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, November 28, 2023

Commercial district activation issues in smaller communities: Phoenixville, Pennsylvania

Related to the issues and concepts of destination management of communities large and small as expressed in recent blog entries ("Learning from Las Vegas: Round 2 | Planning for Activation and Transformational Projects," "London rejects a version of The Sphere"), commercial districts ("H Street NE nightlife district, failing?," "A follow up on the H Street article: Learning from Philadelphia | More sophisticated daypart, retail, cultural, and experience planning"), and specific destinations like the Eastern Market building and area of Capitol Hill DC ("Eastern Market DC's 150th anniversary last weekend | And my never realized master plan for the market"), the Philadelphia Inquirer has an interesting article, "Phoenixville has turned into a destination, but some locals don’t like what it’s become," about how a town outside of Philadelphia attracts thousands of patrons to its Bridge Street "main street" traditional commercial district on weekends through street closure, but not all businesses and residents are happy about it.

Photos from Phoenixville Inside Out.

Phoenixville is in Chester County, 27 miles from Philadelphia, which is a goodly distance away, and maybe too far to attract Philadelphia residents as patrons.  

So the community needs to focus on attracting area residents.  

Which it can do because Chester County has 500,000+ residents.

To bring attention to the traditional commercial district, Phoenixville's Downtown, on Bridge Street, the Phoenixville Inside Out event was created.  It closes the street from Friday afternoon to Monday morning in favor of dining, music, and yes drinking.

Some residents and business owners don't like the event,  And that includes someone who had been the commercial district revitalization manager for the district back in the 2000s.

It reminds me of the similar dislike by vendors of Eastern Market public market in DC and the weekend street closure of 7th Street.  

Bridge Street, Phoenixville.  As a Main Street manager, I would be ecstatic with this kind of regular weekend patronage. 

They complain about access difficulties and loss of parking (even though there aren't that many spaces and they didn't turnover because at the time there weren't time restrictions on weekends).

It's true that not every business is set up to benefit from street closure if they don't sell goods that appeal to that particular demographic and event approach.

It also reminds me of some opposition by businesses on St. Catherine Street in Montreal where the street is closed to cars for a couple months every summer.

True, not every business benefits from such treatments.  To me, that means taking planning steps to assist those businesses where street closures are a hindrance, and to help the businesses that can better benefit to realize those opportunities.

But the article illustrates to me a number of things:

  • For example, it says the district is so successful it doesn't need a commercial district revitalization manager.  I disagree.  It illustrates the point that revitalization is multi-phased and needs constant management ("MAIN STREET NICHES IN A MASS SALES WORLD," Neal Peirce, 2004)
  • That not every business will benefit from certain strategies and tactics, even if most do.  (In DC I have written about this in terms of BIDs representing property owners foremost, business owners second, residents not at all, and activation planning not at all.)
  • Work to create better opportunities for leveraging events for all businesses, including businesses that need to work harder on doing so.
  • Making tough decisions is difficult.
  • The commercial district needs to lobby for its interests in the face of opposition.
At the same time, here is a national best practice example for smaller communities which should be celebrated--Phoenixville has only 19,000 residents, which is hardly enough to support a local commercial district the size of Bridge Street--but is equally relevant to sub-districts of larger cities.

Park Silly Sunday Market in Park City on Aug. 27, 2017. Park City leaders say they are open to a possible long-term deal for the Park Silly Sunday Market after it cut operations down this year amid its uncertain future. (Ritu Manoj Jethani, Shutterstock)

Park City, Utah has some of the same issues.  It's a resort community in part because of skiing.  It's also a destination for the Sundance Film Festival and other events.  There is a Sunday Market, Silly Market, which closes Main Street.

Over time resident opposition has been raised, making continuation of the market difficult even though it is successful ("What's next for Park City's Park Silly Sunday Market?," KSL).  In response, it's cut back.  From the article:
Christoper Benton Dorsey can't remember the last time he saw High West Distillery as empty as he's seen it the past two Sundays as the Park Silly Sunday Market entered its August hiatus. 

