How Do You Choose?

How do community developers whose goals include neighborhood revitalization identify which businesses or other non-residential tenants (library, healthcare center) are likely to create the most positive momentum in a given area? It’s certainly more art than science. We asked a few longtime community developers for their thoughts.

Image shows Hat City Kitchen, which was critical to revitalization efforts in a New Jersey town
Hat City Kitchen. Photo courtesy of HANDS

How do community developers whose goals include neighborhood revitalization identify which businesses or other non-residential tenants (library, healthcare center) are likely to create the most positive momentum in a given area?

It’s certainly more art than science. We asked a few longtime community developers for their thoughts.

They are:

Jeanne Dubois, Dorchester Bay EDC (below)
Marilyn Mosinski, Detroit Shoreway CDO
Patrick Morrissy, HANDS, Inc.

Have you made decisions like these? Tell us about them in the comments below.

Jeanne Dubois
Executive Director
Dorchester Bay EDC
Dorchester, Mass.

Sometimes you have to keep experimenting until you “hit it.” It’s all about the end users, right? We have two light industrial projects in an industrial and housing zone, the Quincy Corridor. We picked those locations because we have a preservation project of 129 housing units in pre-development along that street, and it allowed us to do a complete corridor transformation in just four blocks near one of the proposed Fairmount rail stations.

We had bought these thinking we would be doing TOD mixed-use projects, but the community is dying for jobs. One end user, The New England Center for Arts and Technology, is a culinary job training center that guarantees placement in a large food services company, replicating Bill Strickland’s Manchester Bidwell Corporation in Pittsburgh. There will also be youth afterschool pottery, digital imaging, and photography classes upstairs.

The other, the former Pearl Meats factory, will be a green small business center mostly for local minority-owned contractors. We went this way, with 1500–2000 sq ft spaces, because our broker found there was only a 1 percent vacancy rate in Boston for this size space. After trying for two years to find a single great employer, we made this shift because there are many small minority businesses — often contractors, food processors, or suppliers to larger venues like a supermarket — that need space with a loading dock, bathroom, office, and room to do business. This model helps us house local businesses and hire local people. If one of six tenants move out, it’s not so dangerous as the one key employer leaving.

Marilyn Mosinski
Economic Development Director
Detroit Shoreway CDO
Cleveland, Ohio

DSCDO owns 13 buildings throughout the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood, six of which are located in the Gordon Square Arts District neighborhood. We really take our time to put the right tenant in the right place. We get calls all the time, but we want a good mix. We don’t want all restaurants. We want people to be able to shop, eat, and play in the neighborhood. Come to a movie, get some ice cream.

We want it to be a useful neighborhood. That’s what we’re creating here. There needs to still be affordable places for people who need to go food shopping, intermingling with entertainment.

Out tenants are all locally owned businesses, except for one Save a Lot. That’s an official policy. If Starbucks came in, we’d have no interest. All the tenants we’ve received have been from word of mouth.

Our meat and potatoes are our three theaters. Our latest project was an ice cream parlor. We don’t technically need an ice cream parlor, but it’s great to have one. It brings people together, and they’re glad that we’re not bringing in some foofy thing they can’t afford.

Patrick Morrissy
Executive Director
HANDS, Inc.
Orange, N.J.

In 2001, building on a long history of successful revitalization work based on addressing pivotal residential problem properties, HANDS focused on a former industrial neighborhood, the Valley, and led a comprehensive planning process that created a clear neighborhood vision of the future.

Commercial and industrial problem properties were a blight and new commercial enterprises were desperately needed. In order to send a strong message that Orange was a “City on the Move” and to meet the community’s planning goals, HANDS consciously developed spaces for and recruited tenants from the creative sectors — artists, artisans, arts programs, musicians, recording studios, urban farmers, music venues, cafés, a theater, restaurants, youth arts, galleries, learning centers.

The simple equation for this work is: Redevelop pivotal properties + Mission-connected tenants = Impact.

It’s hard to know exactly what will be the catalyst, though. If I knew seven years ago what I know now, I would have developed our new bar/restaurant/music venue, Hat City Kitchen, as the first piece of the Valley Arts District because of all the momentum it’s created.

Shelterforce is a nonprofit publication, published by the National Housing Institute. We are not beholden to a particular program, theory, approach, or constituency. We are dedicated to being useful to our readers and to fostering strong, vibrant, just, healthy places for everyone.

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