After last week’s discussion of people using downtown buildings for storage, Linda replied to me. She’s one of those people who owns a downtown building. 

Here’s what she said: 
This one hit me hard…..
Guilty. Truly.
The best laid plans….
Change of plans……
Plans fell through, fell flat, fell . . . 
Hard times, no time, wrong time . . . .
Maybe we could….. no….. wouldn’t work….. could work….. Work. 
Guilty.

We’ve watched our town’s old buildings stripped of their tin ceilings, left to crumble, butchered in every way. We can’t bear to let ours go to who knows what awful aesthetic fate. At least it receives some care, ceilings are intact, with hope on the horizon.

Be gentle with those of us who believe that our ownership at least saves a building for a little while longer. Until the time is right to let it go or make a go.

“Hogging” is a pejorative. “Junk” is relative. Ownership is both a responsibly and a privilege. Sometimes a burden. 
Eminent domain?
“Ordinances?” 
The good of the whole. Who is the whole?
You own it but I’ll just tell you how to do it and when to do it and why to do it.
Be gentle.

I’m often guilty of being inconsiderate of others’ feelings, so I appreciate Linda being brave enough to share hers.

With that in mind, I have few suggestions for all of you as building owners.

What if you’re the one using an empty building for storage? 

If you can’t maintain it, sell it or give it away. 
Set yourself a deadline to start moving your stuff or donate the whole building and contents. Here’s a guideline: If you haven’t cleaned the windows or invested over $500 in maintenance in the past 12 months, then let the building go to a new owner.

Find the right new owner for the building. 
Here are three suggestions for new owners you may not have thought of: 

  • Organize a group of enthusiastic neighbors to form a cooperative or community ownership group that can buy it from you or accept its donation, and renovate it. Waynoka, Oklahoma has a group that does this, and you can read about a group in Minneapolis here
  • Donate it to the historical society, the library, the municipality or locality, or any other local group. 
  • Organize a Tour of Empty Buildings to generate interest in your own building and all the buildings in town. 

If you’re determined to hang onto the building, then let’s get it into a beneficial use NOW. It doesn’t have to sit empty, or full of your stuff. And you don’t have to wait until the stars align for the big idea you’re dreaming of. Apply the Idea Friendly method and take small steps. Crowdsource the future of your building! 

Clean it out in stages while putting it to use, step by step. 

Start offering the empty space, even if it’s only part of the building, for other uses. Here are ideas to make the building useful to lots of people, even while you’re still cleaning it out. 

  • Clean and rent the front windows to another business or for an arts display while you move your stuff
  • Loan out the areas you’ve cleaned for a temporary art display, craft show, short term museum display, temporary art gallery, pop up or other temporary event
  • Loan or rent part of the building for a pop up business, temporary business, business fair, or booths for vendors during a downtown event
  • Convert the space to coworking, a business incubator, or shared retail space

If things do work out eventually, and you’re ready to launch your own use, go ahead. But in the meantime you’ll have spread economic opportunity to a lot more people. You’ll have played a role in improving the lives of local people, enriched the arts, or maybe shaped a better future for your town. 

At the very least, you won’t be alone with the burden of owning a building you can’t do anything with. You’ll have a whole community supporting you. 
 
Keep shaping the future of your town, 
Becky

PS – Struggling to find volunteers? You’re not alone. All towns struggle with this, except the ones who’ve learned the new way of doing things. Deb and I will cover this on our next broadcast. Catch it live this coming Wednesday (Feb 15), or on demand through Mar 2

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