Business Improvements

Building Partnerships with Businesses

Businesses and neighborhoods support one another in many ways. Nearby neighborhoods are a good source of customers for stores, restaurants, and service providers. Businesses can provide nearby residents with jobs and convenient access to vital goods and services. Business districts and individual businesses also play a central role in a neighborhood’s character. They provide informal meeting places for neighborhood residents, destinations for visitors, and visual focal points that contribute to a neighborhood’s identity. It is important for neighborhood associations to recognize local businesses and cultivate ties between businesses and neighborhoods. Building partnerships with businesses is an ongoing process that forms a foundation for greater success in all your neighborhood improvement projects.

How To Get Started:

v     Develop partnerships with business associations. In many areas of the City, business owners have formed business associations to develop ideas and strategies for improving the local business environment. Work with business associations to identify neighborhood improvement goals and strategies.

v     Send neighborhood publications and announcements to businesses and business associations. Add businesses and business associations to your mailing list to keep them abreast of neighborhood issues and improvement projects.

v     Talk with business owners and managers one-on-one. Get to know neighborhood business owners and managers by talking with them one-on-one about neighborhood improvement ideas. 

v     Recognize business contributions to your neighborhood. In neighborhood publications, meetings, and events, acknowledge business contributions to your neighborhood and to specific neighborhood improvement projects.

v     Support business-initiated improvement efforts. Offer assistance to business associations/business owners that initiate improvement projects for individual business properties and business districts.

v     Solicit up-front business involvement in neighborhood improvement projects. By involving businesses at the onset of your neighborhood improvement projects, you are more likely to receive donations and/or in-kind contributions (such as expertise, advertisements, food, meeting space, printing, photocopying, mailing). In addition, neighborhood improvement projects will be more beneficial if they meet the needs of businesses as well as residents. 

Business District Improvements

A business district is a neighborhood area that is occupied primarily by smaller-scale commercial establishments. Business districts range in size from street corners with a few shops to commercial streets with dozens of businesses. Monroe Street, Williamson Street, and East Johnson Street are well-known neighborhood business districts in Madison. To improve the look and functioning of business districts, neighborhood associations can work with business owners, business associations, and neighborhood residents to initiate and raise funds for business district improvements. 

Depending on site characteristics and your neighborhood association’s improvement goals, a wide range of improvements could be implemented to enhance the appearance or convenience of a neighborhood business district. Site improvements might include benches, bike racks, kiosks (cylindrical structures on which advertisements and notices can be posted), planting and landscaping improvements, neighborhood signs, and/or public artwork. In addition, business districts can be enhanced by improvements to building facades (a facade is a building’s front face, including entranceways, windows, signs, awnings, and the outside building surface).

Business district improvements may require cooperation among many parties, including property owners, property managers, real estate brokers/agents, business owners, business franchises, business associations, neighborhood associations, and neighborhood residents. It is therefore important to recognize the potential complexity of organizing major improvements involving many properties at once. Improvements may be easiest to accomplish one at a time – one street bench, one planting and landscaping project, one neighborhood sign, one building facade improvement, etc.

The City has started a new program designed to help provide funds for projects to improve the aesthetics and function of neighborhoods. Projects must be located in public places, on thoroughfares, and generally wherever people walk and interact with their environment. Generally, the City will provide 50% of total project costs, with the rest provided by the sponsoring group.

How To Get Started:

v     Identify improvement location(s) and goal(s). Business district improvement plans should begin with identifying specific improvement goals at specific locations. For instance, if your neighborhood association’s goal is to improve the appearance of certain locations, identify potential ways to meet this goal (planting trees and flowers, painting a building, removing graffiti, installing new signage, etc.) If your focus is on convenience, identify potential sites for bike racks, benches, or kiosks. Parking may also be a business district improvement issue.

v     Form a partnership with the local business association(s). Contact the local business association(s) to propose a business district improvement partnership between your neighborhood association and the business association(s).

v     Contact business owners and managers. As a joint business association/neighborhood association effort, contact individual business owners and managers in the business district to propose district improvements, solicit additional ideas, and measure the level of interest in developing an improvement plan. An effective approach is to send a joint neighborhood association/business association letter to business establishments and follow-up after several weeks with a personal visit to each business establishment. 

v     Organize preliminary planning meeting(s). If business owners and managers express interest in developing an improvement plan, get all the interested parties together at a meeting to identify specific improvements. Invite guest speakers to come to planning meetings to share their expertise on business district improvements. Potential guest speakers include City staff, business leaders involved with business district improvements in other areas of the City, and representatives from private and non-profit organizations with business district improvement expertise (such as banks and community development organizations).

