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A formerly vacant downtown storefront is full of activity during PlacePOP in Allegan.

report thumnail

Read the full report here.

Pop-up retail is a fun and creative way to activate and promote underutilized storefronts. In December 2015, we had the opportunity to do a pop-up retail PlacePOP project with Allegan leaders to create vibrancy, boost foot-traffic, and encourage economic growth in the city’s downtown. Through the work of the Allegan city manager, city staff, elected officials, and a strong group of community and business leaders, Allegan built off an existing downtown celebration and shopping experience, Festive Fridays, to host four pop-up retail spaces through the month of December.

Allegan is a city of about 5,000 people and is no stranger to placemaking. As a 2013 recipient of the League’s PlacePlan grant, the community has a strong relationship with the League and values place-based improvements. Through their PlacePOP experience, communities across the state can understand the impact of pop-up retail and learn important lessons from their experience.

Accomplishments

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Festive Friday visitors purchase goods from PlacePOP vendors in a formerly vacant downtown storefront.

Allegan PlacePOP clearly demonstrates the power of placemaking. Pop-up retail was an opportunity to enhance an already successful event by bringing new energy and excitement to the downtown. After December’s events, community leaders most involved in planning the pop-ups reconvened for a debrief meeting in January 2016. Here, and through one-on-one interviews with key individuals, the stakeholder group discussed the project’s short- and long-term impacts. Stakeholders agreed that they clearly met the expectations identified through the project’s vision and goals, and they identified a number of additional accomplishments:

  • Building owners showcased available storefronts to hundreds of prospective tenants and buyers;
  • Vendors and entrepreneurs tested products and business strategy, built clients, and met like-minded entrepreneurs working towards similar goals;
  • Building owners were able to show their investment and passion for the community while residents had a unique opportunity to get involved in a common effort.

More than anything, Allegan PlacePOP was a clear illustration to the community, visitors, and the state that the city is innovative, collaborative, and focused on place. Many small- and mid-sized communities would never consider implementing a pop-up retail project because they believe pop-ups can only be successful in larger municipalities; clearly that is not the case. This project displays Allegan’s unique focus on placemaking and willingness to creatively collaborate with residents and business owners to achieve a common goal. Shining light on initiatives like PlacePOP can help attract talent and businesses that will contribute to the city’s economic success.

Lessons Learned

Pop-up retail projects can happen anywhere. With Allegan leading the way, other communities can learn from their experiences implement similar projects in their city centers.

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    Festive Friday visitors write what they would love to see in downtown Allegan.

    It takes city leadership to get the project started, but it takes community ownership to get the project completed. Allegan’s city manager is a strong advocate for place and was able to rally the community around a place-focused project. The manager initiated preliminary discussions with the League and acted as host to get the right people in the room as he organized the first community meeting. This is a strong leadership skill, but the more challenging skill was illustrated as he quickly stepped aside to let residents take ownership of the project.

  • Use an external, neutral facilitator to inspire, rally, and bridge new relationships. The project was able to avoid political turbulence with the League, rather than the city, as project manager. The League’s knowledge on placemaking and illustration of examples from across Michigan served as a way to educate and inspire Allegan leaders that was slightly different than the internal perspectives residents hear more frequently at the local level.
  • Agree upon clearly defined project goals and objectives at the beginning of the process. At the very first meeting, the group discussed and agreed on the project’s vision and goals and took on tasks as soon as they left the room. With regular communication and check-ins, leaders were able to carry out responsibilities, while having enough ownership to get creative and take the lead on tasks that most interested them. This got everyone moving in a unified direction and set the tone for what it would take to implement a successful project.
  • Start with the right location and event. To succeed in pop-up retail, there has to be enough foot traffic that make it worthwhile for vendors and building owners. With “shop local” initiatives already in the forefront during the holiday season, Festive Friday proved to be a successful event to build on. Similarly, the location has an important role in the project’s success. Downtown Allegan is walkable, aesthetically pleasing, and safe so people were willing to walk from store to store. A more sprawling, car-focused part of town would likely be less impactful for multiple pop-up vendors and building owners.
  • Have fun. It’s clear that people in Allegan are driven to do what they enjoy; spending time with their neighbors, being creative, and supporting the community they love. This experience is what encouraged the community to step up and take the lead.

