Last week on our DMM Forum, I did a quick post about an economic development project happening in Cleveland (and covered by Smart City Radio), and compared it to one economic development project happening in Dayton. After a few received comments and much thought afterward, I decided to go a bit more in depth on the topic and post it here for those who may still read this blog but aren’t yet involved on the forum. Besides, it was time for a new post since I’ve been completely absent here for a long time now…
On a recent SmartCity Radio show, Carol Coletta interviewed Ned Hill – VP of Economic Development at Cleveland State University. “He’s combining the Cleveland area’s history, talent and expertise” to create the District of Design. This district would take a concentrated area of downtown Cleveland and transform it into the industrial design capital of the U.S.” …
First, I encourage you to listen to the program:
In my opinion, this is what true economic development is all about – taking a city’s existing strength and expanding it by using a cluster strategy, partnerships between city government/business sector/universities, and community building. Unlike fad developments, as Mr. Hill explains, this District of Design makes sense because it “connects to the balance sheet” (ie generates revenue). It is ultimately something that will attract more businesses, create more jobs, and grow a “creative class” group of designers based in a part of Downtown Cleveland. And the residual effect is that it brings more life to downtown in the form of more workers – which will ultimately attract more retail and restaurant/bar business. This is economic development – which Mr. Hill eloquently defines as “the art of connecting the dots that nobody else see’s”.
Dayton is also working on such a district – called Tech Town – but it is moving at a snail’s pace and seems to be more about real estate than about actually nurturing a business sector. Sure, there is the technology business incubator (The Entrepreneur Center) that is there now, but I don’t see its connection to Tech Town other than simply being its first tenant. Tech Town looks more like a “build it and they will come” real estate proposition. Of course, in the past year the City of Dayton seems to have had its focus not so much on Tech Town as much as the “future”‘ Ballpark Village – which brings me to the main point of this post…
First, let me say that I’ve had mixed feelings about BPV from the start. I started out excited about this when it was first announced. Since I live two blocks away I wanted to see this happen – it would be great to have a whole new riverfront destination to walk to from my condo, and it will be nice to see more crowds of people coming downtown. Then again, I do not want to see another generic “lifestyle center” ala The Greene with a bunch of boring chain restaurants that will simply poach customers from our existing independent businesses. And now there isn’t even a developer, which makes one wonder if there is actually a market for yet another retail & restaurant cluster in this region. But even more important than all of that is the fact that the city is treating BPV as if it were an economic development project. And while I’m not the first blogger to claim this, I am here to say that BPV is NOT economic development.
BPV is first a real estate project (just like Tech Town), and secondly it is a consumerism project. Consumerism in that it simply offers another venue for consumers to spend money – not a project that city government should be initiating. It will not create jobs other than low-paying service jobs. It will not enhance any existing businesses (other than maybe the Dayton Dragons but as they’re still selling out games what help do they need?). And ultimately it does nothing to “connect to the balance sheet” or “connect the dots”. Sure, IF the consumers do show up then there is tax revenue to realize – which I imagine is what the city is looking to score. But other than additional tax revenue that might not even make up for the amount of money the city is spending on property acquisitions and whatever tax subsidies it will have to offer in order to attract a developer and tenants, what exactly is BPV going to do in terms of economic development?
This city and region are losing jobs by the thousands these days. Our local economy is in the crapper. Do we really need another consumer-based development? Hell, with more and more people losing jobs and the cost of fuel and food rising to catastrophic levels, can the region even support the restaurants and retail we have now, let alone support a whole slew of new ones? No, as much as I’d personally like to see BPV happen so that I have a new place to walk to and spend my money, I can’t say that this will be good for the city or the region in the grander scheme of things.
Instead of trying to be land developers, the city should be working on ways to help support and grow the businesses and industry we have here now. Tech Town is a good place to start since it is already underway – instead of relying on the “build it and they will come” strategy that seems to be in place now, focus on fostering the partnerships between government, business and universities that will help to create a true cluster. Make this much more than a real estate proposition and Tech Town may just succeed. Focus on the other areas of downtown instead of ignoring them like is happening now (how many empty buildings do we currently have?). Work with area developers on ways to not only rehab and reuse our existing building stock, but also put real plans in place that will actually encourage development. Residential is a good place to start, but even that must be part of a bigger plan.
Ballpark Village is not the type of development the city should be trying to accomplish. Listen to the story about the Cleveland District of Design and you’ll get a better sense of what a true economic development project looks like.
I’ve posted this on the DMM Forum – if you wish to comment on this then sign up and get involved in the conversation there.