Tuscaloosa AL is a city of approximately 100,000 located about an hour west of Birmingham. It is the home of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide and a major Mercedes Benz assembly facility which employs approximately 4,000 people. It has many of the attributes of a typical college town as well as signs of a community going through an important transitional moment in its history.
NP is part of the Planning Next team that is helping shape Tuscaloosa over the next 20 years through a series of planning actions. NP is working on the economic and housing components of the work. The housing affordability plan is focused on the broad topic of affordability not only for low income citizens but also city’s manufacturing employees and young families being drawn to the area. A number of factors drive housing in Tuscaloosa ranging from university impacts such student housing and alumni game day housing to the lack of reinvestment in a number of key neighborhoods. Moreover, the city still has “scar tissue” from the 2011 tornado.
NP is looking forward to working on this plan and these issues.
“You miss 100% of the shots you never take” – Wayne Gretzky
Innovation Districts are the current rage in urban regeneration and economic development. How a particular community develops its own innovation sector varies based on that community’s existing industry strengths, talent pipeline and available economic infrastructure. Many hope to become the next Silicon Valley but few realize the building blocks that need to be put in place and the length of time it takes to really get to scale to impact the trajectory of a local economy. Frankly, some of these efforts are economic development “me-tooism” with little hope of creating momentum. However, others are based on real opportunities that keep taking steps down an evolutionary path. Two of NP’s recent clients have taken great strides towards growing their innovation capacity – Newport, RI and New Haven, CT.
Creating a Hub
Newport RI, the city by the sea, has long been known for its elegant mansions, sailing history and its US Navy presence going back to colonial times. Its beautiful coastal setting, walkability, and ample cultural, outdoor, and social opportunities make it a lifestyle destination community. Newport and Middletown (its closest “suburb”) have always had elements of the creative economy because of their lifestyle advantages. And the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) has always supported a series of software and engineering support companies to advance its mission.
Recently, there has been substantial effort to build on Newport’s nascent creative and tech community. One of the missing pieces was a physical hub that could serve multiple functions for the creative and tech communities. This April, Newport RI leaders gathered to break ground on the redevelopment of the former Sheffield School, which is being re-purposed as a business incubator and co-workspace in Newport, RI. The 34,000 square foot building will be focused on supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses working in the defense, maritime and technology industries – industries that are active in Newport but need additional support to gain scale.
NP worked with the Newport County Chamber of Commerce, who will be serving as program manager, to develop the service model for the Hub as well as reorient the Chamber’s programs to better serve the growing entrepreneurial sector of the Newport economy. Additionally, Kevin Hively of NP served on the board of the Economic Development Foundation of RI – the nonprofit development entity hired by the city to re-purpose the Sheffield School into the InnovateNewport Hub.
Making a City an “Innovation Place” Requires Many Complementary Efforts
In some cases, like in Newport, a physical hub is required to serve as an organizing force and provide visual evidence of activity. In other communities, it's more about weaving together a patchwork of activities under a single framework. New Haven, CT has an active, growing creative and innovation economy but more needed to be done to encourage growth, connection, livability, and opportunities for ALL of its citizens.
In 2016, CTNext initiated a challenge grant program called “Innovation Places”. In response, New Haven's Elm City Innovation Collaborative (ECIC) put together a strategic plan that called for actions in four key areas:
Since being selected as an Innovation Place by CTNext in 2017, the Collaborative has been taking great strides to implement its Strategic Plan. Recent progress includes:
One of the great aspects of the New Haven approach to building an Innovation Place is how it includes aspects to help the broad community engage in the innovation activity. It’s truly a community focused effort.
“There are stars in the southern sky, southward as you go…”
– Seven Bridges Road, the Eagles
It’s been a never-ending winter here in New England but - being the intrepid and wise souls that we are - the team has been spending much of its time in warmer climates. This marks a major geographic expansion for NP, expanding into both the Southeast and Texas, in addition to our recent work in the Midwest and Great Plains. Immersing ourselves in these places has enhanced our perspective on who is doing what, what works, and why.