v     Develop a preliminary project plan. For the improvement(s) that the neighborhood association and business association have jointly identified, make a list of City agencies to contact, City review and permit requirements, potential roles for volunteers, potential funding sources, and preliminary cost estimates. 

v     Organize neighborhood meeting(s) for planning input, fundraising, and volunteer assistance. Once a joint neighborhood association/ business association plan has been developed, organize a meeting to present it to neighborhood residents and the business community. Prepare visual aids (such as drawings and photos) to indicate how the proposed improvements would benefit the business district and the neighborhood. Ask for input on the preliminary plans, assess the degree of neighborhood and business support for the proposed improvements, explore fundraising potential, and ask for any volunteer assistance that neighborhood residents may be willing to offer.

v     Develop an implementation plan. Develop an implementation plan that specifies when and how each part of the business district improvement plan will be accomplished. Develop a project outline that describes the activities that will be required to accomplish each improvement (including obtaining City reviews and permits, raising funds, coordinating volunteer assistance, and purchasing materials and labor). Determine the cost of each improvement. Based on cost, feasibility, and neighborhood association/business association priorities, develop a project timeline which describes the phasing of improvements – which ones are planned for this year, which ones next year, and so on. Your neighborhood association and business association should jointly discuss and revise the implementation plan periodically as improvements are accomplished and the feasibility of planned improvements becomes clearer.

Commonly Asked Questions:

Q:  What are potential funding sources to help implement business district improvements?

A:  Potential funding sources to help implement business district improvements include City resources (such as Capital Revolving Fund loans, the City’s “Main Street” Program, and Community Development Block Grant assistance); state resources (such as Historic Preservation Tax Credits); private sector resources (such as financial institutions and utilities companies); and non-profit resources (such as Common Wealth Development and Madison Development Corporation). For more information, contact Madison Development Corporation at 256-2799.

Q:  What is a Business Improvement District (BID)?

A:  A Business Improvement District (BID) is a potential funding mechanism for business district improvements. Creation of a BID requires extensive planning by property owners to determine property assessment formulas by which each contributes funds for agreed-upon improvements to a business district. For information on BIDs, contact Economic Development Division at 267-8724; Downtown Madison, Inc. at 255-1008; or Chuck Law, UW-Extension Local Government Center at 265-2501.

Q:  Where can neighborhood associations find out about existing business associations? 

A:  A potential source of information on existing business associations is the Metropolitan Neighborhood Business Council (MNBC), an organization affiliated with the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce. For information on the MNBC, contact the Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 71, Madison, WI 53701-0071. Phone: 256-8348, Fax: 256-0333

Contact:

Economic Development Division

Municipal Building, Rm. 312

215 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd

Madison, WI 53703

Phone: 266-4222 Fax: 261-6126

e-mail: commdev@cityofmadison.com 

 

Matt Mikolajewski

Dept. of Planning and Development

Municipal Building, Rm. 322

215 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.

Madison, WI 53703

Phone: 267-8737 Fax: 261-6126

e-mail: mmikolajewski@cityofmadison.com 

Successful Implementation: Barrymore Theatre Transformation

“For those of us who live here, it has been an amazing turnaround,” says east side resident Terry Cohn, describing the revitalization of the Atwood Avenue business district over the last decade. The transformation of the x-rated cinema at 2090 Atwood Avenue into the Barrymore Theatre in 1986 was the turning point. Built in 1929 to feature the new “talkies” motion pictures, the theatre changed ownership several times before becoming an x-rated cinema in the late 1970s. As former Alderperson Henry Lufler describes it simply, the x-rated cinema “was standing in the way of a lot of good things on Atwood Avenue.” The theatre’s turnaround was accomplished by a partnership between the Schenk-Atwood Revitalization Association (SARA), residents, businesses, City agencies, and the personal commitment of Richard Slone. “I think the community that attends the Barrymore owes Richard Slone a debt of gratitude,” says Madison Civic Center Director Bob D’Angelo. “He created something out of nothing.” With help from SARA and substantial donations from local businesses and residents, Slone purchased the x-rated cinema in 1986 and turned it into the Barrymore, now treasured by residents city-wide as a unique venue for performances, independent films, and cultural events. The neighborhood’s vision that the Barrymore could anchor a business district revitalization has since been realized, as many restaurants and businesses have moved into previously underutilized sites near the theatre. Neighborhood residents and businesses again came to the Barrymore’s rescue when the theatre faced financial difficulties in the early 1990s. SARA raised over $200,000 – almost all of it from neighborhood organizations, businesses, and residents – and purchased the Barrymore in 1992. Debt-restructuring assistance from Madison Development Corporation and AnchorBank, as well as free management consultation from the Madison Civic Center, have helped the Barrymore operate at a profit. “SARA’s primary reason for acquiring the theatre,” said Barrymore General Manager Steve Sperling in 1995, “was for it to act as a cornerstone of revitalization. That’s succeeded – stuff is happening along this whole corridor.” In Richard Slone’s proud words, “This has become a pretty hot corner of town.”

