Peer Exchange Connects Detroit and Youngstown on District Development
From May 12-14, a group of key Youngstown stakeholders visited Detroit to learn from the district development model of Midtown, Inc., and to use these lessons learned to galvanize recent public and private investments in Youngstown’s City Center. The peer exchange was only the beginning of the dialogue between the two cities, as the Midtown area of Detroit has set an excellent precedent for cities, including for Youngstown, to follow during their path toward revitalization. In particular, focused efforts by Midtown Detroit Inc. to strategically invest and physically improve their district have set the standard for targeted revitalization.
The assembly of Youngstown stakeholders consisted of individuals from both the private and public sector. Midtown Detroit Inc. offered an example of an organization that was the ‘one-key decision making organization’ in the district. Having this type of organization can catalyze economic development and allows for a much easier process for all stakeholders, both current and future, to become involved in a community without having complicated obstacles to navigate multiple levels of multiple organizations. This was referred to as the ‘halo’ effect, and was generally seen by all as a positive thing to bring to a community. Stakeholders from Youngstown seemed intrigued by the idea of having a ‘one-stop shop’ for both development and planning to take place.
Sue Mosey, the president of Midtown Detroit, took the group to site visits around the Midtown area that have become the focus points for new development, rehabilitation, and collaboration. These include TechTown, Wayne State University, Henry Ford Health Systems, among many other properties.
In Midtown, Midtown Detroit Inc. is not required to form a Special Improvement District (SID) or Business Improvement District (BID) due to the nature and capacity in which they gather funds from area stakeholders. Companies or businesses that have invested in the community do not hesitate to pitch in their fair share of capital, as long as it will make a difference, which MDI has been able to do successfully time after time, especially after it ramped up its efforts in the early 2000s. This type of collaboration between businesses and the economic development engine (MDI) is different than most models elsewhere and requires complete buy-in by all parties involved. At the same time, this type of private sector buy in allows for changes to be made without navigating the hindrances that sometime accompany working exclusively with government entities.
In Youngstown, funds must be gathered and leveraged in such a way to spur a positive redevelopment cycle. However, following the MDI method of not creating a SID may not be feasible given that this would require that property owners would have to agree to come together to leverage their individual resources. Only the SID model would guarantee that all actors are making a contribution.
At the MDI Board Meeting held the last day in attendance at Midtown, attendees were able to view their collaboration in action as the board allowed visitors to participate in a session. This board meeting set an open forum for both the associates of Midtown to explain their side of the story and to give their observations of Youngstown based on the last few days of activities. Years of building trust and working together showed itself as all anchors were at the table.
Many lessons from this trip can be brought to Youngstown. Collaboration among the key stakeholders in the city would be the simplest and most important to bring back home. This collaboration can facilitate ideas and garner support from key players who may otherwise not be involved in redevelopment initiatives. In the Mahoning Valley, key players locally would include anchor institutions such as Youngstown State University and Humility of Mary Health Partners working in concert with the City of Youngstown to facilitate change. All three offer resources that can help better the city in the long run through education, health, and incentives. Bringing these key anchor institutions to the negotiating table together would allow for more collaboration and would leverage their individual resources.
Overall, the impact of this trip has yet to be seen in Youngstown, but stakeholders who were involved felt that these lessons will be engrained in the collective mind of Youngstown to be implemented in the future. The start of these talks between Youngstown and Detroit will not cease with the end of this trip, and will continue into the future as both cities can work with each other to share knowledge and strategies.
From May 12-14, stakeholders from Youngstown, Ohio visited Midtown Detroit Inc. as a part of a peer exchange part of the German Marshall Fund’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities Leadership Activities. This post is written by Nick Chretien of NYO Property Group and exchange participant.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.