Public Plazas: If You Build It, They Will Come
In talking about downtown revitalization, one of the key steps for many communities is to create a public plaza. In this age of “third places,” people want somewhere to hang out and public plazas give them that place. But the concept can be a tough sell for the community, if they aren’t aware of the many benefits of developing a plaza. If your community is contemplating the pros and cons of developing public plaza, consider this:
– Pedestrian friendly shopping and dining draws locals and visitors to an area. People want to park, get out of their cars, and enjoy a pedestrian experience
– The development of central plazas is consistently the number one initiative in revitalizing downtowns
– Properly values in the three block area surrounding public plazas nearly triple as a result of plaza development
– Plazas have been shown to more than double retail sales in downtowns, and not just at the plaza – surrounding businesses benefit as well
– We surveyed 100 plaza areas and 85 of them replaced a parking lot. Merchants screamed and complained, sure it would ruin their business. In all 85 cases, the loss of parking had NO effect on retail spending. In fact, the development of the plaza made it worth walking a block or two and retail sales and services more than doubled as a result.
– Plazas are one of the top three strategies in reducing “leakage,” locally earned money spent elsewhere
– Plazas make rural communities a desirable place for young people to live and work
– Plazas create a sense of community like no other development project
– Plazas give downtown an “anchor tenant,” which, like every shopping mall, every downtown MUST have
– When we surveyed the 100 plazas, every single one said it was the “best thing we’ve ever done,” not just for the downtown, but for the community. Every one.
– Plazas are more important in rural areas than in urban areas, so this is NOT just a “big city” thing
– Plazas bring people downtown, and once downtown, they will spend more time and money in their community
– EVERYONE benefits from plazas. EVERY merchant within a three block radius, and beyond, will see increases in their business – year round!
– Plazas are not just a summer activity spot. They change with the seasons and draw people downtown all year long
– Some cities have seen their property values rise as much as 400% after a plaza was developed
A great example of a city with a fantastic public plaza is Rapid City, South Dakota. Rapid City built Main Street Square with interactive fountains, ice skating in the winter, events, and entertainment. The first year their ice rink was open, they made $80,000 just in skate rentals. In their second year, they made more than $100,000 from the skate rentals alone. They also saw a dramatic shift in the average age of people buying homes in their community. Within a year and a half of their plaza opening, the average age of people buying homes decreased by ten years. Young people are coming back to Rapid City.
Plazas are an incredible way to boost the life and health of a community. They create jobs, bring locals and visitors downtown, and inject life and vitality, as well as cash. If you’re on the fence about developing a public plaza, take the plunge. They are proving to be one of the most effective strategies for downtown revitalization.