When downtown development is done correctly, it can look like many different things.
Often it’s vibrant and fun, as when Cuero Main Street invited residents downtown for The Art of Shopping, with live music, drinks and extended business hours. It was a win-win as residents enjoyed a night out on the town and patronized businesses they might not have had the chance to visit before.
But a truly multi-tiered approach to development will also include more nuts-and-bolts strategies. Take, for example, Cuero’s vacant building ordinance, which sets upkeep standards for unoccupied buildings so that they can be ready for sale or lease and won’t go to ruin.
Not only can abandoned buildings be an eyesore and a nuisance, but when absentee owners allow these properties to fall into disrepair, they edge out prospective business owners who’d be more than happy to buy or lease downtown and contribute to economic development but can’t find a building that’s fit for the purpose.
The buildings may be private property, but they’re part of a public space, and their role in the local economy is very much a matter of public concern. That’s why we hope Cuero can cut down on the problem by enforcing its vacant building ordinance, and we encourage Victoria and surrounding local governments to take a cue from this small city that’s raising up its downtown from all sides.
That being said, not all property owners are willfully negligent, and few people purchase buildings with the intention of letting them sit empty. Often a building owner may purchase a downtown building with the intention of sprucing it up only to be hit with the high cost of bringing an older building up to code along with the prospect of a property tax hike if and when the building is updated. This is especially a problem in cities like Victoria that have no downtown-specific incentives to bring business to historic spaces. Grants and loans for downtown development, perhaps along with tax freezes or abatements, are wise investments that could go a long way toward a booming downtown.
From incentives to regulations to family-friendly fun, downtown revitalization is a complex prospect that can’t be approached with an either/or mindset. City governments need to use all the tools available to them if they want to have thriving downtowns and not just a slew of lifeless storefronts.