Comprehensive Planning in Montgomery, Alabama:
Montgomery (pop 200k) wears many hats - birthplace of the modern civil rights movement, state capital, home to corporations like Hyundai Motor, and the host community for Maxwell Air Force Base – home of the USAF Air University. One thing strikes you when you drive around Montgomery - the city’s history is palpable. It lives in every building and on every tree-lined street.
NP is excited to be part of planningNEXT led team for Envision Montgomery 2040, the City’s first comprehensive planning process in more than 50 years. NP will be responsible for the land use and economic components of the plan.
Entrepreneur & Retail Development in Downtown Macon, Georgia:
Macon (pop 153k) is the urban center for Mid Georgia. It possesses a musical tradition rooted in soul and southern rock and as you walk through the city, you can hear the echoes of musicians; past and present. Downtown Macon is undergoing a rebirth thanks to the efforts of a number of organizations guided by the Macon Action Plan.
NP is working on the next stage of development with a specific focus on a retail enhancement strategy for the downtown. The project is with Macon-Bibb Unified Government, Newtown Macon and is funded by the Knight Foundation. Using our proprietary approach to retail experience analysis, NP will marry different data sets, interviews, and immersion in the community to identify actions that build upon the work already underway in creating a vibrant destination.
Innovation & TOD in Richardson, Texas:
Richardson (pop 100k) is one of the original Dallas-Fort Worth MetroPlex suburbs. Its population is one of the most diverse in north Texas. Because of this diversity it is home to a wide range of authentic ethnic restaurants. On the innovation front, Richardson is best known for its high-tech Telecom Corridor – once the epicenter of the telecom broadband revolution. The city remains a major innovation center with an extensive corporate R&D, cybersecurity & online UX/UI presence and the University of Texas at Dallas– a fast growing, Tier 1 research university. Most importantly, the UTD football team remains undefeated!
NP is part of an Interface Studio led team that is developing a Transit Oriented Development and Innovation District Plan for a 1,200-acre parcel in this city, centered on the Collins – Arapaho DART Station. NP is providing the innovation activity, economic and real estate analysis for the study.
One of the hallmarks of NP’s work is blending a vision that captures the imagination with enough practicality to move it toward implementation. As part of our approach NP spends a lot of time thinking about how something might get implemented and by whom before turning it into a recommendation. Three cities where NP recently worked are making progress moving from plans to actions:
New Innovation Space for Athens GA: The Athens-Clarke County government in partnership with Athens Hospitality Holdings Group signed a letter of agreement to create the Athens Creative Development Campus. According to the County's press release, "The proposal is the result of a study provided by Ninigret Partners through a partnership between Georgia Power and the Unified Government. Key findings from the study noted the growth of the University of Georgia as a major research institution; a need for flexible, bio-ready space; an active digital tech industry; and a vibrant creative consumer product industry that builds on the culture and vibe of Athens."
The campus will be a mixed-use development including office, business incubation, co-work space and hotel. The purpose of the space is to "serve as a destination for business travelers, makers, and entrepreneurs by creating a space that will encourage collaboration opportunities across a wide variety of interests."
21st Century Mobility Solution Coming to Grand Rapids MI: The City of Grand Rapids, MI recently proposed a bike sharing program that will put 800 bikes at 100 stations downtown and in surrounding neighborhoods over the next five years. The program is estimated to cost $3 million and aims to be largely self-sustaining through user fees and sponsorships. The bike share program is a direct result of the City's GR Forward Downtown and River Action Plan, which called for a 21st century mobility strategy as one of 6 core goals. NP provided the economic analysis to the GR Forward Plan and prepared the business plan with Sam Schwartz Engineering for the bike share program.
City Commission Adoption Makes Downtown Plan the Official Policy in Fargo ND: The City of Fargo, ND also made progress on its downtown master plan. Downtown Fargo InFocus calls for a series of actions in seven strategic areas including how to grow as a business center and thrive as a regional destination. The City Commission adopted the plan in December 2017. NP provided economic and development analysis with a focus on retail and entrepreneurial development strategies.
