GOPC Presents the Commercial Vacant Properties Guidebook in Youngstown

March 14th, 2014

By Marianne Eppig, Manager of Research & Communications

On Monday, I traveled to Youngstown to introduce our new guidebook for redeveloping commercial vacant properties at the Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) Bootcamp hosted by the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. The SC2 Bootcamp in Youngstown was a two-day workshop that brought together national experts and local stakeholders to exchange ideas in support of economic and community revitalization in downtown Youngstown and the surrounding region.

The panel I participated in focused on “Tools and Strategies for Revitalization” that can be used as part of a holistic approach to redevelopment in Youngstown. Tamar Shapiro of Center for Community Progress moderated the panel expertly and the other (highly esteemed) panelists included Heather Arnold of Streetsense, Jamie Schriner-Hooper of the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan, and Terry Schwarz of the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative.

For my presentation, I introduced GOPC’s new guidebook for redeveloping commercial properties, titled Redeveloping Commercial Vacant Properties in Legacy Cities: A Guidebook to Linking Property Reuse and Economic Revitalization. Local leaders and practitioners–such as those from community development organizations, municipal planning and economic development departments, Main Street and commercial district programs, SIDs and BIDs–can use the guidebook to plan and manage the revitalization and reuse of commercial vacant properties in legacy cities. The guidebook includes the following tools:

  • Guidance on planning & partnering for commercial revitalization
  • Methods for analyzing the market
  • Advice on matching market types & strategies for commercial revitalization
  • Legal tools for reclaiming commercial vacant properties
  • Funding sources for overcoming financial gaps
  • Menu of property reuse options
  • Ways to attract & retain business tenants
  • Methods and models for managing a commercial district
  • Strategies for building markets in legacy cities

GOPC produced this guidebook in partnership with the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. and the Center for Community Progress. We plan to release the guidebook within the next month.

Click here to view my presentation on the commercial vacant properties guidebook.

The panel also covered tools for developing vibrant retail streets (see Streetsense’s Vibrant Streets Toolkit), methods for working with anchor institutions to revive vacant land and urban spaces (see CUDC’s Pop Up City initiative and Reimagining a More Sustainable Cleveland), and temporary uses for vacant properties (see VACANT Lansing – the event themes are secret until you show up!). Following the panel, we were able to speak with participants and go into more depth on the tools and strategies presented.

Several of us went on a tour of Youngstown after the event. Dominic Marchionda of NYO Property Group showed us around downtown Youngstown and Wick Park. This tour of the city and its surrounding neighborhoods revealed both challenges and opportunities for efforts that are bringing vibrancy to the city. As Terry Schwarz mentioned during our panel, this will be the work of our lifetimes.

Around the World in Several Days: GOPC Travels to Philadelphia and Germany

September 16th, 2013

This past week, GOPC traveled to conferences on both sides of the globe. Executive Director Lavea Brachman participated on panels at both the Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference hosted by Center for Community Progress in Philadelphia and the Shrinking Cities in Europe conference held in Essen, Germany.

Brachman moderated a panel in Philadelphia titled “Aligning Financial Institutions and Community Development Goals: Building Strategic Coalitions to Move a State Level Vacant Property Revitalization Policy Agenda.” The panelists, including bankers and community development leaders from Ohio and Pennsylvania, discussed coalition-building strategies that they have used to leverage relationships between the private, non-profit and public sectors to generate a strategic statewide policy agenda that addresses the acquisition, demolition, foreclosure, redevelopment and prevention of vacant properties.

Shortly afterward, Brachman flew across the Atlantic to Germany, where she participated in the conference roundtable on “The global challenge of Shrinking Cities.” As a former Fellow of the German Marshall Fund and a delegate of the Cities in Transition initiative, Lavea contributed her knowledge of legacy cities in the U.S. while learning from other experts from around the world. The conference marks the conclusion of the 4 year European COST Action “Cities Regrowing Smaller” initiative.

GOPC’s involvement in these events has enriched our network of relationships as well as our working knowledge of how to address the challenges and promote the strengths of legacy cities.

