Downtown Marketing and Development

Insights and observations on the redevelopment and revitalization of post-industrial towns on the Route 422 Corridor in Southeastern Pennsylvania.


Office Vacancies and Retail Recovery

The face of cities is changing. Recently, the CoStar Group reported that 12.9 percent of office space is vacant nationally, marking the sixth straight double-digit quarter. The rate has increased from a post-financial crisis low of 9.4 percent in the second quarter of 2019. The office space "availability" rate, which measures vacant offices plus currently leased space that isn't being renewed or has been listed for subleasing, is 16.4 percent.

Noblesse Oblige Versus Capitaliste Oblige

The term noblesse oblige was first used in 1835. It is a term belonging to an earlier time of medieval generosity, referring to a lord’s responsibility because of their hereditary inheritance of privilege. I became familiar with it when some guy named Mike used the term in all the classes I shared with him when I was seeking a graduate degree in public policy at Carnegie Mellon University.

Trust the Science

German Political Scientist Robert Michels (1876– 1936) theorized the "iron law of oligarchy" during his attempts to explain exclusive organizational behavior. It is as follows:

All forms of organization, regardless of how democratic they may be at the start, will eventually and inevitably develop oligarchic tendencies, thus making true democracy practically and theoretically impossible, especially in large groups and complex organizations.

The Value of Design in Maintaining Regional Marketplace Position

One of the things I look for when strategically repositioning a municipal entity is how a place looks. I have always been a fan of historic resources and how they impact the sense of place in a town. 

Infill construction is an important part of the design effort. When you are in the city, there is a lot of color in the apartment buildings, which is done to turn the nature of the space. I am not big on those kinds of buildings. I like the infill to look like it belongs. 

Repositioning in the Regional Marketplace

I recently saw a newspaper article about the Municipality of Norristown proposing repositioning the municipality in the regional marketplace. It was refreshing to hear someone take a serious approach to improving the town. 

Norristown has witnessed a hyper-segregation of low-income people in one area. The hyper-segregation of low-income people resulted from well-meaning people seeking to provide housing for that population. Unfortunately, clustering this type of development over the years has a cumulative effect.

Foot Traffic is the Key to Cities Survival

As cities continue to come back from the pandemic, Center City Philadelphia is trying to track the foot traffic in relation to pre-pandemic 2019. Their recent study shows that it is about 77 percent of what would have been considered normal before Covid-19.

Changes in Place as Space Use Evolves

I have worked in several different sections of Philadelphia, and recently both of my former streets have been in the news. Repeated shootings on South Street have left the street shell-shocked and led to retail store vacancies far greater than anything I remember in my 30 years in Philadelphia. Kensington Ave (The Avenue) has continued to experience problems like those I experienced during my time there in the early 1990s.

Cities Changing with the Times

Remote work has changed the office market in many cities. However, things are far from the ghost towns I saw in the spring of 2021 when I visited 70 cities to inventory and chronicle the effect of the lockdown on cities.

South Street's Redefined Market Position

I visited South Street in Philadelphia this week to have lunch with a long-time friend. It was the day after there was a news article that had people questioning the closure of the side streets during the Made in America concert weekend. It appeared to me that the police were trying to limit access to the commercial area because they were afraid of violence. 

Flooding in Downingtown

For the past few months, I have been working with a committee in my hometown of Downingtown concerning flooding. I sent out a mailing asking interested people to form a committee. About ten people are involved, and each has a different interest in the process.

One Committee worked on mitigation and was eventually merged with the Borough of Downingtown Flood Committee to have one mitigation committee. Community members understand and know the conditions on the ground during a flood and have a voice at the table, which is how it is supposed to work.

What Makes the Reading to Philadelphia Train Project so Compelling?

The first time I tried to work on passenger rail service to Phoenixville (Greenline project), I thought we had a good chance of completing the project, and, at the time, the Citizens for the Train group was in high gear. There was a contribution from Liberty Property Trust to do the initial study, and there was participation from Norfolk Southern as we negotiated for the line. 

Office Contraction May Exceed My Estimation

As I toured America the last month or so, I saw that many cities were ghost towns. If there was a large office concentration, those buildings stood vacant. Corresponding retail was either completely closed and all of the inventory pulled off the shelves or closed without notice of closure with inventory and fixtures remaining inside. It was hard to tell if the stores with inventory remaining would ever open. 

Messaging and Vacant Space

I have finished my trip across the country trying to assess public/private space in the cities.

I was gone from May 15 to June 15 and stopped in many cities along the way. I took the southern route to head west and used a northern route to return.

I perceived that the virus has had different outcomes in many of the cities. A common factor was the vacancy rate, and it appeared to be exacerbated by communities that experienced civil unrest. There is considerably less foot traffic in almost all of the towns.

What is Equitable Rail Service?

As social mores and values change, so do the programs offered by various agencies of government. Things become popular, and there are buzz words that are used and not fully understood. One of the things that have been given more prominence recently in the news media is the concept of “equity.”

Space Assessment in America

I think that having my basic existence upset at this stage of my life was a surprise.  I never thought I would spend a year indoors.

Traveling in Italy looking for a house, I became aware of the virus and just got out in time.  Upon arriving back in the U.S., I went to Florida for a while and then again, under emergency action, hightailed it home with one quick stop at a Holiday Inn in Walterboro, South Carolina as at that stage of the virus, the US was putting the clamp on travel.

How Could Tax Increment Financing Work for the Reading to Philadelphia Train Project?

There are many ways to do things in the public sector, and sometimes proposed programs work, and sometimes they do not. I have made my living using programs that do not necessarily work for everyone. There is usually a substantial discussion on why things work or do not work.  Many of these issues are dealt with in planning documents.

PENN DOT Completes Analysis for Implementing the Reading to Philadelphia Rail Line

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation recently provided a passenger rail analysis concerning a one-seat ride from Reading to Philadelphia. The proposed service corridor includes SEPTA's Main Line from Center City Philadelphia, SEPTA's Norristown Line to Norristown, Norfolk Southern’s Schuylkill River Bridge, and the Harrisburg Line to Reading. The proposed station stops are Valley Forge, Phoenixville, Royersford, Pottstown, Birdsboro, and Reading.

The Phoenixville Train Project Becomes Part of Something Larger

My rail project has taken a lot of twists and turns along the way. As you do these kinds of projects, circumstances change regularly and attitudes toward the potential of success are re-evaluated. After much back and forth, Penn DOT completed a study (synopsis article in issue) assessing the potential for the line. Two and a half studies were done previously with the Reading Group creating an AMTRAK operator Plan, the Mayor's Task Force from Phoenixville using SEPTA as the operator, and an AMTRAK ridership and route analysis, which was part of a larger report.

Small Business Recovery on Main Street

Many of the downtowns in the Delaware Valley have experienced adverse effects on business because of the Covid-19 virus. The lack of access to customers because of various shutdowns has created many landlord-tenant issues that need to be addressed before businesses can get back on track.

The shutdown also impacted the apartment tenants who have been unable to work. Evictions of longer-term tenants would be an unexpected occurrence but with the lack of the ability to earn a living, some of these issues are beginning to surface.

The Year 2020 Never Ceases to Amaze Me

The shutting down of restaurants and bars has had a lethal effect on small towns that have a healthy food and beverage industry as part of their revitalization strategy. The atmosphere, the events, and the areas used as a common gathering space for festive recreation add to why downtowns have been successful.

The Governor issued an order, and it should be obeyed. If the evidence shows a threat, perhaps it is a good action, and I will not go through the dynamics of the spread of the disease. My ideas are not mainstream and not intended to get too Thomas Dolby with everyone.

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