Path Home Shows 2017 Show Archive April 2017 Show 1718 Becky McCray - Rural Revitalization

Becky McCray - Rural Revitalization

Rural revitalization expert Becky McCray shares how towns can keep Main Street viable.
Becky McCray - Rural Revitalization

Becky McCray - Rural Revitalization

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Show Details

Show 1718: Becky McCray - Rural Revitalization
Air Date: April 30, 2017

 

Transcript

Rob McClendon: Well, not every small town can have their own ready-made celebrity attraction, but what they can do is build upon what they do have. Recently I sat down with rural revitalization expert Becky McCray to talk about some tips on keeping small town downtowns viable. So, Becky, we see a lot of small towns just struggle with empty storefronts. How do you get around that?

Becky McCray: Every town kind of has their own unique set of challenges. So in one town in might be absentee owners that own the buildings but live somewhere else. In another town it might be the condition of the buildings that, that structure is just not in good shape, and you can’t get into it. And maybe it might even be that the code, compliance requirements, are too much that there is just no way to afford to bring it up to code and then be able to go in there and be in a successful business, or maybe they are being used for storage. This is really common in small towns. And so there is any number of reasons.

Rob: Yeah, let’s talk a couple of strategies here. What about the absentee or -- how do you get them on board?

McCray: It’s really hard. It’s a project. It’s a project in human relations. You have to actually connect with them as a person and come to the point that they can understand how important that building is and how important that business is that may get there. Maybe sometimes you can give them a little bit of a financial sting. Some towns have actually passed ordinances that charge more for letting a building sit unoccupied or sit in storage. This actually is one that works really well with those absentee corporate owners that maybe a corporation owns hundreds of buildings in hundreds of different towns. If you make it not pay, then sometimes they will go ahead and let go of that building.

Rob: Yeah, I just had a friend trying to bring a business into a certain town, and he got stymied because the business he is trying to bring in, they just said to him flat out, there’s too much vacancy around him. Is that common?

McCray: Yeah, a lot of times it gets kind of a critical mass of vacancy, and it’s just simply hard to overcome the thinking that then gets entrenched. People start thinking, well, we have so much vacancy there is just no way a business could overcome this. And so in that case you have to start with temporary events and transient things, pop-up businesses and festivals and events and anything you can do to bring life to the downtown on a temporary basis. It will help to eventually fill those buildings and to provide a better business environment for any kind of business to go in there.

Rob: Yeah, and I think that’s really interesting, especially with some of these temporary buildings you’re talking about. You may have a burned out building that you could bring a temporary, you know, building inside and you’ve got a facility then.

McCray: Yeah, in Paris, Texas, there is a building that it burned out, so there is just a shell. And so they saved that front façade so it looks great from the front that there is still the brick façade there. Well, the inside was burned out; well they paved it back. They made it nice enough on the inside for seating, brought in a temporary building just to be the kitchen area, and now it’s a beer garden.

Rob: Wow! I want to take you back to the empty buildings. What can you do if you just can’t get a building occupied?

McCray: Divide it up, instead of looking for one tenant to fill all 15,000 square feet, divide it up and look for tenants who can fill 400 square feet with something unique, niche-oriented and that’s of experience. And then when you have multiple of those, so you have a dozen of them in one building, that’s an interesting and engaging experience, and people will come specifically for that.

Rob: So we know how it’s been. How do we get where we want it to be when it comes to small town downtown?

McCray: I always fall back to the innovative, rural business models. And these are, that’s a name I made up for a set of ways of looking at business that doesn’t rely on one person filling the full space. But they are tiny businesses only covering maybe a few hundred square feet. Temporary businesses, maybe only in there for a few days, a few weeks, even a few hours during a festival. They are businesses that are together where you bring lots of businesses so they have, that generate their own critical mass. And finally also trucks and trailers where a business can be based on a mobile platform and can string together enough market through multiple towns, don’t have to rely just on your hometown to be enough to support your business. And it gives you enough strength to have enough market to make that business work. So tiny, temporary, together, trucks and trailers.

Rob: All right. Thank you so much.

McCray: Thank you.