Greater Ohio Featured in Youngstown Workshop

March 29th, 2013

Expert panel (from left): Alan Mallach, Brookings Institution; Lavea Brachman, Greater Ohio Policy Center; Thorsten Wiechmann, TUD professor; and Ian Beniston, YNDC.

On March 28th, Greater Ohio Executive Director, Lavea Brachman, traveled to Youngstown, Ohio for the workshop “Policies and Strategies in Shrinking Cities: The Case of Youngstown, Ohio,” hosted by the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation (YNDC) , German Marshall Fund (GMF) and Technical University of Dortmund, Germany (TUD). The workshop included site visits, an expert panel in which Brachman participated, and a presentation by the urban planning students of TUD on ideas for the regeneration of Youngstown’s riverfront and neighborhoods.

The Business Journal cited Lavea Brachman:

Lavea Brachman, executive director of the Greater Ohio Policy Center, said the city is pursuing the right course in its neighborhoods through organizations such as the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp., targeting those areas that stand the best chance of turning around in the near-term.

“It’s important to look at our redevelopment strategy,” Brachman said. “One of the things we’re talking about is a master plan for certain key neighborhoods, such as Wick Park, that provides a plan for the future and some comfort for investors.”

Much of the redevelopment in the Ruhr Valley, Brachman noted, emphasizes the region’s industrial heritage while at the same time brings to life new cultural amenities. “They used these old coal and mining facilities and they’re now beautiful cultural designations.”

It’s an example from which cities such as Youngstown can benefit.

“That goes back to building on our assets,” Brachman said, citing a tour of industrial sites she took just that morning. “They have fantastic beauty, and Youngstown should be capitalizing on that.”


The following articles cover the workshop:

Vindy: German Students Propose Improvements for Youngstown

WKBN: German Students Offer Revitalization Ideas for Youngstown

Business Journal: German Students Offer Fresh Perspectives on Redevelopment

Detroit’s Rebirth: “Future City” Report offers new ideas and solutions

February 13th, 2013

By John Gardocki, Greater Ohio Policy Center Intern

“Cities are living places that require ongoing awareness and firm yet flexible approaches to decision making which acknowledge changing realities and multiple voices, leading to pragmatic and agreed-on solutions” (Detroit Future City Framework, 12).

Future City, a two year report offering short and long term solutions to restore Detroit was recently released by Detroit Works. It is the culmination of an in-depth 24 month process involving 30,000 interviews, 70,000 surveys, and hundreds of public meetings.

Below are some key statistics that demonstrate the challenges Detroit is facing and the need to come together to solve these problems.

  • 79,725 out of 350,000 units are vacant in the city of Detroit-meaning the city has an astounding vacancy rate of 22.7%
  • 700,000 people live in a city originally designed for 2 million people.
  • There is only one job for every four Detroit residents
  • A recent survey of Detroit residents revealed that nearly one-third of the respondents would leave the city within five years, citing safety as the top reason.

Four major targets are to be evaluated in 2030 that stakeholders see in their vision that will be accomplished from the framework.

By 2030, Detroit will have a stabilized population
By 2030 the city will have two or three jobs for each person living in the city
By 2030, the Detroit Metropolitan region has an integrated regional public transportation system
By 2030, Detroit will become a city for all

The plan outlines several strategies that should be put into place to make a permanent transformation in Detroit over the next 20 years or more. There are five major planning elements: Economic Growth, Land Use, City Systems, Neighborhoods, and Land and Building Assets built within the framework to enforce the strategies:

