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Each month downtown leaders turn to Downtown Idea Exchange for practical news reports, how-to information, and hundreds of real-world examples of how downtowns are growing and prospering.

We often have valuable background material, additional information, or related resources that we just can’t fit in the newsletter. The links below will take you to the full documents, articles, videos, websites, marketing materials, and more.


September 2019

Small city uses arts to drive decades-long renaissance —  Paducah, KY, has combined a quilting museum and a public mural project with local pride and a relentless place-building campaign to turn itself into a widely recognized arts hub.  • Read the LowerTown Neighborhood Plan. • Watch a video about Paducah’s renaissance below. ...

City scrutinizes parking patterns, adjusts rates based on findings —  Each spring, Seattle’s consulting firm dispatches researchers to count cars in every block, every hour from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Based on those results, Seattle adjusts hourly parking rates. See the Seattle Department of Transportation’s educational video below. ...

Millennial SWAT team identifies downtown assets and needs —  Springfield, MO, is working to attract millennials to live and work in the city center. Its secret weapon? A Millennial SWAT team. The city organized millennial residents into small teams and sent them into a variety of downtowns that boast features that Springfield might want to emulate. Read the Millennial SWAT team’s full report....

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August 2019

Growth of food halls continues —  The number of food halls nationally is poised to grow from just 120 in 2016 to 450 by the end of 2020, commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield concludes in its Food Halls 3.0 report. ...

Amid shift to pedestrianism, shade takes on new importance —  Phoenix has embraced the need for shade. Read the City of Phoenix Tree and Shade Master Plan....

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July 2019

Rather than regulating chains, city imposes limits on the width of storefronts —  The “storefront conservation corridor” in St. Petersburg, FL, offers an unusual approach to regulating retailers in two busy business districts. Rather than limiting chains or banning them outright, the city created new rules that define storefronts based on the width of their street-level facades. ...

New 5G equipment creates conflict in downtowns —  Mirroring a national pushback against the new generation of “small-cell” wireless antennas, officials in Whitefish, MT, aren’t keen about the prospects of new devices popping up in a downtown known for its mountain vistas and buildings that date to 1919. See a National League of Cities report about 5G antennas....

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June 2019

Retail shifts dovetail with downtown assets —  The business of retailing has been roiled by rapid changes in technology and society. The evolution is changing the way stores and restaurants operate. Click here to read the archive article, Food halls draw diners and restaurateurs. ...

Gift-bag giveaways help promote business district merchants —  The Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership in Manhattan came up with a unique promotion: The district recycles its eye-catching street banners into “banner bags” given away at the organization’s events. See a fact sheet on the Flatiron Partnership’s gift bag program. ...

Downtown adjusts parking rules for food truck operators —  Orlando ranks as one of the nation’s most welcoming cities for food trucks. A U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation report rated it as the third-friendliest locale for operators. Read the Food Truck Nation report....

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May 2019

By hosting a few strategic events, downtown attracts new visitors —   For years, downtown leaders in El Paso, TX, steered clear of hosting events. But in 2017, the Downtown Management District had something of a change of heart. They decided to organize a limited number of strategic events that would highlight downtown El Paso's assets. View promotional videos for El Paso’s Downtown Barstool Open,  Eat Authentico Restaurant Crawl, and Downtown Living Tour below. ...

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April 2019

As downtowns embrace streetcars, an obvious question: Are they worth it? —  Cities from coast to coast have installed streetcars in recent years, seeing the retro systems as a way boost downtown economies and make neighborhoods more appealing to millennials and boomers. See a report on the development impact of streetcars in Portland and Seattle. ...

Beer trail, coffee trail drive traffic to downtown watering holes —  Downtown leaders in Huntsville, AL, have built buzz through a simple and inexpensive promotion — the Downtown Huntsville Craft Beer Trail. Watch a promotional video about the event below. ...

Heated streets draw winter shoppers and runners —  In 1988 the City of Holland, MI, implemented “the largest municipal snowmelt system in North America.” Read a brochure on the benefits of the system and watch a video below. ...

