Conveyances: Q & A with LISC MetroEdge

LISC MetroEdge is the commercial corridor revitalization program of Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). LISC believes that vibrant commercial corridors and convenient access to retail stores and professional services are essential components of healthy, sustainable communities. LISC MetroEdge supports this vision by assisting LISC field staff and community development corporations (CDCs) with understanding commercial markets and devising and implementing strategies to revive their commercial corridors. LISC MetroEdge uses innovative market research to identify hidden market potential, and provides expert commercial development technical assistance and capacity building support to CDCs.

LISC MetroEdge works nationally from LISC’s offices in Chicago. Business Manager Jake Cowan shared these answers.

Q. What types of clients contract with LISC MetroEdge?

A. Our typical clients are CDCs and business development organizations (such as a neighborhood Chamber of Commerce). National and local foundations and sometimes local governments sponsor the work, which is designed to produce a good understanding of market potential for the client organization as well as a plan for taking advantage of their potential. Some of our clients have good track records in developing housing, but are recent to commercial corridor work. We take a group where they are at and provide tools and support for more advanced corridor programs and activities.

Q. When communicating data or findings, what does LISC MetroEdge take into account for the client and audience, including what types of publications or platforms for the findings?

A. Long ago LISC MetroEdge stepped away from producing long narrative style reports in favor of using a combination of PowerPoint slides, graphics and short action-oriented memos. We typically use PowerPoint to communicate market data, using just two or three data points per slide. This creates a format easy for users to understand and ask questions about. Market data is best understood and retained through dialogue, not through reports. 

Our end goal or product is a clear, actionable corridor plan. For us this means, like the data, our recommendations are also presented interactively. We suggest approaches and tools in brief memos, but our clients assign roles and timing and begin implementation.

Q. Have you found that clients come back to LISC MetroEdge for more site-specific studies after a broader analysis is completed?

A. We continue to communicate with many of our former clients, often informally checking in and providing insight and advice based on progress made to date. In most cases, though, once our clients have moved on to developing specific sites, they are working with a local developer or broker to analyze the site. We encourage this as well – CDCs should leverage developer and broker relationships while implementing LISC MetroEdge recommendations.

Q. What could the lingering effects of the recession and lackluster recovery do for the actual indicators of underserved neighborhoods and distressed communities for years to come?

A. Recession and recovery periods are great times to get ready for investment. In other words, while it may be tempting in this moment to continue to measure success by new business startups and decreasing retail vacancies, these indicators will be moving at a glacial pace in some neighborhoods for a few years or more in some places. Instead, corridors should be getting ready. Can’t fill a vacancy? At least cleanup the storefront and give the interior a fresh paint job. Install art in the windows. Can’t get a new grocery store? Talk to the corner store about the products they offer. Several cities are launching new corner store initiatives. Is your street clean? If not, can a block club or local university group adopt the block? These types of activities can change the look and feel of a corridor in a short amount of time. Just as important, this work can be measured and reported to funders.

The point is that for now, success is best measured by what can be controlled and influenced – cleanliness, appearance, and existing business retention and growth.

Q. What publications, projects, or programs is LISC MetroEdge releasing in 2012?

A. We have an exciting new program called Corridors of Retail Excellence or CORE. We piloted this program in Richmond, Rhode Island (Providence and Woonsocket), and Phoenix (including Mesa) in 2011. PNC Bank has made an investment with LISC to expand this program to Chicago, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh in 2012. The CORE program is similar in approach to LISC MetroEdge’s client-based projects, and adds on a layer of formal ongoing technical assistance to CDCs by experienced consultants as they implement recommendations and roll out early action projects. We will be reporting on this program online at the Institute for Comprehensive Community Development (ICCD) and the LISC MetroEdge web site throughout 2012, including posting presentations and other related project materials.

 

Conveyances: Q & A are Real Estate Lit's interviews with professionals positively impacting the communications and publishing aspects of real estate. Interview conducted by Tom Pfister, January 2012.