  • Economic Growth is intended to make Detroit’s economy more knowledge based by utilizing four economic pillars: Global Trade/Industrial, Digital/Creative, Local Entrepreneurship, and Education & Medical. The four knowledge based sectors are meant to diversify the workforce.
  • Land Use is integral to transforming Detroit by addressing four key ideas: A City of Multiple Employment Districts, A City of Connecting People to Opportunity, A Green City Where Landscapes Contribute to Health, and A City of Distinct, Attractive Neighborhoods. The city’s current footprint is too expansive to meet the current population and fiscal capacity and so it needs to be refocused to be more sustainable.
  • City Systems revises the path to sustainable systems by using three transformative ideas: Strategic Infrastructure Renewal, Landscape As 21st Century Infrastructure, and Diversified Transportation for Detroit and The Region. This element is important to the city to determine which systems are critical to remain online, discontinued, or upgraded. Financially the city cannot afford to give out these resources to areas that are not populated.
  • Neighborhood utilizes five ideas to create more choices for residents: A City of Many Assets, A City of Neighborhood Choices, A City of Different Strategies for Different Neighborhoods, A City of Diverse Housing Types for Diverse Populations, and A City of Residents Who Engage In Their Own Futures. To remain competitive and meet the demands of a 21st century city, Detroit needs to understand the needs of their many neighborhoods and the unique challenges each neighborhood may face.
  • Land and Building Assets is critical to solving Detroit’s vacancy problems which will be initiated by: A City That Shares A Vision: Coordinating the Management of Vacant Land, A City Where Everything Is Connected: Viewing Vacant and Problem Properties Within One Interrelated System, A City of Strategic Approaches: Recognizing The Uniqueness of Each Property’s Value and Challenges, A New Urban Landscape: Using Land for Infrastructure And Innovation, and a City Where Public Facility Investments Count: Aligning Public Facilities With Land Use Transportation. Detroit has numerous neighborhoods that are beset by blight and have vacant land that needs to be utilized for new uses like parks, urban farming, and commercialization. To get a handle on the declining population will mean a critical movement to alter the vacancy problem in Detroit.

The use of info-graphics and GIS data helps to showcase Detroit’s urban crises and how they are interconnected. Figuring out exactly where the problems are heavily weighted will help impact the city’s strategy.

Detroit has a wide range of economic assets that should be capitalized on to fuel economic growth. Assets include existing businesses, institutions and transportation infrastructure. (Detroit Future City Framework, 38).

This first of its kind report can be a great tool for other cities across America facing similar problems to better assess and find new and innovative solutions.

GOPC Speaks at Legacy City Event

December 27th, 2012

On December 11, 2012, Greater Ohio Policy Center’s Executive Director Lavea Brachman joined a panel of urban experts at the “Revitalizing the Legacy Cities of Upstate New York” convening.  The panel held at Syracuse University, opened the two day event, discussing shared challenges and new strategies “legacy cities” can utilize to become globally competitive, build a world class innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem, and be more innovative with vacant property and land.

 Brachman stressed the importance of collaboration between legacy cities in disseminating best practices and new polices.  Brachman also spoke of the need for cities to work more regionally and convince people of the center city’s connectedness to a region’s strength.  

 For more information about the event, visit the SyracuseU Live twitter feed.

Greater Ohio Policy Center Uncovering Solutions to Commercial Vacant Property

October 19th, 2012

As part of our Healthy Properties, Rebuilding Communities Initiative, GOPC is developing state policy reforms that will assist communities in stabilizing commercial properties.  Commercial properties—strip malls, urban core buildings with retail or commercial activity on the first floor and residential space on upper floors, office buildings and other non-industrial properties—pose unique challenges for redevelopment, but are a valuable resource in a state where sparking entrepreneurialism, training and retaining the workforce, and attracting businesses are key economic development strategies.

Building on our expertise in residential property stabilization and redevelopment, Greater Ohio is now researching practices and policies that will assist communities in returning vacant commercial properties to productive use.  We are currently investigating ways to reform code enforcement statutes, hold owners accountable for neglected properties and identify ways to support the demolition or rehabilitation of vacant properties. 

GOPC is also partnering with the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF)’s  Urban Development x, to develop a Vacant Commercial Property Reuse Toolkit.  This Toolkit will support economic and community development teams and nonprofits, local and state policymakers and community groups as they work to transition vacant commercial property into productive reuse that is strategically linked to community economic development goals.  

Addressing the commercial vacant and abandoned properties challenge is an essential revitalization component for Ohio by providing key sites for economic and business redevelopment.  During the next 8 months to a year, Greater Ohio Policy Center will uncover and document solutions that lead to putting the pivotal commercial properties in our cities and communities back to use. Check our website and newsletter often for updates and reports on our research.

