Downtown buildings used to store junk? 3 ways to talk owners into changing

onday I led a session on filling empty buildings in your downtown. One of the thorny issues that came up was buildings used to store junk. I think every town has a few of these. They’re doubly annoying because not only are they hogging a building that some active business could locate in, they are also usually an eyesore.  

Together, our group came up with three suggestions. 

1. Talk to the building owner in a positive way. 
Everyone likes to feel important, so maybe appeal to their sense of importance. That’s an important building they have, one that could be a real asset for downtown. They’re important leaders in helping the next generation of businesses locate downtown. It’s a way for them to build on the legacy of their grandfather who owned a business in that location. Spend some time thinking about those kind of stories you can share with them before you go talk to them. 

2. Bring in the fire marshal. 
There’s no question that buildings full of junk are fire hazards. Bring in the fire chief, fire marshal or your top safety-related official. Maybe go up the chain to a county or state official. Have them pay a visit and be stern. It’s also possible that certain fines may apply for not complying. 

3. Raise their taxes. 
Some towns have gone so far as to write ordinances that charge higher property taxes or fees on buildings that are vacant or not used in a productive way. It helps when downtown is no longer the cheapest place to store junk.

Before you ask, here are two news stories about these types of ordinances: 

I’d recommend starting with talking to the building owner. If it’s an eyesore that’s been bothering you for a long time, you might think the owner will never change. Maybe you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about them and their building, but have you actually spent much time talking to them? If you start by listening to their concerns, you might learn the real reason they have all that junk. (Not the reason they tell everyone. The real reason.) And that might be the key to getting it out of downtown.  

Do you have a good idea #4 for the list? Hit reply and tell me about it. 
Keep shaping the future of your town,