"Since the Silly Market went away, I guarantee you that the last two Sundays our business has been down," he told members of the Park City Council Tuesday afternoon, admitting that he doesn't have the empirical to back this but adds he's also never had to think much about it either. 

He said the bar was "completely empty" at 2 p.m. on a Sunday for the first time he can remember in 14 years of working there. 

The Park Silly Sunday Market, now in its 17th year, cut its operations down to just 11 Sundays on Main Street this year amid contract negotiations between the city and the market operators. The cuts meant no market on a pair of Sundays in July and all of August.
I think partly it is out of a misplaced anger about the effect of skiing--the launch of multi-resort annual passes has significantly increased patronage in Park City, and many of these patrons aren't "shopping" Park City, so they're consuming skiing but not so much the community ("Actually, the Mega Season Pass Is Killing Skiing," Outside), and the impact of Sundance, where many of the events end up being oriented to non-residents, even though the film festival takes many steps to provide programming to residents as part of the festival.

Note that the Market is getting re-approved ("The Park City Council has unanimously approved a new four-year contract for the Park Silly Sunday Market," KCPW-FM/NPR) based on its success.  But it is unfortunate it has to jump through hoops to do so.  The contract includes a three year renewal provision.

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At 7:22 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

From the article,yes, it's framed as a an old coot complaining.

The issue of the outsized returns on alcohol sales is a real one though. Does displace other tenants.

At 8:09 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

S***. I meant to mention that, reshaping districts toward food and drink, what I call eater-tainment. I guess I'll go back in and add.

It's a big imbalance as you know.

At 10:52 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The other thing, depending on size and various other conditions, Main Street revitalization involves non-important retail, gift shops, resale shops etc.

Takoma has some convenience retail (hardware, CVS).

It would be interesting to figure out what more useful retail can work in what size of retail districts.

At 11:36 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Like how I compared 15th and 15th to Manor Park.

There are a couple other districts. Sugar House has two traditional shopping centers that provides traditional retail. 3 bigger boxes plus small stores in both (although Bed. Bath and Beyond closed.). Independent or small regional chains. Plus food. Otherwise most of the rest of the district is food and drink with a couple specialty boutiques and resale shops, plus services, including a big Post Office.

9th and 9th is like 15th, but bigger and more retail (book, apparel, gift, bike, photo, resale high end furniture, etc.). It's anchored by a movie theater which sadly has been closed since covid (although it was featured in a Hallmark movie during that period).

At 11:31 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Yeah that was one of your better (recent) pieces.

Honestly, go through, find your top 20 pieces that you like, and start to tie them together into more of a narrative.

off topic:

At 8:23 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Because I got bad news, I have NHL, not HL, and a very rare aggressive form, and the best treatment conflicts with my heart issues, I am thinking about my legacy and I was thinking about creating some "books". One on transit and transportation.

One on neighborhood and commercial district revitalization. Maybe one on planning and civic engagement including ANC type bodies (action planning, transformational projects action planning etc.).

The doc seems to think they can be successful with treatment. But no treatment and I might have a year.

At 8:24 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Books = pdf collections.

At 12:19 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Yes, some sort of thematic organization would be useful. The text is all there. Needs some connective tissue.

Lots of dead link rot of course, internet archive may help with that.

At 12:49 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

In the code there is the original url. Often internet archive can retrieve stuff that is hard to refind. (In the beginning I wasn't always good about clean urls.)

Definitely connective discussion required for better context and updating.

At 1:32 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

3 books.

1. Revitalization
2. Planning
3. Mobility

I'd frame all 3 as "how to" guides. How to think about revitalization and how to do it. How and why planning is needed, and why neighbored "activists" needs planning. And finally the benefits of mobility and how it locks in urbanity.

I probably disagree with you on 75% of "mobility issues" but you've got a good angle there too -- heart issues/health and you later in life experience in the auto centered world.

A PDF is useful. Just some better blog layout helps too, and in the end you are an hyperlinked type of guy -- not a footnote type of guy.


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