Read the full report on Allegan’s PlacePOP here and contact scraft@mml.org for more information about pop-up retail or bringing PlacePOP to your community.

A formerly vacant storefront in downtown Allegan is filled with activity during Festive Fridays.

A formerly vacant storefront in downtown Allegan is filled with activity during Festive Fridays.

Allegan is doing everything right. They have an historic downtown, a beautiful riverfront, community-wide events, and most importantly, wonderful people who all love where they live.

We had the opportunity to partner with Allegan in 2013 when the community won a PlacePlans grant to create a design concept for their riverfront area. With the goal to further enhance the city’s natural beauty, capitalize upon its historic districts, and jumpstart economic development, the community rallied together to create the riverfront plan they’re actually building today.

Local entrepreneurs sell cupcakes and baby accessories at one of the pop-up stores.

Rob Hillard, Allegan’s city manager, believes in the power of place. He’s educated his staff, counsel, and community on the impact of placemaking and acts as a cheerleader to organize and implement place-based improvements. The push for placemaking doesn’t come from Rob alone, it’s imbedded into the community. When walking downtown Allegan, it’s clear that people care: it’s the kind of place where people are pleased to run into their neighbors on the street, where teenagers hang out in the local coffee shop for an open mic night, and where visitors are genuinely welcomed into the art and antique shops by the small business owners who run them.

We’re so glad that the community’s excitement for placemaking brought us back into Allegan, and this time with our newest League service, PlacePOP. PlacePOP is an initiative focused on tactical and incremental placemaking, with a strong emphasis on civic engagement, education, and inspiration. It’s hard to describe in just a sentence because projects can range from building a pocket park, to bringing a public meeting to the streets, to hosting placemaking workshops. In Allegan, we worked with the community to organize four “pop-up” vendors in vacant downtown buildings. Pop-up retail is more traditionally seen as an economic development tactic for larger communities, like Detroit, but this project illustrates that even smaller places like Allegan have the drive, knowledge, and people to implement pop-up retail effectively.

Holiday lights, decorations, and people fill downtown Allegan during the Christmas parade.

Holiday lights, decorations, and people fill downtown Allegan during the Christmas parade.

Every year, Allegan hosts a December event series that brings people downtown for a small-town holiday experience, Festive Fridays. This year, the community wanted to capitalize on having so many people downtown and showcase a few vacant storefronts. Through PlacePOP, entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and artists are partnering with downtown building owners to fill these empty spaces with temporary businesses, events, and activities.

The collaboration, effort, and organization all payed off at the first Festive Friday on December 4th. As families filled downtown for the annual holiday parade, tree lighting, carriage rides, and historic bridge light show, they were also encouraged to visit Allegan’s permanent businesses and temporary pop-ups to do some shopping, have some fun, and see the opportunity in downtown’s available spaces. And visitors did just that: they shopped, had fun, and were welcomed into storefronts that had been closed just the week before.

There are two more Festive Friday and pop-up events happening in Allegan this month and I encourage all place-lovers to visit and be part of the magic:

December 11th is the Downtown Art HOP where existing businesses host art and crafts from local artists. There are also four PlacePOP venues:

  • 209 Hubbard has vendors selling sweets, baby accessories, headbands, scarves, jewelry, handmade soap, and more;
  • 111 Locust is a collaborative of local artists, Random Acts of Art, selling wood creations, glitter chains, mittens, custom-blended make-up, and more;
  • 114 Locust is hosting a 26-hour Creativity Open House, an all-night, holiday-themed craft and music party;
  • 118 Locust is full of games to play, and wreaths and poinsettias to buy to support 4-H Camp Kidwell.
Visitors answer the question: What would you love to see in downtown Allegan?

Visitors answer the question: What would you love to see in downtown Allegan?

On December 18th, the community is hosting the Downtown Stocking Hop, where kids decorate a stocking and gather goodies from participating businesses Halloween-style. All four PlacePOP venues are also participating but this time the Jaycees are hosting a holiday beer and wine fundraiser in 114 Locust from 5:00 – 10:00 PM.

