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torgo

Downtown Myths

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Some of you may have heard these before. 12 myths that are commonly believed with respect to downtown. Some apply to small downtowns, some apply to large downtowns. I don't agree with all of them, but they are fun to talk about nonetheless. Which apply to GR?

The list:

1. What we need is a film festival

2. Downtown zoning needs to allow vertical mixed use

3. Downtown needs a "theme" to be successful

4. We have a parking problem

5. Franchises will ruin downtown's quaintness

6. Businesses need to be open the same hours

7. Competition is bad for business

8. The brighter the lights, the better

9. Downtown can regain its prominence as the community's retail heart

10. Design controls will scare developers off

11. We can't do anything until we conduct a market study

12. Downtown retail needs more drive-by traffic

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5. Franchises will ruin downtown's quaintness

Well, we now have a Starbucks, Beaners, Subway, Quiznos, TGI Fridays, Jimmy Johns, and Courtyard by Marriott. Its still pretty quaint. Just don't tell anyone.

4. We have a parking problem

If by "We have a parking problem" you mean "We have a 'I don't want to park in a parking structure and walk more than a block' parking problem".

Personally I think there is plenty of parking downtown. The Monroe Center Ramp usually has lots of empty spaces, especially on weekends, and its 1-hour free.

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9. Downtown can regain its prominence as the community's retail heart

That will never happen. Retail has changed so dramatically over the past 10 - 20 years that retail serving the entire "community" (ie Metro Area) would most likely not fit in well with a downtown environment. Downtown retail should serve as speciality neighborhood retail, and maybe serve the 1 - 3 mile radius around downtown, such as how Meijer looks at sub-markets within a metro area. A Rivertown Crossings in downtown GR would kill downtown GR and then eat its carcass.

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These 4 stand out for me:

3. Downtown needs a "theme" to be successful

4. We have a parking problem

9. Downtown can regain its prominence as the community's retail heart

12. Downtown retail needs more drive-by traffic

On lesser scale maybe these 2 also:

7. Competition is bad for business

11. We can't do anything until we conduct a market study

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A Rivertown Crossings in downtown GR would kill downtown GR and then eat its carcass.

GRDad, what a visual :shok:

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A Rivertown Crossings in downtown GR would kill downtown GR and then eat its carcass.

If that's the case we should NIMBY-tize everyone within 3 miles of downtown to stop it... :ph34r:

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[4. We have a parking problem]

Wrong, parking is cheap and plentiful! Those jerks on the radio are wrong!

[12. Downtown retail needs more drive-by traffic]

I don't even know what this means. As in mini-malls? I think not.

[5. Franchises will ruin downtown's quaintness]

They said this in Chicago when Red Lobster and Chili's opened in River North. The area is still distinct, and it still brings people downtown. More business is never bad.

[9. Downtown can regain its prominence as the community's retail heart]

Gotta agree with Dad, retail is going in two different directions--personalization and consolidation. Meaning smaller boutique stores that can carve out a niche will be successful as will big-box retailers and their affiliates, but the middle ground is quickly dying.

[6. Businesses need to be open the same hours]

Businesses just need to be OPEN. Including SUNDAY! Honestly, what is everyone doing? Taking a day off? I don't want to cook, I want to spend MONEY!

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If that's the case we should NIMBY-tize everyone within 3 miles of downtown to stop it... :ph34r:

My issue is, as much as we would like to have a large downtown retail presence, in the end it would be very detrimental to the vibe of downtown:

1) An indoor mall of that size would need a lot of space and a lot of parking

2) An outdoor "new urbanist" mall of 1 million+ square feet would take up a lot of land, and would probably draw people away from the downtown core, thus diminishing the downtown vibe.

3) An influx of 100+ retail chains would kill local businesses downtown. We'd have to reinvent Monroe Center....again.

The "no parking downtown" myth is probably pretty applicable.

Right on with restaurants/shops being open on Sundays Greedo. I'm seeing more and more people downtown on Sunday, and there are very few options.

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Right on with restaurants/shops being open on Sundays Greedo. I'm seeing more and more people downtown on Sunday, and there are very few options.

I agree, I would like to see more things open earlier on Saturday afternoons and at least some hours on Sundays. It seems a lot of don't open until later on Saturday (after 5pm). Maybe it is just me :dontknow:

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I'm often annoyed when things aren't open on Saturdays or after 5. More residents downtown should help get a critical mass of people there to make longer hours profitable. I think chains are a good thing because they go where they know they can make a profit, and if they can do well downtown then I think we have a strong downtown.

We have way too much parking downtown as it is.

Market studies seem to be a big waste of time. I'm not sure why it costs millions of dollars to write a report that tells you something you pretty much already know.

Themes are stupid. Our theme should be "major city."

-nb

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8. The brighter the lights, the better

Yeah, that's a big myth. Light polution is evil.

2. Downtown zoning needs to allow vertical mixed use

I'm not sure I agree with you on that point, torgo. Why is this a myth?

12. Downtown retail needs more drive-by traffic

Time to get silly. Downtown needs more drive-by shootings ;);)

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But then they'd be Blurries!

