Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Building a local economy vs. "economic development" in planning: Wizards practice facility

One of the problems in reporting of economic data is that what gets measured sometimes isn't a good measure of real economic activity, or how benefits to some come at the expense of others.

WRT the latter point, a good example is the significant drop in the price of oil.  Consumers who drive save some money, but economies in oil producing states like Texas and North Dakota are getting hammered, people are losing their jobs, more costly oil sources are being taken out of production, etc.  (It also hurts higher cost producers in the US and helps lower cost producers in the Mideast.  But that's another story.)

Another example is the calculation of economic impact of big sporting events like the Super Bowl or the NBA All Star Game.  Most of the money expended is on travel (plane trips, rental cars, taxis, etc.), lodging (hotels), and restaurants.

Travel and lodging revenue is usually booked by parent companies which are rarely based locally so the revenues don't have much local impact, excepting payroll for housekeepers and front desk personnel in hotels as well as local sales, income (for labor and capital), and lodging taxes--so most of those revenues should be extracted from calculations because they don't flow through and re/circulate within the local economy.

It's different for out-of-home food consumption.  Depending on the ownership, food and beverage revenues are likely to stay more local.

Doing some manipulating of the figures of the $324 million of non-resident spending reported for the Indianapolis Super Bowl in 2012 finds that about 50% of the visitor spend was for hotel, slightly more than 10% on ground transportation.  Retail and food and drink expenditures were each about 20% of the total.

In the end, half or less of that $324 million is likely to remain and recirculate in the local economy.

This illustrates the difference between what I call "building a local economy" and "economic development."

It comes down to structuring economic activities so that they have more local impact and have a positive economic multiplier effect so that more money from the activity recirculates within the local economy versus economic activity around "sucking money out of the local economy" and repatriating it to headquarters cities.

The most substantive economic activity that will be generated by the basketball practice facility will be economic activity associated with attendance at 17 Washington Mystics women's basketball games.  The facility will have a capacity of 5,000.

Image of Ben's Chili Bowl at Nationals Stadium from the Sagittarius Dolly blog.

Most sports facilities ("Food service at the bat," QSR Magazine) contract major national firms like Delaware North or Aramark--Aramark runs food services at Verizon--to manage the food concessions.

However, as a point of differentiation, more of these contracts are associated with working with local firms, e.g., how Ben's Chili Bowl and other local food businesses have stands at Nationals Stadium, as opposed to have generic food options or national chains.

Normally, 17 events isn't enough for one of those firms to be interested in running a food operation.

That opens up an opportunity to do something decidedly different in association with the Wizards/Mystics facility, to position food service there as a way to assist the development and maintenance of local businesses and employment.

I'd recommend:

1.  Position the food service within the building as a specific local economic development initiative.  This could be done by creating a kind of "pop up" food service operation within the building, with professional oversight and technical assistance, with East of the River entrepreneurs having the first dibs on developing food-related businesses and providing the food services for the building, perhaps anchored by a couple of other existing locally owned food businesses already operating in the city.

2.  Create a "community kitchen" out of the kitchen/food service facilities for the building.  One way to facilitate this would be to set up the back of the house kitchen as a catering type facility designed for 24/7/365 use by local food service business entrepreneurs.  That would maximize the economic return from this element of the facility.

At left is the rendering for the Chicago Bulls practice facility.  It is not designed to connect to and strengthen the commercial activity around the site.  Renderings aren't currently available for the proposed Wizards practice facility.

3. Integrate restaurants and retail into the community facing side of the building, on the ground floor of the Alabama Avenue SE side, to strengthen commercial activity and placemaking opportunities in the vicinity of the Congress Heights Metrorail Station.

Restaurants located on the street sides of the Verizon Center are open every day, even if there have been problems over time in terms of their success--the Chipotle and McDonalds restaurants are well located on the 7th Street side of the building, which has a lot of foot traffic, while Greene Turtle at 6th and F Streets NW is not similarly favored--and Greene Turtle is the second restaurant in that location.  Other retail businesses have also failed over the years, partly because people going to a sporting event aren't much interested in non-sporting related activities.

The Alabama Avenue SE elevation of the practice facility should be designed and configured to connect to and extend the vitality of the area around the Congress Heights Metrorail Station.

