It may be time for Petula Clark to re-release "Downtown," her hit song from the 1960s, because — all across the country these days — it´s hip to be downtown. New town squares — complete with loft living, upscale retail and community events — are as popular today as suburban subdivisions with cul-de-sacs were in the 1950s.
Downtown redevelopment efforts in the Midwest were the subject of the June issue of "Let´s Talk Business," the newsletter of the University of Wisconsin´s Center for Community & Economic Development. These redevelopments demonstrate, wrote Meghan Leahey, "the variety of ideas being used to serve three important market downtown segments: residents, office workers and tourists."
And, of course, if there are residents, office workers and tourists in any downtown, all of these people need retail establishments — places to shop and eat. So, as development authorities breathe new life in the nation´s old downtowns — or build completely new downtowns — one of the beneficiaries is retail.
The city of Cleveland, Leahey writes, is planning to transform the city´s 14-acre Flats East Bank area from a "rough & tumble" setting into an upscale urban waterfront community that will include high-end residential units, trendy retail and entertainment venues.
In Minneapolis, she continues, the Near North development — on the site of two former housing projects — is a mixed-income urban neighborhood of 900 homes with new retail stores nearby as well as an elementary school, a public library, two community centers and a future cultural center.
Peabody Place, a mixed-use historic restoration project in Memphis, is an entertainment and retail center with a cineplex, restaurants and shops. Also in Memphis, the Riverfront Development Corp. is, according to Leahey, developing five miles of Mississippi River frontage that will include a boat landing, new hotel rooms, residential units, civic space and, yes, retail.
That´s just a few of the new retail opportunities cropping up in the Midwest. I know for a fact that the same thing is occurring in Georgia because — as a business writer covering economic development across the state — I witness it firsthand all the time. Once sleepy downtowns all across Georgia now are sprouting beautiful new town centers. They´re what the professionals call "live-work-play" environments.
And if people are living, working and playing in any concentrated area, you can bet your charge card that they want to shop there, too.
Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, folks gotta shop.