by Aaron London
While “location, location, location” is the mantra in real estate, the watchword for Daytona Beach’s plans to revitalize its downtown might just be “timing is everything.” And despite the global coronavirus pandemic, this may be the perfect time for downtown redevelopment.
“Downtown revitalization has been a major development trend,” said Christopher Leinberger, co-founding partner and managing director of Places Platform LLC and former chairman of the Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at George Washington University School of Business.
In fact, Leinberger said the end of the pandemic could give Daytona Beach’s downtown plans “another shot in the arm.”
Leinberger has been studying urban development for many years and in 2005 wrote a paper for the Brookings Institution on downtown revitalization. In the report he outlined 12 steps communities need to take for successful downtown projects, including capturing the vision, developing a strategic plan, forging a healthy private public partnership, creating a development agency and several steps designed to bring entertainment and residential growth to the area.
Communities across the country have implemented successful downtown revitalization projects, ranging from the Beltline project in Atlanta’s parks, pedestrian-friendly trails and more, to projects in San Diego, Houston, Louisville, KY, Portland, OR and Washington, D. C.
Daytona Beach’s downtown efforts include the Riverfront Esplanade Park Project, streetscaping on Beach Street and the opening of Brown and Brown’s new world headquarters. Leinberger said all of those efforts are positive signs for success.
With the park as a centerpiece of the revitalization effort, Leinberger said that can act as a catalyst to attract more people to the downtown.
“More activity attracts more people which increases rents and property values, creating more business opportunity which means more activity and people on the street, and so on,” he said in the Brookings report. “Simply put, in a viable downtown, more is better.”
Leinberger also said the private/public partnership created between the city and stakeholders is a vital key to success. He said getting the private sector to take a leading financial role in downtown revitalization is a must.
Leinberger said public officials have to be on board for big redevelopment ideas, but the impetus comes from the private sector.
“Many, not all, but most public officials are short-term thinkers,” he said. “They’re looking for the next election, the next ribbon to cut. I’m not trying to demonize the public sector, but they’re not great developers. The bulk of the money is private money making these things happen.”
In fact, Leinberger said for every $1 of public money invested in downtown redevelopment projects, the private sector contributes $10 to $15.
“We have so many great models and they almost all have been led by an organization privately funded,” he said.
Among the 12 steps outlined by Leinberger in the Brookings report – and reflected in plans for a variety of walkways in Riverfront Esplanade Park – is a focus on “walkable urbanism,” a concept he describes as creating places where “most daily needs can be met within walking distance.”
According to Leinberger, a walkable downtown is at the heart of why so many communities have focused on revitalization projects.
He said the fact that so many communities like Daytona Beach are making downtown revitalization a key focus “is testament to the emotional commitment to our urban heritage and the pent-up consumer demand for walkable, vibrant places in which to live and work.”
That consumer appeal is why commercial developers have been eager to participate in many downtown projects.
“Not only is it something that the market wants, this is going to be a major driver of tax revenues and the net fiscal impact of those taxes,” he said
Jerry Parrish, chief economist with the Florida Chamber Foundation, also sees a lot of positives in Daytona Beach’s efforts and approach to revitalizing downtown.
“Having a public-private partnership indicates to me that the private sector values it,” he said. “That’s always a good sign where the government doesn’t have to come up with all the money.”
Parrish also pointed to the changes in work wrought by the coronavirus outbreak, especially the transition to virtual meetings and the use of new technologies.
“One of the things Covid is telling us is it’s even more important for cities to be livable,” he said. “I can live any place I want to.”
Parrish said that is especially important in attracting younger, high-skilled workers in technology-based fields.
“When a higher percentage of people are going to be able to telecommute to work, it’s going to be more important to have a nice, livable city,” he said.
“Then it is more likely you’ll get young people and companies moving in,” he said. “The attractiveness of a place to live is going to be the be all and end all here.”
Aaron London is a reporter and columnist who has covered business and economics for 27 years. He has worked for newspapers in Ohio and Florida and is also an adjunct professor of journalism at Daytona State College.