Twelve-Step Recovery for Downtown
by Aaron March
In order for Downtown’s revitalization not to feel artificial or contrived, we need to establish incentives to facilitate and subsidize grassroots and local entrepreneurial efforts
Major economic development projects, no matter where they are located, are complicated and difficult. Economic development in or redevelopment of a downtown, however, is the most complex and challenging project a city can undertake. Downtown redevelopment is akin to repairing a community’s largest mixed-use development. Care must be given to ensure that the right mix of uses are invited and incented to locate in a revitalizing downtown. In a research brief for the Brookings Institute entitled, Turning Around Down-town: Twelve Steps to Revitalization, Christopher B. Leinberger identifies 12 key steps to revitalizing a downtown:
- Capture the Vision n Develop a Strategic Plan
- Forge a Healthy Private/ Public Partnership n Make the Right Thing Easy n Establish Business Improvement Districts and other Non-Profits
- Create a Catalytic Development Company n Create an Urban Entertainment District
- Develop a Rental Housing Market
- Pioneer an Affordability Strategy
- Focus on For-Sale Housing
- Develop a Local-Serving Retail Strategy
- Re-Create a Strong Office Market.
Not surprisingly, Kansas City has gone through many of these key steps in its Downtown redevelopment efforts. What is amazing is that we have done so in a relatively short timeframe, compared to the 20- to 30-year process suggested by the Brookings Institute.
It really was not that long ago that the citizens of Kansas City voted to support Stan Durwood’s vision of the Power & Light District, beginning Kansas City’s real quest to revitalize Downtown. We now have a strong civic vision and strategic plan for Downtown. We have very strong private sector partnerships, including H&R Block, the Cordish Company and AEG, all newcomers to Downtown, as well as longstanding Downtown advocates, such as Master Realty, DST, Copaken White & Blitt, Tower Properties and Commerce Bank.
The Downtown Community Improve-ment District and the “Yellow Jackets” are helping to keep our streets safe and clean. The Performing Arts Center, the new Downtown arena and “KC Live” will be our urban entertainment district. The Down-town loft housing market is quite strong and is blessed with a mixture of market and affordable-rate units. The “for sale” condominium conversion industry is booming.
Using the rose-colored glasses of the Brookings Institute 12-step program, we are well along the way of creating the critical mass necessary for having a vibrant and exciting Downtown, where there are more residents, more jobs, more out of town and suburban visitors, and increasing
property values. However, in order for Downtown’s revitalization not to feel artificial or contrived, we need to establish incentives to facilitate and subsidize grassroots and local entrepreneurial efforts. Some, but not enough, of this already is occurring. The Economic Development Corporation has small business/seed capital programs. A Downtown residential neighborhood association has been formed.
Evidencing the absolute need to provide and support local grassroots activities and ventures as part of Downtown’s revival is the vibrancy of the Crossroads area. Crossroads has evolved, all on its own, into a buzzing and lively community through the efforts of individual landlords, artists, residents and entrepreneurs. “First Fridays” are a mass of humanity. More gallery, studio, restaurant, retail, office and loft space are opening every week.
Kansas City is a remarkable city. What has taken other cities 20 to 30 years to achieve, Kansas City is achieving in less than 10. To ensure our success, we need to make revitalization and redevelopment of Downtown and economic development throughout our community as easy as possible, not just a little less difficult.
Aaron G. March is a shareholder of White Goss Bowers March Schulte & Weisenfels and an Ingram’s 40 Under Forty honoree from 1998. He can be reached at 816.502.4701, firstname.lastname@example.org