Should we offer incentives to fill it with small retailers?
How do we convince the mayor and economic development group?
The empty factory building
A reader wrote in to ask about converting and dividing up a huge old building. Because my answer isn’t quite what the reader asked for, I’ve taken the details out. This could be your town, too, couldn’t it?
I absolutely love your articles about turning vacant buildings into small shops and creating a retail space to revitalize small towns. Honestly, I have long thought something like this would do well in my small town. There was once a manufacturing plant that has been shut down for years. The building is huge, yet it is slowly falling into disrepair because it has been sitting empty.
I think this would make a wonderful shopping area if it were broken up into smaller shops. Not only that, but there is a large covered area that would make a great covered farmer’s market.
However, we live in a small rural town where most of our officials in the city office as well as the economic development authority, do not really think outside the box. I would like to pitch this idea to them; however, I do not think they will be receptive if I do not have information such as possible grants or an expert’s advice.
So my question to you is:
1) Can you give me some ideas on where to search to find grants for vacant building restoration?
2) Can you give me examples of other towns/cities that have offered incentives to potential businesses to fill up the spaces? and
3) If the first two options are not persuasive enough, would you be willing to come in and give a presentation to the economic development association and mayor?
Any assistance you can lend would be greatly appreciated. I would really like to help our town become a better version of itself for my children to grow up in.
Where not to start
Unless the city or economic development group owns the building, I wouldn’t involve them at least at first. And I wouldn’t look for funding, at least at first.
You have to change your entire mindset. Instead of starting with officials, you start with regular people. Instead of starting with plans to convert the whole building and where to find grants and how to use incentives and everything, start a lot smaller.
How to start smaller and build momentum
Hold a picnic with friends and fellow dreamers (and maybe the more open-minded officials) somewhere near the building and dream big! But start really small. Start by talking about the potential and find the other people who are interested. Maybe pass around some of those articles about converting empty buildings that helped inspire you. Talk about those inspiring examples.
Think about holding a walk-through with others (maybe even officials) who might be interested and discuss all the potential where you can see it.
As you pointed out, the officials will be really hard to convince if you start at their meeting on their turf and on their terms. It’s hard to think about the positive potential when you’re in a meeting room at a formal meeting with a lot of rules and a hundred other things on the agenda. So change the whole game by going a lot smaller, a lot more temporary, at the location and a lot more about building a groundswell.
Make your first “big” goal to borrow the building for a pop-up temporary one day event, maybe in that big covered part. That will help you prove the potential and draw even more excited people to you.
Where you find the grants
When you get more and more people involved, you’re Gathering Your Crowd which is part of the Idea Friendly Method. With more and more people, you get more and more connections to different people and to the resources you’re looking for. Different people know different things and come up with different ideas. That’s why you want to include widely diverse people in your network.
You’ll network your way to grants together. And you’ll work on convincing the officials together. And together you’ll brainstorm alternatives you’d never come up with on your own. That’s the Idea Friendly way to start on revitalizing that huge factory building.
Rebuilding Your Local Economy
Deb Brown and I teach a lot more about this Idea Friendly Method for rebuilding your local economy in our new video at SaveYour.Town called Rebuilding Your Local Economy.
- Move Your Money and Bank Local - March 22, 2023
- Using a building as a warehouse or storage in a small town? Put up a sign - March 13, 2023
- How to get customers in the door of small town and rural retail stores - February 19, 2023
- Check your small business website for outdated pandemic changes, missing info - January 31, 2023
- Rural Tourism Trend: electric vehicle chargers can drive visitors - January 15, 2023
- 2023 trends for rural and small town businesses - December 26, 2022
- Local reviews on Google Maps drive enduring value - December 17, 2022
- Extra agritourism revenue from camping, cabins and RVs with HipCamp - December 12, 2022
- Harvest Hosts attract vanlifers and RV tourists, Boondockers Welcome - December 2, 2022
- Holiday 2022 marketing: Tell your founding story - December 1, 2022
Small Biz Survival says
Michele Robles wrote in to share the story from her town:
Our small town is exactly as described in the article except we have 12 buildings built around a 100 years ago. They were all occupied by one business which closed 7 years ago. We formed an economic development organization. By participating in the Orton Foundation Heart and Soul process, we KNOW the community want and needs small businesses but the buildings will need a huge investment to bring up to current building codes. Banks won’t loan and grants we’ve found aren’t for “brick and mortar” renovations of privately held buildings. Meanwhile the buildings are deteriorating and the owner can’t afford to fix them.
Here’s how I answered Michele:
This sounds like a big challenge for your community. A huge challenge actually, and a bit of a brick wall. You’ll need to start small just as much as the person in the article. The first goal isn’t to completely renovate and fill up all 12 buildings. Start as small as possible with maybe just one of the buildings as your first target. Use temporary events like your business fair you told us about.
Since you know that people are interested, you can start Building Connections to tap their knowledge and abilities. You’re pros at this, since you’ve done Orton Heart and Soul!
Who out there knows someone who has renovated a building, any building?
Who knows people at any state agency that might know more?
Who has a connection into the state historical society or the commerce department?
Who knows a builder or an engineer who might connect you on?
Who might know someone who has worked with the Brownfields program?
It’s a good start to know people want and need the project finished. It’s a whole different level to start asking people who they know who might know more. You want to find those programs you don’t know about yet, to learn from the people who have figured out ways to make it work, and to find the people who answer questions like these every day. They may not know the answer, but they may be able to connect you with another person who is closer to the answer. Somewhere out there is an answer, and you’ll find it by Building Connections.
I’m sure you’ve done a lot of that. But that’s also the only way to find good leads.
Small Biz Survival says
Michele added more!
One of the buildings has been occupied by a kind of indoor flea market/second hand store that will be celebrating its 5th anniversary this month. That led to an odd lots store opening also. At least 5 people have tried to open a family restaurant but couldn’t put together the upfront money. Juice bar almost opened until the state inspector learned they were going to do yoga in the back and added the requirement for restrooms and showers.
At this point we can use all the suggestions possible.
I brainstormed some more ways to start small:
Those stores are great starts! How can we build on them? Can we add a more upscale booths space, like this one in Colfax, Washington: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmHLxVEu or this one in Washington, Iowa: https://smallbizsurvival.com/2013/08/one-downtown-building-many-new-retail-stores.html ?
For the restaurant, how about a shared kitchen? Or food truck parking? Or a food festival event to raise money for the renovation? Or pop-up restaurants? Or a community dinner to just build interest? You could bring in food for all of those without having to renovate the restaurant space up front.
For the juice bar and yoga place, can they start with an event or festival? Temporary events can use portable toilets, right? (I’m hoping.) Is there another business that could come and share the space with them, to help spread out the costs? Are there classes besides yoga that would support the juice bar, but not trigger the bathroom requirement? (arts?) Can the yoga start out as an outdoors thing until they save enough to renovate further?
I just keep thinking smaller and smaller until it’s doable. That’s my best way to start.