Revitalization

From Main Street: Will Lifestyle Centers Replace Downtown?

Posted on: November 19th, 2012 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 2 Comments

 

This blog post was adapted and edited for length from an article on the National Trust Main Street Center. Read the original piece here by Michael Stumpf, consultant and principal of Place Dynamics LLC.

Lifestyle centers -- a new open-air retail format smaller than a regional mall and often unanchored by traditional department stores -- are developers' response to a changing retail landscape. These centers cater to the specialty retailers, restaurants, and service chains that continue to add new store locations. The open-air format, design and amenities, and concentration of entertainment uses seek to create a more exciting environment to attract customers.

Interestingly, developers of lifestyle centers looked to traditional downtowns as an inspiration in creating the new format. For example:

  • Buildings are often made to look like multiple storefronts that have evolved over time.
  • Shops open directly to the sidewalk. Cars have even been introduced into the center with streets and parking.
  • The center will usually have entertainment uses, such as theaters and fitness centers. Residential or office uses may also be incorporated into the mix.

The format also gives mall operators an advantage over traditional downtowns in that, as private property, they are able to better regulate many of the issues that present challenges for downtown programs, such as:

  • Location. A lifestyle center, as a new creation, can be located in the best place relative to population and transportation networks.
  • New design. Designed from scratch, it can also create a pattern of uses, circulation, common spaces, and parking that addresses the desires of tenants and customers alike.
  • Ownership. Owning the properties allows operators to approve or disapprove of potential tenants, determine where they can locate in the center, regulate facades and signs, and establish policies for hours of operation.
  • Available resources. Tenant fees, paid by all, go toward providing security, maintaining common areas, and promoting the center, without the need for a member-based organization or business improvement district.


Historic downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin.

But do lifestyle centers really succeed in recreating the experience of a true downtown? While there are some very good examples of lifestyle malls as “new town centers,” the majority fall short in their design, more closely resembling the open air malls that were built until enclosed malls became the norm in the 1960s.

Even the best of the centers, though, still miss the mark in a few key areas. Despite their design appeal, lifestyle malls are filled with the same shops selling the same merchandise and the same restaurants with the same food as every other mall in America. Although safe and clean, they may also appear a bit sterile.

A close look at the buildings reveals them to be large structures with tacked-on facades, rather than individual structures with their own history. In fact, it is history that is missing from the picture. A true downtown has a patina, a unique feel, a randomness that can’t be duplicated.

Downtowns will not compete by trying to be like lifestyle centers, even though there are lessons to be learned from their design and management practices. Instead, downtowns will succeed based on their ability to differentiate themselves from the homogeneous aspects of these malls. They will build on their history, promote their unique shops and restaurants, incorporate residential and employment uses, provide flexibility in design, and celebrate the quirks, scars, and oddities that have appeared over time.

All of these characteristics tell a story that can be compelling, if the district tells it well. These things have an emotional appeal. People will talk of loving their downtown. How many people love the mall?

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Balancing Preservation and Development in the Rapidly Growing Capital

Posted on: October 17th, 2012 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Written by Ari Gefen, Public Affairs Intern


Streetscape in Mt. Pleasant neighborhood, Washington DC.

On Friday, October 12, I had the pleasure of attending two of the afternoon sessions at the DC Preservation League's 2012 Conference at the Charles Sumner School. The talks gave great insight into unique concerns that preservationists face in a city that is changing at an intense pace.

The first talk I attended was on streetscapes, which may not be what you think they are. Streetscapes are the trees, planters, and other breaks in the concrete and asphalt that line every street in Washington, DC.

These small patches of flora make the District one of the best stewards of green space within a dense urban center in the country, and are actually quite historic in nature. In fact, these streetscapes date all the way back to the Parking Act of 1870. Facing road deterioration due to weather and Civil War troop movements, as well as severe budgetary restraints, Congress came up with the inventive solution of “parking” its roads.

This parking created a distinctive “greenprint” for DC streets that now covers over 9,000 acres of space on District sidewalks. Besides providing practical benefits such as reducing crime, flooding, and pollution, these parking spaces also create a pleasant and consistent aesthetic that makes DC one of the most walkable cities in the nation.

Trees and planters on the sidewalks are probably not the first thoughts that pop into people’s mind when they think of DC, but this talk definitely made the point that the small things in a city are also an important part of what makes it great.

The second seminar concerned the subject of new developments in historic districts, and covered a wide array of approaches to the issue. The first speaker, James Appleby, spoke about the Bryan School, a disused but historic property in his neighborhood that was falling into disrepair.

Through the formation of a neighborhood association with the school as its landmark property, Appleby was able to work with developers to reuse the school as condominiums, revitalizing a community around a property that most people had written off.


