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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.


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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November 2018

Electric cabs, other ride sharing, part of new “microtransit” trends —  Microtransit initiatives aim to ease traffic congestion, as well as reducing the need for public investment in parking garages and lots, not to mention bus service. See a report about cities partnering with Lyft and Uber prepared by the Chadwick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University. ...

Downtown uses temporary dog parks to satisfy demand, test sites —  Raleigh, NC, operates pop-up dog parks downtown that give dogs a place to play for a day or two. The city ultimately hopes to build a permanent dog park downtown, and the pop-up events let parks officials gauge the pros and cons of various locations. Read Raleigh’s report on dog parks. ...

Change to Make a Change program launches —  Donations to the Change to Make a Change program in Bloomington, IN, will be distributed among local service providers such as emergency shelters, free meal sites, and other resources. View the Change to Make a Change brochure and map. ...

Wayfinding encourages multi-destination trips —  A recently approved wayfinding signage plan in Burien, WA, encourages residents and visitors to “park once — shop twice.” ...

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October 2018

Public libraries act as partners in downtown development —  A study by the Urban Institute and the Urban Libraries Council argues that libraries bring overlooked benefits to downtowns. ...

Food truck festival draws crowds, supports local restaurants —  Little Rock, Arkansas’ Food Truck Festival is a signature event for downtown, drawing 40,000 people to visit 60 food trucks.  See an overview of the growth of the festival. ...

“Grow your own” approach to jobs offers alternative to bidding wars —  The “grow your own” model of business development focuses on nurturing entrepreneurs and small businesses. Read the Kansas City Fed’s Grow-Your-Own Guide. ...

City illuminates downtown gateways and gathering spaces —  When completed in 2022-23, Rosslyn, VA’s downtown corridor and gateways will be connected through illuminated art including 21-foot tall towers of light. Here is a PowerPoint presentation on the current proposal. Watch an artist’s talk about the design process below. ...

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September 2018

Let there be light: Cities turn to lighting to draw visitors —  Cities large and small are using public light displays to spark interest in downtowns. See Phillips Lighting’s study of the economic impact of public light installations. ...

Downtown under construction? Use this checklist to ease the pain —  When Waverly, IA, embarked on an infrastructure project, the Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Iowa, and Downtown Professionals Network issued a pre-construction technical assistance guide to help downtown businesses cope with the disruptions. ...

Zoning rules often block the housing market’s “missing middle” —  Many millennials want to live in walkable urban areas, yet zoning rules often preclude the development of affordable housing on the fringes of downtowns. Read Daniel Parolek’s illustrated explanation of missing middle housing here. ...

City tackles retail vacancies —  A recent report for San Francisco’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development recommends a number of strategies to fill empty storefronts. ...

New downtown connector seeks active tenants —  The city of Middletown, NY,  has launched Race 4 Space, a Shark Tank style business competition.  Check out the Race 4 Space program guidelines....

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August 2018

Graffiti removal program engages public and troubled teens —  Portland, ME, has addressed graffiti through an innovative program that uses the labor of troubled teens. Downtown pedestrians can take photos of graffiti and alert downtown managers through the SeeClickFix app. Learn more, view the Downtown Achievement Award presentation. ...

Food halls draw diners and restaurateurs, serve up creative cuisine —   “Food halls are popping up around the United States at a breakneck pace,” Cushman & Wakefield says in its Food Halls of North America 2018 report. ...

Small city connects with regional trail to draw visitors downtown —  The small city of Powder Springs, GA, has an ambitious plan to revive its struggling historic district.  The city will break ground in late 2018 on a $5.75 million park that will serve as a trailhead to the Silver Comet Trail. Learn more about similar projects: • Carbondale, PA • Akron, OH...

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July 2018

Weekly, one-minute videos keep city center top of mind —  The new Grow St. Charles Monday Minute video series is allowing the Economic Development Department in St. Charles, MO, to highlight everything from retention and recruitment efforts to its thriving defense, aerospace, and healthcare industries. See four of the videos below. ...

Demonstration project educates and engages the public —  The Las Olas Boulevard Six-Month Safety Improvements Demonstration Project in Fort Lauderdale, FL, is part of an overall Community Investment Plan that includes safety and traffic calming improvements that will create a safer connection between the central business district, the busy boulevard, and local beaches. Watch videos educating the public about safety improvements and new bike lanes and rideshare zones below. ...

Exploring ways to expand the holiday season downtown —  It’s never too soon to begin planning for the holidays. In Chillicothe, MO, Main Street Chillicothe spent one summer polling merchants to discover what worked and what did not in the city’s holiday event calendar. See the Holiday Event survey. ...

Using a “carrot and stick” approach to address vacant buildings —  A new ordinance aims to keep better track of vacant buildings in downtown Paris, TX, while also incentivizing improvements and penalizing owners that allow properties to remain empty and/or unkempt. See the Vacant Building Registry ordinance. ...

Study reveals 25 actions to boost downtown —  A detailed report from the UK-based Institute of Place Management aims to identify factors which lead to sustainable high streets, or downtowns. Read the full report here....

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June 2018

Tour highlights the benefits of downtown living —  The inaugural Downtown Living Tour in El Paso, TX, was so successful that it has become an annual event.  Watch videos promoting the Tour below. ...

Strong city investment attracts development projects —  The demise of the textile industry left the city of Kannapolis, NC, with about 5,000 fewer jobs, a huge, vacant industrial campus, and a lackluster downtown. Thanks to heavy investment by both the industrial site owner and the city, the future is looking bright. See the project timelines, Master Plan, and Demonstration project renderings. ...

Under-utilized upper stories provide opportunities for downtown growth —  Successful upper-story residential units can help offset the costs of operating street-level businesses.  View Clinton, NC’s Mixed-Use and Second-Story Residential Development Incentive Program guidelines....

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