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I'm often annoyed when things aren't open on Saturdays or after 5. More residents downtown should help get a critical mass of people there to make longer hours profitable. I think chains are a good thing because they go where they know they can make a profit, and if they can do well downtown then I think we have a strong downtown.

The issue is, you want things open downtown so you can shop, eat out, hang out, but in

order for that to happen, workers have to give up their time to shop, eat out, and hang

out.

Not easy to find people willing to work 'family' hours, usually giving up their own family

time so that you can have yours. In the early eighties, I spent three months living in

a mid sized city in Germany, within walking distance of the city center, and at about

2PM everything closed, and I mean EVERYTHING! All morning, families were out

shopping for what they would need for the weekend, and then everything but a couple

of nightclubs closed until Monday morning. Then, people went to parks, and picnicked,

and generally found ways to enjoy each other's company, instead of looking for

commercial entertainment or enterprise. I found that to be thoroughly charming and

wonderful, and I still resent it when I have to work on Saturday 'til 6 or 7, or pull a

Sunday afternoon shift. Hate it, hate it, hate it. Still trying to find ways to increase

income enough to never have to do it again. We don't need more places open late

Saturday and on Sunday. I know, many say that the weekends are the only times

available to folks to run their errands. But after many years in retail, I've learned

that you can be open 23 hours, and there will always be people who want to come

in that 24th hour you're closed. People have gotten so used to that, they don't plan

anymore. What's lacking societally isn't more open signs, but more ways to develop

real relationships by spending time with our friends and families that don't depend

on commerce.

Off soapbox now.

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The issue is, you want things open downtown so you can shop, eat out, hang out, but in

order for that to happen, workers have to give up their time to shop, eat out, and hang out.

Not easy to find people willing to work 'family' hours, usually giving up their own family'

time so that you can have yours. In the early eighties, I spent three months living in a

mid sized city in Germany, within walking distance of the city center, and at about

2PM everything closed, and I mean EVERYTHING! All morning, families were out shopping

for what they would need for the weekend, and then everything but a couple of nightclubs

closed until Monday morning. Then, people went to parks, and picnicked, and generally

found ways to enjoy each other's company, instead of looking for commercial

entertainment. I found that to be thoroughly charming and wonderful, and I still resent

it when I have to work on Saturday 'til 6 or 7, or pull a Sunday afternoon shift.

Hate it, hate it, hate it. Still trying to find ways to increase income enough to never have

to do it again. We don't need more places open late Saturday and on Sunday. We need

more ways to develop real relationships with our friends and families that don't depend

on commerce. Off soapbox now.

AMEN SISTAH!

I wish more people were like this :D With the exception of public works (Hospitals, police, etc) this should be the norm for all!

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[4. We have a parking problem]

Wrong, parking is cheap and plentiful! Those jerks on the radio are wrong!

This myth is perpetuated by the type people you see driving around the parking lot of Woodland/Rivertown Crossings for 30 minutes trying to find a parking spot 30 feet from the door. The thought never occurs to them that if they'd just park a little farther away and walk they'd only waste 5 minutes and not 30.

I must park close...

I must be innoculated from ALL outside contact with people...

I must burn more gasoline at $3 a gallon...

I must add more carbon monoxide to the atmosphere...

I must fulfill the quest for the most perfect parking spot in all of metro Grand Rapids, and it never happens downtown!!!

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A few points of clarification:

1. These aren't my ideas, they were presented in a seminar-workshop type thing..so don't blame me if you think some of these are stupid! :P

2. Drive-by traffic means more cars driving by the store. Common thinking is that more cars driving by the store equals more business.

3. Vertical mixed use is one that I'm not so sure about either. I think the idea is that just because you don't have ground-floor retail with apartments above doesn't mean your downtown is a failure. There are lots of successful downtowns that don't have this kind of zoning or development, but they are successful nonetheless. It should be noted that it is important to have multiple uses downtown, but they don't necessarily have to be in the form of vertical mixed use. Does that make sense?

4. With regard to parking, I can't remember if it was said here or elsewhere, but it goes like this: if you DON'T have a parking problem, then your downtown probably sucks! Hooray for parking "problems"! :D

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We don't need more places open late Saturday and on Sunday.

Well, then the stores, restaurants and bars that are open the hours I need to shop will get my dollars and the ones that think they should be closed will get none of my dollars.

If that means not going downtown because the places I want to go are closed, then I'll hit Alpine or RiverTown to get what I want/need.

I suppose I'm of the philosophy of running a customer-centric business and managing consumer relationships to build success.

[Addendum] Obviously I recognize that if there's not enough business to be open, then it doesn't make sense to have certain hours. But how do you build business for those times if you're not open?

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A few points of clarification:

1. These aren't my ideas, they were presented in a seminar-workshop type thing..so don't blame me if you think some of these are stupid! :P

2. Drive-by traffic means more cars driving by the store. Common thinking is that more cars driving by the store equals more business.

