|Vol. 17, No. 17||Jan. 22, 1998|
Smith was guest speaker at the annual meeting of the Downtown Newark Partnership, Jan. 20, at the Trabant University Center.
Formerly involved in the revitalization of Main Street in Charlottesville, Va., Smith reminisced about her experiences and challenges. She discovered that persons who worked in downtown Charlottesville were not eating lunch there. To encourage them to patronize downtown restaurants, she set up live soap operas in the park, where people could order bag lunches over the phone and eat them during the performances. She hoped for an increase of 50 people eating lunch downtown, but the number rose to 500 and then to 2,000, with the sponsoring restaurants increasing from six to 16.
Looking at the past, Kennedy gave an overview of how transportation and land use have changed downtown. With the passage of the Interstate Highway Act of 1956, people moved to the suburbs, and businesses followed them. Malls and chain stores proliferated, followed by discount superstores, such as Wal-Mart, and Main Street suffered, she said.
In 1960, there were 4 square feet of retail space per capita, and that ratio has now increased to 19.3 square feet, she pointed out. Stores used to compete within a radius of 15 miles, but that has changed to 50 miles.
However, many malls are now dying as people prefer a different and unique shopping experience. In fact, she said, several franchise owners have been advised by their companies to move downtown.
Mom and pop stores give back to the community, Smith pointed out-returning 60 cents on the dollar, versus 20 cents for chain stores and 6 cents for discount stores.
The preservation of old buildings is a priority of the National Historic Trust and the basis of their Main Street Program. Smith urged the audience to use and not tear down the "fantastic" old buildings that cannot be replaced.
After showing some examples of how not to revitalize a Main Street, such as a reincarnation of Bavaria in Georgia, Smith advised working slowly at first on revitalization projects. She suggested incremental steps, such as improving signs and maintenance and promoting festivals to attract people downtown and then progressing to more active economic investment.
Low-interest loans for new businesses, working with small businesses, sensible planning and zoning laws, and networking with other communities were among her suggestions.
Using the World Wide Web to attract customers is another option for downtown merchants, she said. She cited a small business in Connecticut, that specialized in old parts for Harley Davidsons, and now, thanks to the web, receives orders from all over the world.
Revitalization requires team work within the private and public sector, involving the whole community from churches and schools to civic organizations. It means that people take personal responsibility, even if it's just scraping up bubble gum off the sidewalk, Smith said.
As revitalization takes place, management becomes the key to coping with high growth challenges, such as parking.
There is no going back to the way things were-livery stables and blacksmiths are a thing of the past she said-but Smith encouraged the audience not be afraid of changes in the Main Street of the future.
The Downtown Newark Partnership, formerly the Newark Business Association, also gave three awards to Jeff Lang of the Commonwealth Group as Business Person of the Year; to the Knights of Columbus, represented by Chris Mooney, as Volunteer of the Year, and to Jim Streit, publisher of the Newark Post, as Sponsor of the Year.