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Downtown on the Upswing

Working together, government officials and businesses are utilizing careful planning and strategic vision to revitalize the nation's once-thriving town centers.

Aug/Sep 07
(page 2 of 2)
New Sectors and Existing Residents
Another boon for those who plan and correctly execute downtown redevelopment is the addition of new businesses and new residents into the community. "Pure life science, biotech, and pharmaceutical companies have not really been attracted to the Charlotte region in the past," says Legg. "[The research campus] changes all of that in a big way. Now there is a reason for them to be in the Charlotte area, because there is such a unique collaboration of universities."

Downtown Memphis, Tennessee, has seen its share of revitalization and development, with still much more to be done. Having numerous historic buildings in need of redevelopment, many developers took a hard look at the economic viability of revitalizing downtown, after much of the retail in the area moved to adjacent malls.

"We had all of these warehouses downtown that were no longer being used as warehouses," says Tony Bologna, owner of Bologna Consultants, a Memphis-based construction consulting firm. With a desire to lure more residents and companies downtown, Memphis started converting the abandoned warehouse and office buildings into apartments in 1980. From there, they built houses and office buildings on Mud Island, a park-like area located off of downtown. Much of the housing was targeted for people already working in the downtown area.

What has made the current downtown redevelopment in Memphis successful is the city's unique location as a gateway for business and manufacturing distribution. "With Federal Express, the railroads, and all the barge traffic that goes through here, we are a major distribution center," says Bologna. In addition, the area has St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, as well as numerous government agencies to provide good jobs. "We were also able to entice AutoZone to move its corporate headquarters downtown," he says. "They took an old warehouse building, renovated it, and built a brand-new office building for their headquarters."

The revitalization of downtown Memphis has worked. More people are living and spending time in the area. "We have a lot of things going on downtown: theaters, festivals, and sports," says Bologna. "People have now adapted to urban living as a way of life."

So successful are some of these downtown remakes, that many cities around the country are entering into the fray with large and small projects:
• In downtown San Diego, a 34-story office tower, with a focus on environmentally-friendly design, is currently being proposed. In fact, the building is striving to be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. Irvine Co., a Newport Beach developer, anticipates design approval in summer of 2007 and groundbreaking by mid-2008.
• In northern California, downtown Napa has seven major private developments in various stages of construction including, an Oxbow Public Market and Annex, a Westin Verasa hotel, residential construction, and restaurants.
• More than $2 billion in private and public investment has been utilized or is planned for downtown redevelopment in Scottsdale, Arizona, during the next five years. Some of this money has already resulted in projects that include mixed-use office space in Stetson Plaza, the Portales Corporate Center, the Hotel Valley Ho, and Waterview hotel and residential complex.
• In the late 1980s, the city of Joliet, Illinois, created a Joliet City Center Development Plan to revitalize its downtown core. Many aspects of the plan have been completed, including the Harrah's Casino Pavilion and Hotel, the Freedom Court building, and expansion of the Joliet Public Library. More than $128 million in property valuation has been added to the downtown area.

Creating a Substantial Foundation
According to Legg, to succeed in a downtown redevelopment requires "something substantial that moves downtown and creates well-paying jobs. And you have to create higher density residential sections that draw people downtown after hours and on weekends." Bologna agrees and adds to the mix good corporate citizenship and developers with deep enough pockets to roll with the lean years. "You've got to have developers and clients who are not looking for a quick buck, who are looking to stay the course, and who can keep the vision they started out with," he says.

Ultimately, says Legg, successfully revamping a downtown area requires a combination of vision and action. "You've got to get aggressive, take risks, and make it happen," he says. "Most things usually fail because of a lack of vision. Once you get past that, then you can start working on the details."

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