3. Vertical mixed use is one that I'm not so sure about either. I think the idea is that just because you don't have ground-floor retail with apartments above doesn't mean your downtown is a failure. There are lots of successful downtowns that don't have this kind of zoning or development, but they are successful nonetheless. It should be noted that it is important to have multiple uses downtown, but they don't necessarily have to be in the form of vertical mixed use. Does that make sense?

4. With regard to parking, I can't remember if it was said here or elsewhere, but it goes like this: if you DON'T have a parking problem, then your downtown probably sucks! Hooray for parking "problems"! :D

thanks for the clairification. i agree with you on point 3. Vertical mixed use isn't required... however, i've seen it in place in places like Portland, OR where ground-floor retail is zoned in as a requirement to almost any new development and it makes a big difference on the neighborhoods. also, in PDX they didn't have a parking problem because they had an appropriate number of ramps and people rode the light-rail if they wanted to. it would be nice if that was the case here.

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I think all the myths apply to Grand Rapids... but they are just that... myths.

1. What we need is a film festival

Every city wants some type of festival... Kalamazoo has an animation film festival, and I don

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4. We have a parking problem

To which I say, thank goodness!

A downtown without a "parking problem" is a dead downtown. I've worked downtown since the 80s and still remember the day a tumbleweed rolled past our building in the Monroe North area. That seems so long ago now. :thumbsup:

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thanks for the clairification. i agree with you on point 3. Vertical mixed use isn't required... however, i've seen it in place in places like Portland, OR where ground-floor retail is zoned in as a requirement to almost any new development and it makes a big difference on the neighborhoods.

Does anyone think requiring vertical mixed use could be damaging to a community? Sure it looks nice, but what if some of the markets are weak? Say a developer has to build a mixed use building somewhere with ground floor retail, but no retailers are willing to locate there. Wouldn't it be better to have a single-use building full offices than to have a half-empty mixed use building? Are mixed use projects harder to pull off that single-use projects? Maybe some of you developers could weigh in on this one... :whistling:

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Does anyone think requiring vertical mixed use could be damaging to a community? Sure it looks nice, but what if some of the markets are weak? Say a developer has to build a mixed use building somewhere with ground floor retail, but no retailers are willing to locate there. Wouldn't it be better to have a single-use building full offices than to have a half-empty mixed use building? Are mixed use projects harder to pull off that single-use projects? Maybe some of you developers could weigh in on this one... :whistling:

I don't think ground floor retail should be a requirement. Contrary to many other's beliefs, I don't think ground floor retail at Icon on Bond would have done well at all. ANY pedestrian traffic en masse in Monroe North is on Monroe. A retail/mixed-use development on the lot to the West of Icon would be perfect.

Ground floor transparency is and should always be a top consideration though. Studies have shown that people feel safer when they can see around them and feel like others can see them in case of emergency. One only needs to walk through Streeterville in Chicago (East of Michigan Ave) to see what a sea of concrete walls at ground floor feels like.

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I don't think ground floor retail should be a requirement. Contrary to many other's beliefs, I don't think ground floor retail at Icon on Bond would have done well at all. ANY pedestrian traffic en masse in Monroe North is on Monroe. A retail/mixed-use development on the lot to the West of Icon would be perfect.

Ground floor transparency is and should always be a top consideration though. Studies have shown that people feel safer when they can see around them and feel like others can see them in case of emergency. One only needs to walk through Streeterville in Chicago (East of Michigan Ave) to see what a sea of concrete walls at ground floor feels like.

Exactly. Ground level interaction is a must. As for the requirement for mixed use, the market really needs to be the deciding factor there. The city should envolve itself in the development process to insure the building fits in with the urban fabric, but having a blanket requirement listing the how a development needs to be designed is very narrowminded.

To me it it just seems that having an ordience like that would make it too easy for the city to opt out of the design process which would actually increase the potential of having something built that really doesn't fit in with the city's needs.

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As far as the parking problem goes, it IS about walking distance in the winter for most people (most don't mind it in the summer, as far as I know), or on rainy days. At least, that is the case for many.

And for others it is about dollars. Event parking at $6.50, realistically, isn't terrible, but it's a psychological thing. A different marketing strategy would be helpful, I think. I know people who will avoid downtown events just because they don't want to pay to park. Anything in life can be free if it is gone about the right way. Perhaps something like, if there is a big show at VanAndel, including parking passes with tickets, would work (in other words, factor the price of parking into tickets -- people who buy more expensive tickets also get parking places closer to the venue, etc.).

I know, that idea has a lot of holes in it -- after all, if 3 people are riding together, why would they need 3 parking passes? But it's just a seed of an idea. Perhaps something more workable would be if the venue paid a flat fee for use of an entire lot, and then validated parking for those with tickets to the event, or something like that.

The price of parking is not terrible, but the psychology of it, especially in a community with as many misers as we have here, is where the problem lies. Find an alternative to paying for it, and I think you can bring more people downtown.

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With regards to the downtown shopping hours, I was in GR for Easter weekend. I needed to get some beer and wine to take over to a friends house in Heritage Hill. Thought I would stop in at the new Grand Central Market. They were closed and it was Saturday around five or six! Had to go to Martha's. That place should be open seven days a week till at least 10 pm at night!

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