Downtown Colorado, Inc. (DCI) has partnered with the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) and teams of volunteer professionals to conduct technical assistance visits to communities across the state since 2005. Large and small, suburban and rural, resort or college town, we see the same five issues surfacing time and again. Do any of these issues sound familiar to you?
- Communications: Miscommunication or a lack of communications between the local government and business, residents, and other entities (e.g., libraries, museums, hospitals).
- Downtown Management: Difficulty accessing local resources to synchronize initiatives for maximum impact.
- Mobility: How to link resources/attractions for an enhanced pedestrian environment with coordinated signage, parking, and way-finding.
- Business Retention, Expansion, and Attraction: Developing an ongoing business support program to serve as ambassadors to link businesses to training, information, and assistance.
- Financing: Identifying mechanisms for generating funds to focus on downtown whether locally generated through a business improvement district or downtown development authority, or identifying sources for grants and other externally generated support.
This is the second installment in this five-part series, we will address specific areas to examine, as well as actual recommendations from recent technical assistance visits, for each of these common issues. Click here to read our first installment on tackling Communications issues.
On our technical assistance visits, our teams often see many organizations that are contributing to the community, however, it is less common to see one organization that advocates and represents downtown. Your downtown’s Main Street is the “living room” where your community entertains both residents and visitors. If downtown is nurtured through revitalization efforts, the impacts have a domino effect on other areas of the community.
Numerous variations of downtown organizational structures exist throughout the country. In some towns, for example, the chamber of commerce is strong enough to add an organizational component designated to focus solely on the downtown. In other communities, each organization provides a representative for an umbrella organization to address downtown’s needs. No matter how you structure it, for downtown revitalization to happen, you need to designate a downtown champion that makes downtown a priority in your revitalization efforts.
Consider the following:
- Do you have multiple local organizations that are possibly duplicating efforts? Can you consolidate these efforts? When organizations collaborate they reduce duplication and consolidate resources, thereby getting the biggest bang for the buck. A positive step is to conduct a facilitated discussion to clarify the roles of each organization. Invite the local chamber of commerce, merchant organizations, DDA, BID, Main Street organization, and economic development corporations. Create a visioning statement that each organization can identify with and use to establish their role in the larger mission of revitalizing downtown. The community should establish an umbrella entity with representation from each of the different organizations serving on the board. Establish a mission and objectives for the revitalization of the community and assess the skill sets and resources needed to accomplish these goals.
- Do you know who your downtown stakeholders are? Create a list of businesses, organizations, volunteer groups, key people, and other entities that are or could be involved in downtown. Assess how each person or group can contribute to downtown development and how best to approach each group.
- Are you utilizing volunteer skills effectively? Identify the skills the downtown needs to grow and better support business, e.g. web design and marketing, gardening and physical labor, business training, and organizational development. Then identify individuals or organizations that could provide these skills; think both generally and specifically. For example, students might provide website design needs or a local graphic design artist might be willing to contribute an event poster design.
Below are some actual downtown management recommendations from recent DCI/DOLA technical assistance visits:
- Develop clear organizational and downtown management collateral materials. Downtown, and its representatives, will only begin to build the public’s and business community’s confidence and garner support, when it can clearly demonstrate that there is a representative structure in place that provides a valuable, equitable, and affordable service focused on the health of downtown and the businesses that are housed in it. It is imperative that the downtown champion develops materials that clearly describe the benefits and requirements of participation. Be sure these encourage participation from all groups and are translated to relevant languages if necessary.
- Develop a coordinated effort to promote retail events in conjunction with community events. Identify retail events to highlight local business. Downtown activities bring a lot of people into the area, but do not always enhance retail sales. Retailers need to tap into event participants and the money that they are bringing with them. Staying open late one or two nights a week to capture the population that is already downtown should create habit-forming experiences for residents. A First Friday Sidewalk Sale brings the merchants together and attracts residents, and even tourists, into the downtown.
- Consider partnerships and collaborations that are not being utilized: Connect with school and senior center to develop volunteer program. Partnerships between local governments, non-profits, and schools or senior centers are often some of the most beneficial. These partnerships provide leadership opportunities for seniors and youth who have so much to offer a community. By collaborating, the youth and senior population can also make valuable contributions to the efforts of the community by providing a volunteer corps with expertise, information, able bodies, and energy.
Technical Assistance Visits
We hope these questions and recommendations will get you thinking from a new perspective about approaching downtown management strategies for your community. For a detailed technical assistance visit that will address all of the specific issues your community is facing as well as provide an action plan to tackle them, visit our technical assistance information at www.downtowncoloradoinc.org to download an application or call DCI today at 303.282.0625.