Tag Archives: downtown organizations

Beat the Post-Holiday Downtown Blues

10 Jan

Winter months following the holiday season can be a difficult time for downtowns and small businesses. Unless your community is fortunate to have a thriving winter sports and tourism economy, retail and downtown businesses can find themselves slowing significantly. Businesses can use this slow time as an opportunity to plan marketing strategies and increase involvement with downtown revitalization and planning committees. Downtown leaders should use this time to get input on potential programs or events, and possibly grow your volunteer base. If your community is at a tourism peak, consider these suggestions for your shoulder seasons.

Take advantage of the slow times. Use this time to experiment with marketing techniques and plan on what works best for your community and downtown businesses. This may be a great time for businesses and attractions to incorporate group-saving coupons (see Constant Contact, Groupon, Living Social and Save Local). Encourage business owners to offer special discounts for customers who write Yelp reviews, check in on Facebook or Foursquare, or upload a microbrew on UnTappd to see if they can further capitalize on those social media markets.

Liven up your committees. In most small towns and Main Street communities, volunteers are the heart and soul of creating a thriving business district. Are there a few business owners who have expressed interest in being involved in committees, but are simply too busy to make it to your meetings? If now is their slow season, make sure they know about your committee meetings and personally invite them to attend. Be sure to send a calendar of all committee meetings and downtown events for the year as soon as possible.

Evaluate your commercial district’s past year. Plan for the first committee meetings of the year (if you have not already had one) to be focused on evaluating the past year, and setting goals for the next year. For example, event committees should evaluate both positive and negative attributes of each event, and determine if they should be changed or removed from your calendar of community events.

Don’t be afraid to remove an event that has not been successful and does not receive a good response from the community and business owners. With a fresh look and (hopefully) new, excited volunteers on your committee, there may be some great new opportunities to engage the community.

Consider new events to bring residents and tourists during the shoulder seasons. Think of holidays and events that happen during this slow period and see how you can incorporate that with a twist to make it uniquely yours. If your community wants to have a downtown event at this time in 2014, start planning now! A few possibilities for January and February include:

  • Family-friendly Mardi Gras and Carnival, and incorporate some unique, local flavor. Ask your local thrift stores, vintage and costume shops to sponsor by offering deals to customers for costumed Mardi Gras events.
  • Work with restaurants, salons, chocolate shops, florists, lodging, local wineries and breweries to plan a Valentine’s Day dream-date package to market to residents and potential visitors. Include in the package a list of other entertainment, dining, and shopping options so they have plenty of places to check out while in your town.
  • Consider the lesser celebrated (Groundhog Day, Feb 2; Chinese New Year, Feb 10) or off-the-wall holidays (National Pie Day, Jan 23) that you might be able to have some fun with.

New Creative Districts Legislation Passed: What Does It Mean?

13 Apr

Guest author Hilarie Portell of Portell Works explains the recently passed Creative Districts legislation and what it means for Colorado.

Creative enterprises are the fifth largest industry cluster in Colorado, and now local communities have a tool to help attract and retain them.

In late March, Governor Hickenlooper signed new legislation creating a statewide designation for creative districts. Communities that meet specific criteria will apply for the designation through the Colorado Creative Industries (CCI) division. Certified districts become eligible for technical support, limited state incentives and federal funding if it becomes available. An  application process should be in place by July 2012.

The creative district designation does not have any state fiscal implications or property requirements, such as tax credits or design guidelines. However, it could provide communities with a new economic development tool to build local support and targeted strategies for a creative district.

House Bill 11-1031 defines a creative district as a “well-recognized, designated mixed-use area of a community in which a high concentration of cultural facilities, creative businesses, or arts-related businesses serve as the anchor of attraction.” Creative districts may have multiple vacant properties in close proximity that would be suitable for redevelopment and may be home to both nonprofit and for-profit creative industries and organizations.

The legislation builds on a 2008 report by the Colorado Council on the Arts (now Colorado Creative Industries) on the state’s “creative economy.” It found that 186,251 jobs in Colorado are associated with creative enterprises and talent, with 2007 earnings totaling $5 billion. Importantly, creative enterprises are defined as “any company for which the primary value of its products or services is rooted in its emotional and aesthetic appeal to the customer.” This includes 69 industries in five categories: design, film/media, heritage, literary/publishing, and visual arts/craft. The categories comprise traditional arts as well as industrial and green design, interactive media, architecture, home furnishings, recreational products, local brewing operations and more. The full report is available at www.coloarts.state.co.us/programs/economic/co_creativeconomy/index.htm

Learn more about this legislation and its implications for your community at the May 11 DCI Development and Improvement Districts Forum. The DIDs forum is open to DCI members and will held from 2-4 p.m. at the Colorado Municipal League (1144 Sherman Street, Denver). Visit website for details and registration information.

Hilarie Portell helped draft and advocate for the creative district legislation. She is principal of Portell Works, a community and economic development consulting firm in Denver.

