Community Development: The Heart of Downtown

Part three in a four-part series, this piece continues the look at how local associations have used NAR’s grant funding to influence community development or enhance commercial membership services. In the following projects, Smart Growth Grants (SGG) were utilized in an array of impactful ways. These grants support land-use related issues, with the goal of affecting public policy and supporting sustainable development. Enhanced relationships with elected officials and the increased visibility of REALTORS® as community leaders have been notable by-products of these project collaborations.

PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA

The Coastal Carolinas Association of REALTORS® (CCAR) conducted a fiscal analysis of downtown Myrtle Beach in September 2016. The analysis was in response to the closure of Arcelor Mittal Steel Mill, located along the waterfront in the heart of the adjacent Georgetown historic district. CCAR partnered with Urban Land Institute (ULI), representatives from local governments, the South Carolina Ports Authority, state-owned utility provider Santee Cooper, and the Frances P. Bunnelle Foundation. A panel was created to facilitate engagement between the ULI and association members.

The panel, largely comprised of active real estate professionals, met with community stakeholders, visited the mill site, evaluated market conditions, and developed recommendations that provided a balance of community input and sustainable development. The study provided the community with a diverse perspective from development professionals, helping community leaders to better understand the site’s potential.

“We were very pleased to participate in the coalition that supported the ULI study of the Georgetown Steel Mill and surrounding area. It was a great opportunity for our REALTOR® Association to be an integral part of discussing future plans for our community. This effort engaged the City, County, and community leaders, working alongside local residents around a vision for the redevelopment of the mill site and downtown. The energy surrounding this project has given a renewed spirit to the residents and businesses of Georgetown County,” said Laura Crowther of CCAR.

PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA

Oklahoma City Metropolitan Association of REALTORS® (OKCMAR) held a bus tour last September which showcased smart growth projects in the area to 50 commercial members. The OKCMAR Commercial Bus tour supported the association’s continued educational efforts by informing association members about the positive results of smart growth development, thus creating stewards who will work to influence future policy regarding land use, specific growth, and transportation issues impacting the community.

One offshoot is already happening as Oklahoma City officials have proposed a new transportation program called planOKC, which envisions a street system that works with transit trails, sidewalks and bike networks. Oklahoma City voters approved a one-cent sales tax for capital projects, helping provide $40MM in funding for transit trails, $10MM for sidewalks and $130MM for the streetcar system.

“In Oklahoma City and surrounding areas, it is imperative that land-use and fill developments are planned well to prevent sprawl. We will continue to provide education to our members to promote sustainable smart growth land development in the future,” said Tammee Hatfield of OKCMAR.

PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: TRAVERSE CITY, MICHIGAN

Traverse Areas Association of REALTORS® (TAAR) was awarded a SGG and completed a fiscal analysis for downtown development in December 2016. TAAR partnered with Traverse City, Grand Traverse County, the Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and Urban 3, to study the relationship of tax returns and development categories across Grand Traverse County. In turn, Urban 3 collaborated with county/city staff, gathered and processed data, constructed a 3-D model that measured the relative economic potency of different building and land types, and delivered public presentations of the model. TAAR then conducted a series of presentations and distributed reports of development patterns for community leaders and the general public. The seminars and reports created awareness about how taxes will provide the financial resources for a sustainable and inclusive community, including: park maintenance, police and fire protection, bike trails, street cleaning, storm water filter systems, cultural and educational facilities, elevated civic engagement, and affordable housing.

In the end TAAR was able to highlight the need for smart growth, and their findings will guide future investment, helping to develop an understanding of the tax productivity of area land. The results demonstrate that the greatest return on investment for city and county government is found in the urban core. Consequently, smart growth is being considered as preferential in future development. “Urban 3 presented relevant information that for the first time illustrated the value of vertical development in a way that local stakeholders can comprehend. Their graphic illustrations and case studies were very enlightening and provoked many pertinent conversations among local elected officials,” said Kim Pontius, CEO of TAAR.

The project, as part of the Grand Vision (GV) (www. thegrandvision.org, powered by TAAR), has encouraged public conversations that are focused on fact-driven economic and community development, which will inform future development and investment decisions undertaken both in the public and private sectors. TAAR has now become the repository and the stewards of all of the information and data generated from the GV process.

As part of NAR’s practice of layering grants towards a larger goal, TAAR received a second SGG for a downtown market analysis that was initiated in February 2016. Traverse City is considered one of the region’s most popular real estate markets. The study has encouraged the reconsideration of previous efforts to curb downtown workforce housing and provides new strategies in planning the city’s five commercial corridors. Growth hurdles were identified and tactics were provided to remove obstacles.

TAAR collaborated with the DDA to promote greater density and downtown housing zoning policies. The first DDA market analysis since 2007 resulted in a report providing insight into retail, office, and housing markets, and a performance comparison with other regional areas that highlighted 18 strategies to address issues affecting downtown. REALTORS® were involved in all phases of the project and City planners have since leveraged TAAR leadership for advice regarding development, including streetscape ideas. The association will now be able to utilize market statistic datasets to assist in modeling and to craft a new master plan.

Smart Growth for Smart Communities

Smart Growth is taking hold in downtown communities across the nation–creating an exciting trend of revitalization in places like Myrtle Beach, Oklahoma City, and Traverse City.

Learn how your local association can create a project at www. realtoractioncenter.com/smartgrowth or by contacting NAR’s Manager of Smart Growth Programs, Hugh Morris at 202-383-1278 or hmorris@realtors.org.

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