Tips to Activate Vacant Spaces Downtown

14 Feb

To establish or maintain a vibrant downtown, it is imperative for communities to have high occupancy in the storefronts and office spaces that line Main Street. This gives life to the downtown, bringing new people, new businesses, new ideas, all of which can provide a new source of revenue for existing businesses. Below are some tips for filling in those empty storefronts to activate your downtown, Main Street, or commercial district!

1. Consider Short-Term, Low-Rent Business Leases

Historically, real estate agents are seeking tenants that will stay in a building or storefront for a long time; however, in today’s economy it may not be viable for businesses to lock into a long-term lease in the early stages of their business. As a downtown manager, consider approaching the landlords and building owners to create a space that is conducive to the risky environment of starting a new business. Present opportunities for low-rent during the early stages of the business so the merchant can focus on establishing a sustainable income without losing all of their capital in rent during the first few months. This opportunity could allow the business owner a chance to stay in business during the early stages and afford the market-rate rent after establishing their sustainable business model.

2. Attract Start-Up Businesses with Alternative Office Spaces

In office-zoned buildings, business incubators and co-working spaces offer a new, innovative approach to the traditional office an and provide less risk for the start-up entrepreneur. Business incubators are programs designed to support entrepreneurship and business start-ups in a community. There are a lot of different approaches to establishing an incubator space, and many resources available to determine the best method in your community (see: How to Start an Incubator from iDISC, for one resource). Also approach local small business development centers and community colleges for additional resources.

Co-Working spaces are offices designed for collaboration amongst businesses and organizations. This offers a low-cost office space to home businesses, providing an escape from the home-office, into a collaborative environment with fellow entrepreneurs (see “16 Cool Co-Working Spaces” for some examples!)

Pop-up stores and temporary markets are another option for filling in vacant spaces, and showing the potential of those vacant spaces. To learn more about pop-ups, read the DCI Article, Smart Solutions to Empty Storefronts Popping Up in Colorado.

3. Provide Resources to Local Businesses to Ensure Long-Term Staying Power

Short-term tenants are a great temporary solution, but establishing long-term businesses and anchor tenants is key to the ongoing growth and success of your downtown. Ensure your downtown has the opportunity for new and existing businesses to thrive by establishing a clearinghouse of information on doing business downtown. This can be online, and with print resources available at the local chamber and SBDC.

A few items that can help promote your downtown as a place for new, exciting businesses include:

  • a market analysis that shows retail and business leakages and niche markets that need to be filled
  • an ongoing list of real estate, offices and commercial space openings with rental rates
  • a wish list of businesses that you and the residents in your town want to see downtown. This could be the result of a downtown survey or questionnaire.

Don’t limit your recruitment to simply retail and restaurants. Service providers including financial, legal and insurance services, call centers and more provide employees who are downtown daily and will need a place to get a coffee, have lunch, and purchase gifts.

Want to know more tips and suggestions for filling in vacant spaces? Register for our March 14 DIDs Forum: Approaches for Activating Vacant Spaces, to be held in Denver from 2-4pm.


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