The ground floor elevation/entrance should be designed and configured to include one or two food/restaurant event spaces that would be open 365 days/year, building positive business activity on both sides of the street.

Busboys & Poets could be one such tenant, but others could be developed.

The key would be to do this well, not badly, unlike how this has been attempted thus far at the Washington Convention Center ("The time to plan for retail in and around the Convention Center was long before it opened in 2003 and certainly before 2015").

The Verizon Center has similar problems to the Convention Center--the 6th Street side of Verizon Center was never designed to activate the ground plane, and the half of the block on F Street NW closest to 6th St. NW isn't much better.
Greene Turtle at Verizon Center
Greene Turtle Restaurant and Bar in the Verizon Center.

That should be a lesson for the design of the Wizards/Mystics facility.

4.  Social entrepreneurship ventures should be considered as an element of the development program for the practice facility.  The proposed ground floor retail spaces recommended in #3 could be positioned as a way to develop and site a social entrepreneurship restaurant-workforce training venture, comparable to the Nurish project of Kera Carpenter ("NURISH Food & Drink Opens Cafe in Historic Downtown Anacostia"), the Community Kitchen Cafe in Pittsburgh ("Munch goes to Community Kitchen's CK 9th Street Cafe," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), or the COLORS training, restaurant, and business cooperative operations in Philadelphia and New Orleans (they say they're coming to DC) or the Housing Works Bookstore and Cafe in New York City.

This is suggested for two reasons: (1) to broaden the retail and restaurant offer in Congress Heights/Ward 8 and (2) to enable the creation and maintenance of such businesses when normal economic conditions do not otherwise favor the financing and operation of for profit businesses in such locations.

For example, both the Congress Heights Marketplace shopping center, anchored by a Giant Supermarket, and the nearby IHOP restaurant, received tax breaks and other incentives to open in the same area.

While tax and other incentives may be necessary to foster such businesses, another alternative would be the creation of a social entrepreneurship business ventures.

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At 3:44 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

yep, all could work.

Some pictures of Stadium Benabeu in Madrid. Massive structure in the city.éu_07.jpg

Putting a wizards team store, and a few bars in there would help as well.

At 4:19 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

normally I'd recommend a team store. Not there, not yet. Alabama Avenue SE is at best an emerging commercial district and for shrink and other reasons, a team store doesn't make sense at this stage of revitalization.

2. soccer in Europe is definitely interesting. A soccer hotel recently opened next to a stadium in the UK...

At 6:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't have time to comment, but just can't leave without posting one of my favorite pre-Tonite Show viddies from Jimmy Fallon:

At 10:47 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Hard to tell from the pictures, but on the "back side" of the stadium there is a mini mall (with the team store) integrated.

The other side is more of a traditional stadium with bus parking.

Great transit, but very bad traffic when there is a game.

Agree with you on a team store, and the brand power of real madrid is about 100x that of the wizards.

At 11:16 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

ah, now I see. It was more a physical example of integrating retail, while I was focused on the difference between Real Madrid and the Washington Mystics.

2. When the MCI Center first opened, there was a Discovery Channel store, but it failed. At the time, hard to believe now, retail wasn't much extant around there--e.g., I think the new building opened around 2002-2003 and it still took a few years beyond that for the area to become more vibrant, and so originally, the store was an outlier.

A store like that might be able to succeed now. Maybe. Definitely not on Alabama Ave. SE.

(There was a "weird" article in the New Yorker about the appropriation of the name Hollister for the retail brand, when there is a community in CA named Hollister. And how the town of 5000 people requested that Hollister open a store there even though the demographic aims of the store are totally and completely not met by the town.)

At 3:25 PM, Anonymous h st ll said...

Excellent ideas and piece! If what you described was enacted that make new best practice for this type of development. I'm going to tweet this at the mayor. She really should hire you!

At 5:38 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Glad to know you're still reading.

FWIW, the Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity position is derived from my original "Marshall Plan for Wards 7 and 8".

During the campaign I had a long conversation with one of her aides about this.

Imagine my surprise to read in the New York Times in July 2014 about her initiative to create a "Deputy Mayor for East of the River."

Nothing against Courtney Snowden, but yep, I'm not the one tasked for dealing with all that...

At 12:44 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...


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