on each BIDs budget.
Membership: Limited to BID Managers (effectively only the Executive Directors of each BID are members)

Mission: “The stated mission of the NY BID The mission of the Association is to COMMUNICATE, COORDINATE, and ADVOCATE. The Association communicates important information, ideas, and best practices among its members; coordinates interaction between BID directors and key contacts, elected officials, and City representatives; and advocates on behalf of its membership on important issues to support the work of and further the goals of BIDs citywide.”

Services offered: Much of the NY BID Managers Association is behind a members only wall, but we do know that their primary focus is on advocacy and that they bring members together on a regular basis to discuss key issues. These volunteer subcommittes are orgainzed around pressing issues such as street vendors. A few other services include:

  • Maintain an internal listserve
  • Host networking events for BID staff, host forums to identify best practices
  • Host an annual meeting

Business Improvement District Council, San Diego, California 

# of BIDs in City: 17
Year Founded: 1989
# of Full Time Staff: 1
Mission: “The Business Improvement District Council (BID Council) is an association of San Diego’s Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) whose mission is to assist in the development and dissemination of information, resources, and expertise to its member BIDs, and to improve the physical, social, and economic environments of San Diego’s small businesses.”

Membership: Membership is open to both “property-based special districts” and individual operators with 12 or fewer employers and who hold a city-issued small business tax certificate.

Services offered:
  • Calendar of events for City BIDs
  • Legislative/Advocacy on behalf of system-wide initiatives or collaborated responses to system-wide issues
  • Resources. The organization provides a one-stop shop for information about relevant resources and programs. For example, the website provides links to the City of San Diego’s Storefront Improvement Program, for instance.
  • Networking/Relationship building – offers training sessions for members, most recently

Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas, Toronto, Canada

# of BIAs in City: 75 BIAs representing 35,000 business and property owners
Year Founded: 1980
# of Staff: One Executive Director, an Office Manager, a marketing consultant and a property tax consultant.
Membership: Limited to Business Improvement Areas

  • To promote strong, successful and effective BIAs in the City of Toronto.
  • To encourage joint initiatives and collaboration that are mutually beneficial to groups within the BIA on issues and projects, including studies and research in marketing.
  • To encourage and facilitate the exchange of information, experiences and ideas among BIAs through such means as our website, newsletters, seminars, workshops for the benefit of the BIA and their individual members.
  • To assist BIA's in pooling their resources to achieve the maximum benefit possible.
  • To provide advocacy, to influence policies affecting BIAs, and to obtain support funds and services for BIAs from all levels of government, institutions, agencies and other organizations.
  • To protect the interest of BIAs in government tourism policies and in the implementation of those policies.
Services offered:
  • Calendar of events for City BIDs
  • Monthly newsletter entitled “News & Views” 
  • Regular posts on current events and issues of interest on their website
  • Advocacy on behalf of BIA’s with the City for things such as a simplified annual budgeting process and exemptions from city set fee structures related to banners in designated BIA areas. Coverage by the City of Toronto’s Public Liability Insurance…to name a few wins. 
  • Discounts on Liability insurance as required for BIA Boards. 
  • Education/Information for merchants and Boards. A local college now offers a four course program that is delivered directly to merchants on issues as diverse as theft reduction to marketing. 
  • Promotions – the TABIA has embarked on a number of Citywide Campaigns that offer BIAs the opportunity to promote themselves in the local media as a savings. 
  • Networking Opportunities – plans and executes a bi-annual National BIA Conference to share ideas and learn from the experience of other BIAS. TABIA also sponsors informal opportunities to network and invites speakers on a regular basis to speak to their members.