Mural in U St. corridor, Washington DC.

Sheryl Walter, who is the current head of the U Street Neighborhood Association, discussed the challenge of maintaining the historic nature of a community that has become a serious entertainment hub with very desirable and underdeveloped space.

Though Walter seemed mostly welcoming of the massive development coming to her neighborhood, she was attempting to restrain overambitious and tall development that would obscure the nature of the neighborhood. Considering the breakneck pace of development in the U Street corridor, however, it was unclear how much power her community will be able to wield in holding back the onslaught of apartment complexes and retail space.

The third speaker spoke about perhaps the most unique preservation concern -- preservation of a community, rather than a building. Jim Myers lived through and wrote extensively on the horrible murders and mismanagement surrounding the Kentucky Courts public housing project in the 1990s. The Kentucky Courts were built in the modernist style and at first created a successful community in Capitol Hill East. Its interconnected stairwells and open courtyard fomented a sense of togetherness and encouraged neighborly interaction.

However, the same elements that made Kentucky Courts a pleasant place to live eventually came to serve a different purpose, as the building began to fall apart and its passageways became a perfect setting for a gang fortress in the 1990s. Through strong community activism, and with eventual cooperation from the DC government, Myers and his neighbors were finally able to bring down the infamous project and replace it with mixed income housing funded by a private-public partnership.

Myers’ story brought up an interesting point about the diversity of preservation that I believe was well presented in these conference sessions. Preservation often focuses on a particular building or neighborhood, but the preservation of community and character is equally important.

The talks I attended demonstrated that preservation moving forward will have to address both issues while also accommodating necessary change. Successfully navigating these challenges will ensure that DC remains the captivating place it is today, even as it continues to grow at a rapid rate.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

[10 on Tuesday] 10 Ways to Connect Main Street and Hispanic Communities

Posted on: October 16th, 2012 by Julia Rocchi

 

This toolkit was adapted from a National Trust Main Street Center Story of the Week, “America in Translation: Hispanic Heritage on Main Street.” Read the full article.

Throughout National Hispanic Heritage Month this year (Sept. 15-Oct. 15), communities across the country honored the many contributions Hispanic and Latino Americans have made both to our nation and to their own cities and towns. This reflection is a great starting point for thinking about how to revitalize your own community while also honoring diverse heritages.

Norma Ramirez de Miess, Senior Program Officer at the National Trust Main Street Center, travels regularly to work with individual Main Street programs all over the country and help them reach out to their Hispanic constituents.

“Downtowns are at the heart of the community for everybody, and most cultures, even outside the U.S., have downtowns as their centers,” she says. “There is great potential for Main Street to be the catalyst for inclusion.”

Ramirez de Miess distills her long experience of building inclusive programs into three key principles: 1) understand what is shared among people in the district; 2) recognize the differences; and 3) build bridges. With these building blocks in mind, let’s look at 10 ways your town can connect with its Hispanic communities.

1. Spot economic opportunities. In many Main Street communities, often the more recent immigrants of the Hispanic community have become the primary economic force in once-forsaken downtowns. Take Woodburn, Oregon, for example. When an outlet mall dried up downtown business, the first-generation Mexican migrants living there saw an opportunity to start businesses in the vacant storefronts. Such entrepreneurship created a niche retail experience in the region, one that leveraged its Hispanic roots and also helped bring downtown Woodburn back to life.

2. Get hands-on. Betsy Cowan, Main Street manager in Egleston Square, Roxbury, Massachusetts, suggests that “tailored, on-site bilingual group training and one-on-one assistance programs designed for micro-businesses, although requiring a higher investment of time and resources, have been proven to yield results.” For example, with Cowan’s help, one local grocer realized that by making minor façade improvements and adding certain products to his stock, he could transform his business from a store catering primarily to Hispanic residents into a marketplace for all the neighborhood’s residents.

3. Start at the very beginning… A truly inclusive Main Street program needs to involve members of the Hispanic community on a fundamental planning level, whether through representation on the board of directors, partnerships, or volunteers. As Ramirez de Miess says, “When there’s no sense of ownership, there’s absolutely no commitment in the community to participate.”

4. …and start small. Not all Hispanic business owners might be as comfortable with or educated about the formal processes necessary for non-profit organization planning. As Woodburn’s Community Relations Officer Robyn Stowers suggests, “sometimes it makes more sense to start small, with the group that needs more coaching, and then strategically bring other groups in” as people gain more trust in the organization.

5. Take it offline. To successfully reach out to the Hispanic community in particular, Ramirez de Miess recommends direct rather than indirect forms of communication. In other words, have face-to-face meetings or visit individual businesses, rather than relying solely on email or phone calls.

