Turning empty storefronts into business start-ups

Roog

A proposal by West Palm Beach to turn empty storefronts into pop-up rentals for small businesses or start-ups has won a $180,000 grant from the Knight Cities Challenge.

The proposal, “12 for 12: Popup to Rent,” submitted by Economic Development Director Christopher Roog, expands on the success of a pilot project by inviting local businesses to activate 12 empty stores as an economic catalyst for the city.

Roog worked with urban planning firm Gehl Architects, gathering data about downtown activity and in particular about retail spaces that weren’t active. He came up with the idea to ask landlords to donate the spaces for use by small businesses or start-ups to occupy the slots on a temporary basis, and with a marketing effort, “maybe have an event with some food trucks, some cool lighting,” to help activate the street and give the start-ups a shot at success, he said in January, when the project was named as a finalist.

The project is one of 33 announced today by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation that will share $5 million as winners of the Knight Cities Challenge. Each of the ideas centers on helping cities attract and keep talented people, expand economic opportunities and create a culture of civic engagement.

“The Knight Cities Challenge works to uncover the ideas, people and collaborations that help to advance deeper civic engagement and contribute to city success,” said Sam Gill, Knight Foundation vice president for communities and impact. “The winners join a network of civic innovators who are showing us the ways in which our cities can shape their futures to help solve pressing challenges and create new opportunities.”

The challenge attracted more than 4,500 ideas to make the 26 communities where Knight invests more vibrant places to live and work. It asked innovators of all kinds to answer the question: What’s your best idea to make cities more successful? One project in Palm Beach County is receiving a portion of the $5 million pool.

The 33 winners proposed a host of ideas, from providing a space for Philadelphians to develop city service solutions through a traveling city design lab to further enlivening the Detroit waterfront by creating an inviting, urban beach along the city’s Atwater Street, from replacing an inoperative freeway in Akron with a lush forest and public space to connect two physically and socially isolated neighborhoods to reimagining Columbia, South Carolina’s State House as a front porch for all.

“These Knight Cities Challenge winners will help to create avenues for people to contribute to their community. Their ideas propose to bring together diverse residents, ensure talent thrives, and connect people to place, giving them a stake in city-building,” said George Abbott, Knight Foundation director for community and national initiatives.

The list of winners is at: http://kng.ht/kcc2017

Past winners have created innovative solutions aimed at connecting people of all backgrounds and incomes, inviting people into active civic engagement and helping keep and attract talented people in their communities, the foundation said. They include: The Institute of Hip-Hop Entrepreneurship, which uses hip-hop to provide hands-on business training to members of low-income groups in Philadelphia; Re:Brand Detroit, which aims to spark reinvestment in Detroit’s neighborhoods through entrepreneurship; and Minimum Grid Maximum Impact, which improves neighborhood life by creating a network of bike and pedestrian connections between Midtown and Uptown Columbus, Georgia.