Spotlight on…Silverthorne

13 Apr

Downtown Colorado, Inc. (DCI) recently led a technical assistance assessment in the Town of Silverthorne on March 21-22. Below is a snaphshot of the two-day visit and the challenges and opportunities that DCI’s team of downtown revitalization professionals discovered.

The Town of Silverthorne, determined to continue to enhance the community, enlisted Downtown Colorado, Inc. (DCI) to plan and coordinate a downtown assessment to identify a multi-disciplinary team of professionals to review all the previous work done and provide some practical and implementable guidance for how best to move forward in the short, medium, and long-term time frames. DCI enlisted specialists focusing on landscape architecture, signage and way finding, economic development, financing mechanisms, marketing and promotions, and more. The team met with numerous stakeholders and groups working in Silverthorne to identify the priorities that this community must work on. The community made it clear that community development and finding a sense of place was a primary goal.

The Silverthorne Downtown Assessment represents the first of its kind because there is no traditional or clearly defined downtown commercial core in this community. The town identified a commercial core area in which to focus efforts that encompassed a very long stretch of Highway 9. Though this area is a key corridor in the community, it does not connect  the areas of activity that residents use the most. Rather, the usage patterns highlighted the need for greater attention to east-to-west connections that intersect the key arteries of  the Blue River, and State Highway 9.

The apparently lacking sense of unified community appears rooted in both physical layout and a conceptual disconnect between ideas and implementation. Despite the clear role of Silverthorne as the home base of Summit County, “where people come to get things done,” there isn’t one readily identifiable gathering place that draws locals and tourist to a community destination. The community has done studies, acquired property, requested designs, and revised zoning; yet all of this planning and preparation for development has not resulted in the town feeling content with moving forward without first inviting more private sector initiative.

Silverthorne has a wealth of beauty and natural assets. The community and the local government identified the Blue River as a community asset that should be accentuated in community and economic development initiatives. However, despite a lovely and useful trail and bridge system constructed to provide access to the river, this fabulous natural asset is not especially highlighted by most community centers. Some ideas are provided to assist in translating the planning efforts into the larger community vision.

The team worked to narrow the physical boundaries of the downtown core to identify the activity nodes that are most utilized and would serve as the heart of the community – or the physical sense of place. The team identified projects that can be done with little to no funding, as well as longer term organizational structure and capital projects to enhance the relationships and physical connections in the commercial core. The team highlighted what to do and how to do it through creation of a step-by-step action matrix to clarify how, when, and who might be the best community stakeholder to get the job done.

Silverthorne is a dedicated and inspiring community of folks ready to roll up their sleeves and build the community together. Good luck to Silverthorne! DCI and our member volunteers look forward to continuing to work with this town as they move forward with the Heart of Silverthorne Initiative.

Interested in DCI’s technical assistance program? Visit www.downtowncoloradoinc.org for details or contact us at 303.282.0625.

Lessons from the California Redevelopment Crisis

17 Mar

Guest author Brad Segal, Progressive Urban Management Associates, blogs about the recent issues facing California’s redevelopment agencies and how to prevent a similar situation here in Colorado.

In a bold stroke this past January, California Governor Jerry Brown announced his intention to help reduce the state’s enormous $25 billion budget deficit by eliminating redevelopment agencies and tax increment financing (TIF) by July. An important tool for downtown revitalization for more than 50 years, TIF has been used in virtually every state throughout the nation. TIF allows for the incremental increase in property tax (and sometimes sales tax) from new investment and value to be reinvested within the geographic boundaries of a designated redevelopment area. The rationale for TIF is that projects and community facilities wouldn’t happen without the upfront investment that TIF allows, therefore the community overall is better off.

California is arguably the most aggressive state to use TIF through its 400 redevelopment agencies. Governor Brown’s analysts found that 12% of the state’s total property tax base is now being consumed by redevelopment and TIF. In a deft political move, the Governor offered a trade‐off: Eliminate TIF and reallocate the property tax proceeds to local schools, police and other services. While a significant amount of TIF is encumbered to pay long term debt, the Governor’s office estimated that more than $2 billion would initially become available and grow over time. Predictably, the proposal has created political turmoil with local governments and redevelopment agencies pitted against powerful public employee unions. And while the drama could take years to fully play out, including anticipated litigation on the legality of the Governor’s plan, early polling found that two‐thirds of California voters backed the Governor.