6. Throw a party. Special events that celebrate important Hispanic holidays and festivals are perhaps the most visible way for a Main Street program to appeal to its Hispanic constituents. “I joke with people -- just give us a reason and we’ll have a party,” Ramirez de Miess says. “Celebrations of heritage, of family, are great for any culture.” And with the large number of volunteers required for a special event, celebrations are a great way to build a base of support in the Hispanic community for a growing Main Street.

7. Go bilingual in Spanish. In towns with a strong Hispanic demographic, make sure everyone can understand flyers, posters, and other promotional materials. In Amarillo, Texas’s Center City, the Main Street program translated all of its advertising copy into Spanish and launched a promotional campaign on a Spanish-language radio station for the annual August block party. While most, if not all, Hispanic residents are fluent in both English and Spanish, says Main Street Manager Beth Duke, “it meant a lot to Spanish speakers to hear the ads in the language of their home, it made them feel more welcome. Many people told me that they felt like they were truly invited to the event.”

8. Go bilingual in English. The language barrier can go both ways. In Bridgeton, New Jersey, Main Street manager Carola Hartley says that she used to hear complaints from English-speaking residents that it was hard for them to shop at Hispanic businesses due to the lack of English-language signs. In response, Bridgeton Main Street helped Hispanic merchants translate and put up signs and menus in both languages.

9. Balance preservation with culture aesthetics. In Harlingen, Texas, recent immigrants opening new businesses downtown sometimes have design ideas that clash with the existing built environment. “There’s a different aesthetic in Mexico -- large print, bright colors, the more signs the better -- so you want to respect the culture, but you also want to respect the original architecture of the building. You want to merge that,” explains Manager Cheryl LaBerge. Downtown Harlingen brings in architects and interior designers to work with individual businesses and educate business-owners about preserving the community’s architectural heritage.

10. Know your community’s makeup. Diverse ethnicities, nationalities, beliefs, and cultures are combined under the umbrella terms “Hispanic” and “Latino.” Moreover, established Hispanic communities as old as the town itself will likely have quite different needs than more recent immigrants or seasonal laborers. Learn your town’s particular makeup, and implement initiatives that will best help local entrepreneurs revitalize their businesses and participate in downtown activities.

When in doubt, the first step is always to respect the individual needs and rights of others, so that you can build mutual understanding and trust. As Ramirez de Miess puts it, “Building a relationship of trust means to connect with a genuine interest in people, finding out their needs and preferences. The first efforts need to be about learning about each other.”

Now it’s your turn. What examples can you share from your community about connecting with Hispanic heritage?

Interested in learning more about how Main Street can transform your community? Visit the National Trust Main Street Center for more info.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.

Burlington, Iowa’s Old-School Movie Theater Gets a New Lease on Life

Posted on: September 25th, 2012 by David Robert Weible 1 Comment

 

Though I’m a child of the '90s, when megaplexes were popping up like Furbies and Pokemon in suburban neighborhoods, my friend Tim and I would spend rainy Saturday afternoons at the 1924 movie house my neighborhood struggled to keep open, watching and re-watching flicks like Men in Black and the Jurassic Park series.

Though they weren’t exactly Gone With the Wind, seeing these movies in a historic setting made an impression on me -- which is why I’m always thrilled to see the restoration of historic theaters across the country, including one of the latest, the Capitol Theater in downtown Burlington, Iowa.


The Art Deco building first opened with the showing of The Prince and the Pauper in 1937 and featured countless classics before closing in 1977 after a final screening of Carrie. Though it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996, the theater remained shuttered, slowly decaying from neglect, until a friends group was formed in 2003.

Since 2005, the upstart Capitol Theater Foundation worked to restore the marquee and the lobby’s colorful terrazzo floor, uncover and restore original tin ceilings and maple floors, repair the terra cotta exterior, reconstruct the ticket booth and concession counter, repair and replace damaged acoustic tiles, and expand the stage for live performances.

The building reopened after the $3 million restoration as the Capitol Theater and Performing Arts Center on June 1, almost 35 years after it was closed. And while they may not make movies like they used to, at places like the Capitol you can at least watch them like they used to.

For my money, there’s nothing better.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

David Robert Weible

David Robert Weible

David Robert Weible is an assistant editor at Preservation magazine. He came to DC from Cleveland, Ohio, where he wrote for Sailing World and Outside magazines.

[Interview] Morgan Devlin, Preserve Rhode Island: Rhody Rules the Roost

Posted on: September 21st, 2012 by Julia Rocchi

 

Morgan Devlin's favorite new colleague is ... a rooster.

