Create a Thriving Business District

A Guide to City and Neighborhood Business District Resources

Produced by the City of Seattle - March, 2007 - Fifth Edition

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Over the years, many business districts have upgraded their image, physical setting and economic performance through physical improvement projects. Listed below are some strategies to consider before initiating a project, as well as some of the lessons learned.

Focus on visitor comfort and convenience as well as appearance. Consider both the functional and aesthetic aspects of the proposed improvements. For example, if you are thinking about making sidewalk pavement repairs, start with the most heavily traveled routes first. Pedestrian lighting improvements can solve safety and security concerns as well as improve appearance. Landscaping can be positioned to direct pedestrians to your business entry and building awnings or canopies can provide weather protection.

Build a sense of identity. People enjoy feeling connected to their local business district. A unique image helps local residents identify with their neighborhood and attracts outside visitors. Identify what is unique about your community and build an identity around your existing assets. Fremont does this with its funky art; Ballard has Scandinavian flags and shops; and the University District emphasizes its connections to the University of Washington. Sometimes it is not easy to recognize your neighborhood's special qualities, but if community members think as a group, they can usually identify the elements that give a community its personality.

Leverage physical improvements with other business development efforts. Make the most of your investment in physical improvements by inviting customers to take a fresh look at your district. Advertise, have large sales or organize events to attract attention to your district and show off your efforts. It is also a good time to recruit new businesses and encourage redevelopment.

Have a strategy. Individual improvement projects should be part of an overall strategy that looks comprehensively at the issues facing the district. For example, the West Seattle Junction merchants had sufficient parking, but it was often located around the block from their business entrances. Therefore, they worked on a plan that emphasized pedestrian improvements between parking spaces and storefronts. At the same time, they added lights to illuminate dark spots along their street front and leveraged City sidewalk repair funds into a full sidewalk replacement.

Many neighborhoods created strategies through the neighborhood planning process. It is a good idea to review the plan for your neighborhood and talk to your plan's stewards before embarking on a new project. For a list of stewards click here. To review the neighborhood plans click here.

Sustain an improvement effort over time. Sometimes business districts can find sufficient funds for a full street reconstruction with new pavement, lights, landscaping and utilities. However, small improvements can also be effective, even though they are less dramatic than a full "make-over." If tied to a thought-out strategy, individual elements implemented over time can create an inviting district.

Collaborate. One of the biggest benefits of a physical improvement program is that it encourages local business owners, property owners and residents to work together. For example, the 15th Avenue NW Association began as a group of residents concerned about traffic problems. When local merchants joined the group, the focus expanded to the development of a more comprehensive cooperative plan including traffic flow improvements, street and storefront beautification and new sidewalks. Together, they have been successful at obtaining the support and attention of the City to help their project become a reality.