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, March 29, 2018

The SEMAEST Vital Quartier program remains the best model for helping independent retail

The Institute for Local Self Reliance has released a report, Affordable Space: How Rising Commercial Rents Are Threatening Independent Businesses, and What Cities Are Doing About It. They highlight set asides for local independent retailers in newly constructed space.

For the most part, like inclusionary zoning, I don't think that's particularly significant -- because new space represents an infinitesimal portion of the total supply of commercial space -- even though it's important to do. Plus the programs don't offer space at rock bottom rates, but at a discount from market rates, a discount that likely isn't enough.

What's important is buying and holding space, and making it available to creative uses, at low cost.  A 10% to 30% discount from market rates isn't that low of a cost.

That's more substantive than helping "legacy retailers" like putative efforts in DC and the recent passage of a measure in San Francisco called the Legacy Business Historic Preservation Fund ("Here's how San Francisco's Legacy Business program works," San Francisco Business Times), because virtually all independent retailers face these problems, whether they are new businesses or old.

If you want to revive commercial business districts, you can't just focus on helping "long time" businesses, because they make up such a small proportion of the space.

But since help and subsidy are loaded terms in the neoliberalism paradigm, it's easier to justify "help" if the businesses are "old timers."

I wrote about SEMAEST here, "BTMFBA: the best way to ward off artist or retail displacement is to buy the building," and more recently updated it:

SEMAEST is a Paris-based community development corporation charged with buying and holding retail space, offering it at a discount from "market rates," while encouraging creative retail. The model is the Vital Quartier program.

The program operates on a break even basis, and in some of the targeted neighborhoods, vacancies have declined by up to 40% ("Paris City Hall wants to revive Semaest." Les Echos). The program has assisted more than 650 individual businesses and controls 730,000 s.f. of retail space.

-- Presentation
-- "Paris SEMAEST Integrated Action Plan," (English), Urbact

But the ILSR report does mention a program in Portland that is along the lines of SEMAEST, but very small and won't make much difference, but it is interesting, sort of.

The Affordable Commercial Tenanting Program allocates space in new city-initiated developments to independent retailers, but at a miniscule discount -- 10% -- from market rates, and there is no guarantee the locations are particularly hospitable to retail sales (as discussed in "Developers activating properties: restaurants and tenant allowances").

I can't see it being particularly noteworthy or successful.

The SEMAEST model is still the best.

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