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.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Historic Preservation Tuesday: Critical mass of rehabilitation and a big dose of tv exposure sparks community revitalization in Waco, Texas

The Brazos River Bridges of I-35 are shown here in the foreground  and the new Baylor University McLane (Football) Stadium is in the background.

Waco, Texas has its issues, but as the home of Baylor University, it has a steady economy.

Moves by Baylor to relocate its football stadium--football is practically religion in Texas--to the Downtown have supported and extended Downtown revitalization efforts.

I am also impressed at how the Texas Department of Transportation agreed to snappy architectural lighting of a nearby Interstate highway bridge, visually linking the highway and the stadium.

Photo from KWTX-TV.

But like many legacy cities, neighborhoods in Waco declined and lost population as the suburbs became the preferred place to live.

Today, despite the presence of the university and the increased appeal of urban living, real estate prices are generally low and neighborhoods are full of vacant or rundown properties ("Waco advertises hundreds of vacant properties for sale," KXXV-TV).  The city is grappling with an arson problem as people torch vacant houses.

But Waco is also where Chip and Joanna Gaines, featured in the HGTV show "Fixer Upper", have created a rehabilitation focused business ecosystem, first starting with a furniture and housewares store, Magnolia Market, but then expanding into real estate sales, Magnolia Realty, housing rehabilitation--they have renovated more than 200 properties through their company, Magnolia Homes, as well as built a subdivision called Magnolia Villas, food and event spaces ("'Fixer Upper' hosts open Magnolia Market at the Silos," DMN), and most recently, a bed and breakfast (its renovation was featured in a special episode of the show, but it isn't clear that they have opened it yet to the public).  Magnolia Market is adding a furniture showroom which will feature Joanna Gaines' new nationally distributed line.

An article, "Waco is benefiting from the creative energy of HGTV's 'Fixer Upper' couple Chip and Joanna Gaines," in the Dallas Morning News describes in great detail the positive force that they have created there.

People drawn to the show have even moved to the city. The tourism bureau gets calls daily in response to the show.  People travel to the city to shop at Magnolia Market and the furniture workshop of Clint Harp, who is often featured in show--and viewers end up commissioning pieces, enabling the growth of his business, Hart Design Company, which now has 12 employees.

City officials attribute improvement on 20 city blocks to their efforts, which then spur people to reinvest in their properties, and take on other projects.  This kind of effect from anchor reinvestment is discussed in Rolf Goetze's Building Neighborhood Confidence, a primer from the 1970s on stoking neighborhood reinvestment in weak market neighborhoods.

From the article:
They’re an economic boom that’s better than an oil gusher, rippling through the town as their HGTV show, Fixer Upper, breaks ratings records. The show attracts one of the most upscale audiences on cable in the ages 25 to 54 sweet spot. Its second season, which aired earlier this year, attracted 24 million viewers.

Joanna is being called the next Martha Stewart. She has a huge following and yet-to-be-revealed interests beyond interior design, including a 350-piece furniture line that hits stores nationwide in January and ideas for food and entertaining.

Chip is the reason more men are watching a home design show — a smart, funny, approachable guy in a gimme cap living the American dream with a wife, four kids and a remodeling business in a medium-size city down in Texas. ...

As more businesses open in Waco, the Gaineses may help turn Waco into the next Round Top or Canton for shoppers.

“We’ve reached some kind of threshold with Chip and Joanna,” said Trent Weaver, who owns a 34,000-square-foot building in downtown Waco where he recently leased space to Fuzzy’s Taco Shop. “Other businesses are opening downtown, and people are living downtown in lofts above the buildings.”
Ecosystem vs. one-off rehabilitation.  Another HGTV/DIY Network show I've written about from time to time is "Rehab Addict," featuring Nicole Curtis.

Her show is particularly noteworthy because it was one of the first examples of a show produced for their networks featuring sensitive rehabilitation of older properties, especially historic buildings, rather than tearing them down and building new--she's not about gut rehabs, granite counters, and stainless steel appliances.

Nicole Curtis is active in the Minneapolis and Detroit markets.  What is interesting though by comparison to the Gaines' is that they have built an ecosystem and have a critical mass effect on neighborhoods, while I think of the projects that Nicole Curtis is doing, especially in Detroit, as one-off projects that don't have the same kind of escalating and cumulative effect.

(Note that another HGTV program, "Curb Appeal: The Block" tries for a larger impact, doing a major renovation of a property and complementing it with simultaneous exterior improvements on a couple other houses on the same block.)

Her projects are great--she usually gets properties with amazing potential and she does exceptional and beautiful work--more authentic in my opinion compared to the Gaines, although for the most part I think they do very good work--but Curtis' projects don't have the same kind of critical mass effect on neighborhoods, spurring broader revitalization efforts on an entire city block.

Note that this might change as she appears to have begun working on Detroit projects with the real estate firm, Bedrock Real Estate Services, affiliated with QuickenLoans owner Dan Gilbert. ("Curtis' mansion revival just the start for Brush Park," Detroit Free Press).  According to the DFP, Bedrock aims to build 300 "new houses" in the Brush Park neighborhood as a stabilization move, on what are now vacant properties.  Currently, new "Rehab Addict" episodes feature a Brush Park renovation--the house is 5400 s.f. and will be set up as a duplex.

Conclusion: there is a difference between building a personal brand vs. building a business. The difference between the impact of Nicole Curtis and Chip and Joanna Gaines concerns what we might think of as the development of a personal and personalized brand embodied by Nicole Curtis versus the creation of of a set of businesses that goes beyond the "Gaines brand."  The Gaines' have created a system of related businesses, where the brand transcends the individuals, and where the impact transcends an individual property, but extends to the block, neighborhood, and city.

Each has a show on HGTV, each is successful.  But the impact of one is greater than the other because of how the focus and vision of the people behind "Fixer Upper," is much broader.

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