Have you counted the empty buildings in your downtown? Does the number scare you a little?
Deb Brown did that. Around the time she first started as the chamber of commerce director in Webster City, she counted empty buildings and found 14 in a town of 8,000 people. That scared her a little. So you’re not alone.
Once you know how many buildings are empty, the next question is:
Why are those buildings empty?
You have to find out what is holding them empty before you can start to fill them. Lots of times, a Tour of Empty Buildings can play an important role in filling those buildings.
Are businesses blocked by expensive code-compliance issues or huge remodeling needs? You may want to talk to your local economic development group and create some targeted incentives to help meet part of those costs. Then you’ll want to show off those buildings that everyone had written off as too expensive, and a Tour is one way to do that.
Are they held by absentee owners? It’s a long process to change the thinking of absentee owners, and you may never get it done. But you have to start by layering them with positive information about what is possible now. When you reach out to them about the Tour, and then they hear the publicity you generate around the Tour, you’re layering them with positives. Of course you’ll report back to them every time another building that was on the Tour was filled. Eventually, you may turn them around. It is tough to do!
Is there no activity at all in your downtown? You’ll have to liven it up, give people business ideas and show them the possibilities. You could use a Tour to kick things off, then I’d tie in with some support or training for would-be entrepreneurs to help them succeed. I’d also keep an eye out for a building that was a good candidate to divide into smaller spaces to spur more small-scale business development.
In Deb’s case in Webster City, the empty buildings were a symptom of negative thinking. People felt like there was no activity at all downtown. Everyone was still thinking about the jobs that had been lost when a manufacturing plant closed a couple of years before. Deb worked with building owners (some very reluctant) to get 12 buildings listed on her tour, and 10 of those 12 were filled as a result. Deb still raves about all the positive things that happened in town because they held this one event.
If there is a different issue holding your empty buildings back, hit reply and tell me about it. Between Deb and me, we may have some ideas that will help you get moving, whether that includes a Tour or not.
Of course a Tour of Empty Buildings can’t solve every single issue with empty buildings downtown. But it might be right for you.
If you heard the idea of a Tour, nodded, and thought, “We could do that here!” but it hasn’t happened, then you may be interested in our Tour of Empty Buildings Toolkit. Deb will walk you through the process by email, encourage you, and answer your questions.
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