As marketing manager for the Historic Sites Coalition of Rhode Island, Preserve Rhode Island, Devlin is part of the team behind a colorful, cartoon rooster named Rhody the Rambler, the mascot for the coalition's Rhody Ramble program.


Rhody and a new friend participate in "Learning Colonial Games and Crafts" at Smith-Appleby House in Smithfield, RI.

This new effort, designed to connect families with historic places in Rhode Island, launched over the summer with a coalition of 21 historic sites ranging from working farms to waterfront mansions. The program focused on events for children 5-12 and their families, with activities ranging from concerts to treasure hunts to specialty kids tours. The core concept: create opportunities for families to have quality time together at Rhode Island’s unique places.

Devlin says of Rhody Ramble: "The scope of our project is local, but our goal is to create a program which can have a much broader impact on how historic sites interact with families. Our sites range from small, volunteer-run sites to those with a professional staff. We believe that the chance for wonderful encounters with historic places is possible, no matter the size of your budget."

We caught up with Devlin, a 10-year resident of Rhode Island, recently to see how the families, the sites, and the rooster are faring so far.

What’s your elevator pitch for Rhody Ramble?

The Rhody Ramble is a family adventure to explore Rhode Island’s unique and historic places. It is a great way for kids and parents to interact with local history, even for those who do not consider themselves history lovers. It includes a wide variety of events: concerts, scavenger hunts, festivals and hands-on activities. So there truly is something for everyone.

What burst of insight inspired you to create Rhody the Rambler?

Rhody was a natural ambassador for the program. He was born during a brainstorming session among the staff at Preserve Rhode Island. Once we thought of him, it was clear that he was a perfect representative for our historic sites, as he is a heritage breed Rhode Island Red Rooster.

We also wanted to make sure the graphics spoke to kids and immediately conveyed that this was a program for them. Animals have a universal appeal, so parents connect with him too! We were fortunate to work with talented local graphic designers who brought him to life. At one point, I had several possible Rhodys hanging on my office walls, but he quickly became the favorite.

We are all very fond of Rhody, including our partners who immediately embraced him. We even purchase a stuffed animal rooster to travel around the state to various events and photographed him participating in the activities, as you can see in the photos. Rhody helped us to share the fun nature of the program and the family-friendly side of the historic sites, which can sometimes be a challenge to convey.


Rhody enjoys some traditional RI johnnycakes at Windmill Wednesday at Prescott Farm in Middletown, RI.

How did the Rhody Ramble help existing historic sites show off different sides of themselves?

By bringing together 21 sites under the umbrella of the Rhody Ramble program, we were able to highlight the fact that family programming is an important part of many historic sites. Since people often do not associate historic places with kids’ activities, creating a summer passport filled with events for families was in itself revealing a different side of many places.

In some cases, it inspired the sites to create new programs for families. A couple examples were the Fly a Kite Day at Watson Farm, a property of Historic New England, and the Explore RI History tour at Smith’s Castle.

What’s your biggest piece of advice for other organizations who are interested in doing something similar in their communities?

Understand your audience. If you wish to draw families to your historic site, think about what will attract them. Review your current programming and see what may be appropriate for children. If you are creating a new event, understand that it doesn’t need to be complex. An outdoor concert, an open house with kids’ activities, a scavenger hunt or even a story hour could be simple ways to draw in family visitors.

Consider pricing that will make it easy for families to attend such as free admission for kids or a ‘per family’ rate. See if there is an opportunity to partner with other attractions for families nearby and create a half-day or full-day experience in your community.

Also, make sure to communicate with families through channels they use. We were fortunate to work with a local family blogger who featured several of our events. Look for the resources that are being used by families in your area. If you aren’t sure where to start, ask someone with kids for suggestions.


Rhody listens to the band at the Concert Under the Elms at the John Brown House in Providence, RI.

Why is it important to expose kids to history and preservation? How does a program like Rhody Ramble reinforce those lessons?

History is exciting. It is the story of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. I love historic places because they embody the lives of people who lived in our towns and cities before we did -- it is the closest we can come to meeting them!

The big misconception is that history is a bunch of dry, dull facts. However, a historic place can bring that history to life with activities like grinding corn, carrying a yoke and buckets, dressing up in costumes or playing traditional games like graces. By introducing children to their history in an engaging way, we can help to build future stewards of our historic places.

I believe the strength of a program like the Rhody Ramble is its ability to reach out to new audiences of families. Many historic sites are run with limited staff and volunteers. Their time is stretched between many different activities. The Rhody Ramble is focused on marketing the great work that they do every day.

If we can help to attract kids and parents to explore a place they have never visited, it may inspire them to return. It may help them to better relate the history they learn in school to their community. It opens the door for many great possibilities!

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.