Urban Attraction in Ohio

July 9th, 2012

The recent upsurge in demand for rental properties in Columbus’ downtown neighborhoods has gained increasing exposure in news sources. The Columbus Dispatch article “Urban Renewal” notes that, “The urban-living renaissance is real” and that

“more and more people, especially young singles, have come to demand the benefits that only city life can bestow: restaurants, entertainment, parks and workplaces within walking distance; a lively atmosphere; and plenty of other young professionals as neighbors.”

These trends are also apparent in U.S. Census data: between 2000 and 2010, the City of Columbus grew in population by 10.6%.

National trends, cited by the likes of LOCUS President Chris Leinberger and the Urban Land Institute, have suggested that both Baby Boomers and Generation Y are moving back to inner cities to take advantage of the many available amenities and walkable communities. At Greater Ohio Policy Center, we were interested in finding whether these trends held true for Ohio’s eight largest cities.

An upcoming GOPC report will explain the trends for Baby Boomers and Generation Y living in and around Ohio’s major cities. The graphs below present a preview of some of our findings:

Figure 1. The above chart compares the percentage of Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1965 for this study) and Generation Y (born between 1981 and 2000 for this study) in the City of Columbus and the surrounding metropolitan area between 1970 and 2010. There was a 6.04% growth of Generation Y in City of Columbus from 2000 to 2010. Source: U.S. Census.

Read the rest of this entry »

Mortgage Services Settlement Strong First Step to Rebuilding Ohio Communities

February 9th, 2012

Attorney General Mike DeWine joined 48 other State Attorneys General in announcing a settlement of $25 billion with the nation’s five largest mortgage lenders and servicers over foreclosure abuses, fraud and unacceptable mortgage practices, such as  robo-signing.  DeWine estimates $335 million will come to Ohio.

Greater Ohio Policy Center applauds the Attorney General’s decision to develop a $75 million matching-grant program for abandoned and vacant property demolition.  This will be a significant tool in the face of Ohio’s estimated 100,000+ blighted and problem properties.

Demolition is a critical first step, but Ohio’s cities, towns and villages must be armed with techniques and strategies that will generate redevelopment opportunities, create healthy properties, and rebuild our neighborhoods.

On April 4th and 5th, Greater Ohio will be holding Ohio Properties Redevelopment Institute: Transforming Problem Properties into Opportunity,  This two-day interactive workshop will offer hands-on techniques and strategies for addressing vacant and abandoned property development challenges and generating redevelopment opportunities.

Featuring local practitioners, financial institutions, and state and national redevelopment experts, the sessions will include the following. (The full agenda is here.)

  • property acquisition tools
  • land banks
  • neighborhood stabilization tactics
  • revitalization strategies
  • property information systems 
  • urban redevelopment successes

This Institute will also seek input from workshop participants into policy reforms that will align policies with local community development needs, and arm local leaders with new tools for redevelopment.

With Ohio’s cities and towns at a crisis point, the Institute’s goals—training and education, coalition-building and policy advancement—are vital to productively reshape Ohio’s communities.

This Institute is part of larger multi-year Initiative Greater Ohio is leading—Healthy Properties, Rebuilding Communities—that is designed to combat vacant and abandoned properties and foster community redevelopment.

For more information on the Healthy Properties Initiative or to register for the Ohio Properties Redevelopment Institute, please visit our website.

Investing in Over-The-Rhine: Highlights from 3CDC

December 5th, 2011

Greater Ohio’s partners continue to create innovative programs and models that are building prosperity across Ohio. This month we spotlight the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) as an innovative private-public partnership that is providing catalytic leadership in revitalizing Cincinnati’s urban core.  This month’s guest blog post comes from Anastasia Mileham, Vice President of Communications at 3CDC.

The Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) is a non -profit, full-service, real estate development company formed in 2004 by Cincinnati’s corporate and civic leaders. Its mission is to strengthen the core assets of downtown by revitalizing the Central Business District (CBD) and Over-The-Rhine (OTR).

