Those stubborn owners of empty buildings in small towns. You tell me about the worst ones everywhere I go. Seems like every town has one or two. They won’t sell. They won’t do repairs. They won’t pay their taxes until they’re about to lose the building, then they pay at the last second. They let their buildings fall to pieces.
You’ve been having a lot of conversations about that empty building in your head. You’ve been thinking about it, fuming, complaining with others in big group conversations, so it feels like the owners are being stubborn. But you haven’t actually been talking to them. You talked to everyone else, right? It just feels like you were talking to the owners all that time.
And because we’ve been fuming, we tend to reach for the wrong tool first. We want to reach for the stick, so to speak. We want to start by passing local taxes or fees for letting buildings sit empty. We want to bill them monthly so they keep getting reminded. We want to make it too expensive to hang onto.
There is a place for that. It’s a smart tool to use when you’ve used your other tools without success.
What are the tools besides fines and fees?
You can try talking to the owner in a very human way, asking about their plans, talking about the history and why it matters to them to keep it. Build enough trust to talk hopes and dreams. Then talk with them about what they need to move forward. Help connect them with the people and resources that can make that happen.
BJ Cummings, of Pryor, Oklahoma found a smart way to open the conversation. One reluctant owner held several downtown buildings in poor condition. The Main Street group members were trying to figure out how to get this person on board with improving their buildings. The owner’s son was running a store in one of those less-than stellar buildings. The group got the idea of doing a cash mob to support local businesses, and they just so happened to cash mob the son’s store. That opened up a line of communication about Main Street and what they were trying to do. Pretty soon, B.J. reported, that building owner got on board.
How long has it been since you actually spoke to the owner of that one building? Can you dream up a smart way to open up that channel?
Keep shaping the future of your town, Becky
PS – One of our most popular webinar topics is back: The Innovative Rural Business Models. This is how you spread more economic opportunity to everyone in town, and how you do economic development in a rapidly changing world. We’ve added lots of new examples, and we made the models much simpler for you to explain to others. Join us Aug 23 through Sept 6.
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