The pop-ups are a true effort of collaboration, trust, and full support of the community. I encourage anyone who loves Michigan’s communities to visit, support the local vendors, and experience the creativity and fun of downtown Allegan.

Go to http://positivelyallegan.org/making-spiritswntown-allegan/ for a complete list of Festive Friday events.

To inquire about bringing PlacePOP to your community, contact Sarah Craft at scraft@mml.org.

 

We’re proud to be part of Michigan’s leadership in building on place, but that doesn’t mean we’re content to rest on our laurels or pretend we’ve got everything figured out.  We’re still learning as we go, and updating our practice as we figure out what’s working well and what needs more attention in our communities.  As a result, many of the projects in this year’s third cycle of the PlacePlans program look very different from the initial pilots!

Yesterday, at the Building Michigan Communities conference, I was joined by some of our on-the-ground partners to talk about the different types of projects we’ve undertaken, and how the program has grown:

Allegan's first phase of construction shows the evolution from the vision created during their PlacePlans design process to the nuts and bolts of engineering considerations.

Allegan’s first phase of construction shows the evolution from the vision created during their PlacePlans design process to the nuts and bolts of engineering considerations.

Rob Hillard, city manager of Allegan, hosted one of our first PlacePlans projects: in 2012, we first teamed up with the team of physical space design experts from MSU’s School of Planning, Design, and Construction to look at the City of Allegan’s downtown waterfront. Allegan is one of our best-case scenarios: less than 6 months after the PlacePlans team wrapped up work, local voters approved removing $500,000 from the city’s sinking fund to seed implementation, and the city was able to leverage that to secure another $567,000 from other sources: the city is currently out to bid for the first phase of construction, which will create a public plaza with stage and amphitheater while “both reducing and improving parking.” Even while we see this as a successful move from our work to results, watching Rob’s follow-through helped us understand how we needed to look at funding scenarios–and getting potential funders involved–early in the process to support that transition. With that in mind, we’ve kept Samantha busy in her new role as President of the League’s Foundation.

We also decided that, while the design process worked well for Allegan, it wasn’t the type of support that many of our cities were stating a need for.  Laura Lam, community and economic development director for Kalamazoo, talked about her experience in the second round of PlacePlans, when we assembled teams of private consulting firms to address targeted needs in some of our cities.

LSL's transportation expertise helped Kalamazoo weigh trade-offs within the existing bounds of Portage Street.

LSL’s transportation expertise helped Kalamazoo weigh trade-offs within the existing bounds of Portage Street: the city will be undertaking a trial reconfiguration of the street this summer in advance of a planned reconstruction.

The City of Kalamazoo is acting on several of the recommendations from our work, but perhaps the biggest impacts will come from the engagement of the neighborhood’s anchor institutions, such as  and Bronson Hospital, which has committed to reduce driving and parking demand to their campus and is hiring a bicycle coordinator in support of that goal.  To make those connections, we had to change directions mid-stream in our work to catch up to and coordinate with related discussions that KVCC was hosting around the development of their new Healthy Living Campus. This year’s approach to our work in Saginaw is strongly shaped by that experience: sometimes all the right pieces are already on the table, and figuring out how to put them together is more important than bringing anything novel.

Berkley addressed ambivalence over turning a downtown street into a festival plaza by jumping in and trying it out.

Berkley addressed ambivalence over turning a downtown street into a festival plaza by jumping in and trying it out.

Finally, Sarah Szurpicki, a partner with New Solutions Group, talked about the projects that her team facilitated in Berkley and Utica last summer. These two cities had pitched us projects that we liked, but that weren’t quite ready for the full PlacePlans approach, so we engaged Sarah to help them road-test some ideas. Not only did this help the cities figure out where to take these project, but our experience with those cities’ stakeholder groups helped us organize community members better in all of our projects: we’ve added a “community steering committee” to most of our PlacePlans this year, to make sure we’re not missing any voices or opportunities. Additionally, these two cities reinforced that small-scale efforts need to be exceptionally focused: Berkley’s project gave clearer direction for next steps because it was tightly focused on a single downtown block.

We’ll probably never do PlacePlans the same way two years in a row, and that’s a good thing: it means that, even with our successes, we keep figuring out how we could do better with the next one.