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March 2019

For one city, keeping employers happy means hundreds of meetings a year — It also means retaining local college students. Economic developers in Dubuque, IA, surveyed regional college students about their aspirations after graduation and found 55 percent of those surveyed were unsure if they would remain in the area. Those findings spurred the Greater Dubuque Development Corp. to market the region to young workers. See the “You Can Make It In Dubuque” brochure. ...

Pricey but effective, wayfinding signs are “voice of the city” —  Springfield, MA, has seen major new developments in recent months, including the opening of a casino and the rehab of the city’s Union Station. To help guide visitors to the city center, Springfield invested $400,000 in a series of wayfinding signs installed in late 2018. Read the Sign Research Foundation’s guide to urban wayfinding. ...

By focusing on five key themes, downtowns attract millennials —  New research from Arizona State University is providing insights into the type of downtown housing that millennials value. ...

Encouraging upper level residential —  To spur residential development in downtown Bradenton, FL, the city recently approved two new programs. Click the links below to learn more.  • Upstairs Residential Conversion Grant Program & Application • Restaurant and Food Services Incentive Program & Application ...

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February 2019

Downtown rewards commuters who don’t drive —  Durham, NC, has been testing two low-cost methods to discourage commuters from single-occupancy trips downtown.  Watch a video about the program below. ...

Parking management plan frees up hundreds of unused spaces —  While downtown Quincy, MA, has seen an influx of tenants and traffic in recent years, two aging parking garages became structurally unsound and were forced to close.To ease the squeeze, Quincy has implemented a variety of strategies. Read a report on Quincy's parking plan. ...

Weary of waiting for median construction, business district paints a mock-up on the street —  Frustrated at the slow pace of streetscape changes in the Douglas Design District in Wichita, KS, the board decided to paint a mock-up of the median and crosswalks so business owners, residents, and shoppers could get a feel for the changes.  See a video of the street painting from the Wichita Eagle. ...

Underpass upgrade beautifies entrance to business district —  In St. Petersburg, FL, the downtown business district known as the Deuces has been in a long decline, in part because Interstate 275 cuts through the neighborhood. In an effort to make the area more aesthetically pleasing, the nonprofit Deuces Live pushed to spruce up the I-275 underpass with murals, lighting, and landscaping. See the project video below. ...

“Agrihoods” take root —  Real estate developers are marketing “agrihoods,” developments that include community farms. Read ULI’s report on agrihoods....

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January 2019

Makerspace gives fresh spark to downtown —  Lexington Collaboratory & Makerspace is a 1,300-square-foot lab that lets startups tinker with their products. The Collaboratory also provides a team of mentors willing to dispense advice about legal matters, marketing, real estate, finance, and professional development. Read an online article about maker space business models from makezine.com. ...

Engaging the public smooths planning process —  In Delaware, planners have used video games and board games to engage residents in the planning process. The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission’s Dots & Dashes game let residents participate in complex transportation planning. ...

Stimulating residential development —  The city of Elgin, IL, has awarded its first grant to install a sprinkler system in a downtown building. See the complete grant program information packet....

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December 2018

A five-step plan for taking advantage of a nearby trail —  Hiking and biking trails can provide a spark of activity for nearby downtowns — but only if local leaders make a concerted effort to market themselves to the people using the trails. Read the North Country Trail Association’s guide to creating a Trail Town. ...

Opportunity Zones promise to spur development in low-income areas —  Opportunity Zones were one of the little-noticed pieces of the tax reform of 2017. The new designation promises to spur billions of dollars of new investment in low-income areas nationally. See a brief overview of Opportunity Zones. ...

Vintage signs have broad appeal —  Ghost signs are faded remains of hand-painted advertising signs on the exterior walls of buildings.  The National Park Service has an online brief, The Preservation of Historic Signs. ...

Invisible art —  “Invisible art” projects provide a rainy-day enticement to visit downtown. Jefferson, IA, is one of many cities to embrace a unique super-hydrophobic coating that is invisible on dry concrete, but reveals itself when it rains. Read an archive article, "A rainy day enticement for city centers."...

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