Business Recruitment

There are two main reasons for neighborhood associations to get involved in business recruitment activities. First, your neighborhood may contain vacant commercial sites that detract from the aesthetic appeal of your neighborhood. Attracting a business to locate in one of these sites would be a notable neighborhood improvement. Second, there may be a particular kind of business establishment that neighborhood residents would like to have located within your neighborhood. Attracting this kind of business to a neighborhood site would benefit the neighborhood and the business owner alike.

For example, an owner of an available commercial site in your neighborhood may not know about a business owner for which the site would be ideal. The business owner may not be aware of the site or that it is available. By providing information to both parties, your neighborhood association may spark contacts between business and property owners that may lead to a business location in your neighborhood.

How to Get Started:

v     Contact local business association(s). The local business association(s) may be able to provide vital information such as: 1) vacant sites for which the business association is interested in finding a business occupant; 2) types of businesses that neighborhood residents would like to have located in your neighborhood; and 3) business recruitment strategies.

v     Identify vacant commercial sites. Identify vacant commercial sites for which you are interested in recruiting business occupants.

v     Contact property owners. Contact the owner(s) of the identified site(s) to describe your joint neighborhood association/business association business recruitment goals. Ask if the owner(s) would be willing to sell/lease the site(s) to business occupants. Ask for permission to contact potential business occupants. To identify unknown property owners, call the City Assessor’s Office at 266-4531. 

v     Assemble property information package. If property owners are receptive to your business recruitment activities, collect the property information that prospective occupants would need to know, including zoning classification, lot and structure square footage, structure age, any site or structural problems, potential asking price of owner (sale or lease), and existing parking space. Property information can be obtained directly from property owners or from the Building Inspection Unit. Potential business occupants may also be interested in maps and photographs of the site(s) and neighborhood. 

v     Identify types of businesses desired by neighborhood residents. Owners of the businesses that you want to recruit may be interested in consumer information from your neighborhood. What is the degree of neighborhood demand for particular types of businesses? The best way to get this information is by surveying neighborhood residents – door-to-door, by phone, by mail, or through neighborhood publications.

v     Contact potential business occupants. Your survey will indicate the types of businesses desired by neighborhood residents. By using the phone book and other sources such as the Chamber of Commerce, create a list of existing City businesses of these types and contact each with a joint neighborhood association/business association letter that: 1) explains your business recruitment goals; 2) provides the property information you have collected; and 3) provides neighborhood survey information indicating consumer demand. Include maps and photographs.

v     Direct business owners to resource information. Vacant or under-utilized buildings/sites often require improvements in order to make occupancy attractive or feasible for businesses. Direct business owners to information on resources that could assist with property improvements at the identified site(s). Business owners may be eligible for low-interest Capital Revolving Fund loans and/or Historic Preservation Tax Credits. For information on resources, contact the Madison Development Corporation at 256-2799.

v     Follow-up and provide further assistance if requested. Business owners will need some time to consider the information you provide. After several weeks, make a second contact to find out if business owners are interested in neighborhood site(s) and if your neighborhood association or business association can provide them with any additional information or assistance. Be prepared to let property owners and business owners do what they wish, including nothing, with the information you provide. Business location is ultimately a matter of private negotiation between property owners and business owners. 

Contact:

Economic Development Division

Municipal Building, Rm. 312

215 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd

Madison, WI 53703

Phone: 266-4222 Fax: 261-6126

e-mail: commdev@cityofmadison.com 

 

Matt Mikolajewski

Dept. of Planning and Development

Municipal Building, Rm. 322

215 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.

Madison, WI 53703

Phone: 267-7837 Fax: 261-6126

e-mail: mmikolajewski@cityofmadison.com 

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