Over-the-Rhine is one of the most economically distressed areas in the country with a poverty rate of 58%, unem­ployment rate of over 25%, and median household income of $9,895. Geographically situated just north of the center city, the troubles in OTR have contributed to a destabilization of the CBD. This unstable environment has prevented growth and investment in the city’s core, which has in turn impacted the health of the entire region. In the absence of a major turnaround, the region was in danger of losing some of its largest employers, further exacer­bating the persistent distress in Cincinnati’s center city.

 3CDC’s efforts to revitalize low-income communities are funded by five separate revolving loan funds, totally over $195 million.  3CDC has also been awarded three New Market Tax Credit (NMTC) allocations to date, totaling $103 million. (The NMTC Program provides a credit against federal income taxes to privately managed institutions investing in distressed areas.)  Since its formation 3CDC and its partners have invested more than $324 million in the CBD and OTR by making below market-rate loans to commercial, residential and community real estate projects. Without access to the funds’ low-cost capital, such efforts would not be financially feasible.

 3CDC’s redevelopment efforts in OTR have resulted in 186 condominiums, 68 rental units, and more than 91,000 SF of commercial space, mostly created in historic, vacant and vandalized buildings. More than 85% of the condominiums are sold, the rental units are 100% filled, and a vibrant shopping and dining district has replaced empty storefronts with over 80% of the completed commercial space now leased. Since 2004, crime has dropped more than 51% and continues to decrease.

 The first NMTC allocation of $50 million is used as a revolv­ing loan fund, which has enabled 3CDC to invest $69.6 million in real estate projects throughout Cincinnati’s urban core. The second allocation of $35 million is invested into three critical developments: (1) Washington Park, an 8-acre public park with a 450-space underground parking garage, (2) 21c Cincinnati, a 160-room boutique hotel with public art museum, and (3) Saengerhalle, a 32,000 SF mixed-use office and retail complex. The third allocation of $18 million is invested into a vacant building (Maisonette) being renovated into a restaurant/entertainment complex in the CBD, and an historic building in OTR (Paint Building) being developed into 10,000 SF of commercial space.

 3CDC has set high standards with its investments using proceeds from the previ­ous $103 million NMTC allocation. Its successful track record would not have been possible without the Federal New Market Tax Credit program. All of these projects, endorsed by the community, were catalytic in nature and resulted in significant commu­nity and economic impact felt throughout the region.

Forging a Regional Identity

October 24th, 2011

By Lavea Brachman

This is the second post on Executive Director Lavea Brachman’s tour of European cities as part of the “Cities in Transition:Shrinking Cities Project”, sponsored by the German Marshall Fund. Please visit our blog for past and future posts on this series.  

One remarkable observation from the Germany’s Ruhr region is their leaders’ purposeful focus on forging a regional identity out of “polycentric” area — that is, a region with at least five significant cities and multiple other smaller cities.  This effort began as early as the 1960’s at the time that the coal and steel industry in the area first began to decline.  The Ruhr experience, with its multiple proximately located cites with similar industrial histories, potentially poses lessons for Northeast Ohio and its three significant cities, related historic industrial bases, and an existing strong set of universities, community colleges, and other educational institutions. 

In meetings in the Ruhr with managers of several of the regional networks, we noted how the cities have managed to effectively restructure separate but related economies within a polycentric region, and leveraged a tradition of competition among the cities to do so (such as holding an “Innovative City” competition).  We observed how the Ruhr forged a regional identity, labor market and business sector, on the one hand, prevailing over the traditional economic loyalty to individual cities that can lead to poaching and hinder development of a common regional identity and strategy, on the other hand.  Our Ohio cities can and should take a page out of these efforts. 

One of the first actions taken to bolster the Ruhr’s flagging economy was the founding of a network of universities in the late 1960’s with the specific objective of creating engines of innovation, and more recently these universities have formed a regional alliance. Unlike in Ohio, the Ruhr area previously had no institutions of higher education, so we should more actively and deliberately leverage the advantage of existing institutions. Other regional efforts have followed suit, such as in the land use planning and corporate social investment areas.  Finally, in 2010, the whole region was selected as the European Capital of Culture (an award that usually goes to a single city), and policymakers seized on the opportunity to promote further the collection of cities as a single place, the Ruhr.