Things are happening in Springfield, MA. For the past several years the City and its partners have been charting a course for the downtown's future, which has led to increased investment and interest in the city.
Recent progress includes the opening of two restaurants, a new yoga studio and construction is slated to start soon on 60 new apartments. Just last week the DevelopSpringfield announced its second round of Lease It Local, a program aimed at attracting entrepreneurs to the city through a package of incentives. (Check out NP's 2017 post for more info on the program.)
NP led or supported planning and implementation support for the city's downtown including the Worthington Street Corridor Study, an Investment Prospectus, and Dining District Implementation Plan. Much of this work was completed through MassDevelopment’s Transformative Development Initiative.
Fairgrounds to Future kicked off this November at a workshop that attracted over 200 participants. This project aims to create a community-minded vision for the former home of the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Dayton, OH. This 38-acre site sits between two of the city's leading institutions - Premier Health and the University of Dayton. The two partners own the site and are committed to a plan that builds on their own institutional missions and values, promotes economic development, and fosters a unique sense of place that serves broader community interests.
As part of the planning NEXT lead team, NP is providing strategic real estate, economic development and feasibility analysis.
Since the start of the Fairgrounds to Future process this fall, nearly 500 people have shared their ideas at a workshop or online. In addition, 30 stakeholder groups have been interviewed and more than 1,000 thoughts about the future of the fairgrounds have been collected.
DevelopSpringfield recently announced that is accepting applications for its "Lease It Local," a program, which will offer businesses up to half a monthly lease (up to $500) to occupy storefronts that are now vacant or underused. Eligible properties are vacant or underused ground-floor storefronts in the Springfield Transformative Development Initiative (TDI) District.
The Lease It Local program aims to:
DevelopSpringfield's Lease It Local program will provide:
Eligible applicants include independent operators (no franchises or chains), artists, or social enterprises. While all industries are welcome, the program emphasizes uses drive daily foot traffic and preference is given to Springfield residents and those who have completed formal business training or mentoring. For more info on the program check out DevelopSpringfield's program page.
NP performed the project consulting on the Springfield TDI Partnership’s Active Implementation Plan that worked with the Springfield TDI Partnership for the district. A key action within the strategy was spurring retail frontage development including a subsidy program for potential tenants while the market was still being “proved.”
Grand Rapids Receives IDA's Highest Honor for Working Towards Racial Equity and Opportunity in its Downtown
Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. is being celebrated for its work to put forward an equity driven growth model for the future of the city's downtown. Recently, the International Downtown Association (IDA) recognized the Grand Rapids community for its efforts to build racial equity and opportunity in Downtown Grand Rapids with a Pinnacle Award - the industry's highest honor.
Downtown Grand Rapids spearheaded Grand Rapids Forward, which is a 10-year plan and investment strategy "to transform the Grand River into a distinct asset and support the next generation of growth in Downtown Grand Rapids." Since the Plan's adoption in 2015 many actions have been taken that support greater equity and inclusion in Grand Rapids including but not limited to:
NP is proud to have been part of the team who prepared the Grand Rapids Forward Plan, serving as an economic consultant with a focus on workforce development, retail dynamics and entrepreneurial activity.
NP just kicked off a new project in Burlington, VT focused on the stabilization of several neighborhoods that are significantly impacted by college housing in the city. Dubbed the Neighborhood Project, the effort aims to to achieve a balance of housing choices in near campus neighborhoods, improve the quality of housing stock for a wide range of residents, and improve the quality of life for residents in the impacted wards.
NP, in partnership with Interface Studios, has been hired to develop a set of specific, practical actions the City and its partners can take to achieve the project's goals. Over the next few months, our team will be meeting with local stakeholders, analyzing local conditions and trends, and working with partners to develop a set of recommendations that can be implemented in the coming months and years.
As part of this work, our team spent the last week on the ground in Burlington. Here's a few pics from the trip.
NP's work has been garnering some press in the past few weeks:
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