Regardless of the outcome in California, the redevelopment crisis offers many lessons for downtown advocates, including the following:

  • Measure Results: While a large consortium of local governments, redevelopment agencies, downtown organizations and other civic groups have mobilized to fight the California budget proposal, it appeared that they initially scrambled to make their case. Redevelopment proponents spent much of the first quarter of the year compiling data on projects and tangible impacts. Much like how the National Main Street program keeps track of its program results, statewide redevelopment networks need to make sure they have a current tally of the new jobs, investment and other measures that result from their work.
  • Communicate Results: Redevelopment is a hard concept to explain in a sound bite, and Jerry Brown, a former mayor who understands the nuances of TIF and redevelopment, knew of this vulnerability early in the game. Forget about explaining how this all works–redevelopment proponents need to simplify their message. Something like “jobs, community facilities and local control,” period.
  • Refocus Redevelopment Tools: In California and elsewhere, redevelopment has strayed from its original intent to revitalize blighted areas. For example, the tool has been used to subsidize Wal‐Marts in suburban greenfields, and other communities have designated the majority of their commercial land to capture local tax increment. To preempt the California scenario, downtown advocates can work with state governments to tighten up their redevelopment laws to make sure this powerful tool is focused solely on downtown revitalization and blighted areas.
  • Create Different Tools: In California, the controversy over redevelopment has created an opportunity to create different and perhaps better tools. For example, many states have Downtown Development Authorities (DDA) that combine the advantages of TIF for investment with a business improvement district‐type assessment for operations and marketing. DDA’s should endure better than redevelopment since they are tightly focused on downtowns, leverage investment from both public and private sector partners and generally do not include eminent domain powers that have contributed to redevelopment’s “urban removal” stigma.
  • Diversify Downtown Development Resources: Like any business venture, downtowns would be wise to diversify the funding and array of tools used to promote development. In addition to TIF and redevelopment, options include business improvement districts, community development corporations, parking management districts, events production companies and more. These tools can be combined into one tool box – a holding company model that has emerged in many mature downtown management organizations such as Denver, Seattle and Houston.
  • Importance of Statewide Networks: Statewide advocacy networks for downtowns should be strengthened to maximize the effectiveness of lobbying efforts in increasingly tense state budget battles. Urban areas are often at a disadvantage in state capitals, outnumbered by suburban and rural interests. Through statewide downtown networks, large cities can join with suburban town centers and rural Main Street partners to advocate with a unified sense of purpose.

Brad Segal is president of Progressive Urban Management Associates, a Denver‐based downtown and community development consulting firm. Follow Brad’s blog entries at www.pumaworldhq.com or contact the author directly at brad@pumaworldhq.com.

Economic Restructuring: Business Attraction & Retention in Colorado

17 Nov

Did you miss the November Downtown Institute: Economic Restructuring? Downtown Institute featured speaker and guest blogger Hilarie Portell of Portell Works blogs about business attraction and retention strategies recently implemented in communities across Colorado.

Numerous communities were spotlighted for their creative approaches to business attraction and retention at the November 5 Downtown Institute in Monte Vista. In a difficult economy where nobody is taking risks, here are some ways you can use local resources and talent to “grow your own.” 

Business Attraction

Financial incentives

  • The City of Aurora East End Arts District offers financial incentives for specific types of businesses to locate in the district. The grants, which average about $50,000, must be used for “bricks and mortar” projects and matched by the business. Source of the grants is Community Development Block Grant funds.
  • Monte Vista has an economic development assistance policy that offers loans and city support for new and expanding business.  Incentives may total up to $50,000. Small low interest loans are offered by a local bank as part of their Community Reinvestment Act obligation. City support may include waivers or reduction of various fees, as well as property tax rebates.
  • Many communities are exploring community-owned business models, and financing through Community Investment Institutions. Would your community leaders invest in a downtown incentive or business?

Multi-Tenant Non-profit Centers

  • The Denver Housing Authority has created a multi-tenant nonprofit center in their Benedict Park Place community. Nonprofit organizations can fill downtown space, provide needed community services, create foot traffic and generate revenue for property owners.

Business Retention


  • The City of Brighton offers small business assistance, job training, early childhood education and affordable healthcare services at the Brighton Learning and Resource Campus.
  • Local libraries can be an invaluable source of information and training for small business owners and entrepreneurs. The Town of Parker librarian is “embedded” with the downtown development group. She offers access to marketing databases, business research, and connections to business counselors and training. Involve your local librarian in your downtown effort.
  • Many communities are putting business resources on their websites. Castle Rock’s Economic Gardening program and Boulder’s Business Portal offer step-by-step instructions for new or expanding businesses, as well as research tools and training opportunities. 


  • Shop Local. The Town of Castle Rock’s “Rock Your Dollar” campaign generated $1.5 million in local spending in a two-month period. Shoppers earned cash cards for every $500 spent at local businesses ($50 card) or every $1,000 spent ($100 card). The Town provided $11,000 for the cash cards. 

Streamlining Processes

  • Castle Rock and Monte Vista have both streamlined approval processes for new development or businesses.  How many steps do business owners have to take to set up shop in your district? If you mapped it, could you work with those on the inside to streamline?

Hilarie Portell  is passionate about creating and revitalizing urban places. She has worked in public relations, marketing and management for a variety of complex projects for nearly 20 years and is founding principal of Portell Works.