Bruce Leonard from StreetSense delivers Keynote Speech at MEDA Summer Conference

Bruce Leonard from StreetSense
Bruce Leonard from StreetSense

During the MEDA Summer Conference, Bruce Leonard delivered a meaningful keynote address outlining the role Economic Developers should play in the arena of Neighborhood Revitalization. Revitalization is more challenging today than ever before, but…with a universe of exciting opportunities. Today, with the importance of local retail and hospitality businesses, mid to large format tenants are generally decreasing; “we aren’t over-retailed, we’re under-demolished.” With rent only amounting to about 8% of the cost for a business, projects should be data driven, and Economic Developers need to ask themselves how a project fits in the market and its coinciding consumer landscape. His takeaway: revitalization and development today means mixed use development in convenient space places. Synergies and mixed use developments are driving value, and this is a real perception in the marketplace. While there are examples where a mixed use project cannot be forced if the market doesn’t support or demand it, the larger trend reflects the market perceives synergy as value. Part of the data which is driving the selection process of developments is based on placemaking, where the well-designed environments matter and site conditions and footprints should be based upon market demands. Additionally, Leonard highlighted the role of downtowns and how they offer a sense of belonging in a community, calling for us to acknowledge our independence as consumers are seeking a cohesive experience and a stimulus to come together in a shared space. Downtowns have the power to create or highlight a sense of culture while transforming lives and inspiring innovations. Leonard encouraged the conference to “think like the developer,” where on an economic level, does a project make sense? On a design level, can the project be built? And, on a political level, how will the community perceive it?

Moving forward, we need to listen to what the market wants and needs, where without market sensibility, no amount of strategic visioning can make a project a success. In order to make revitalization successful, economic development needs to consider the mindset of the developer while understanding data and demand– if the developer’s risk is understood, negotiations and processes are faster and stronger, and, more equitable to all of the stakeholders’ needs simultaneously.