Historic Spaces and Places, PopUp Corsicana project overview
There's something special about historic downtown Corsicana. It was built to be a place of commerce and community at a time when it was the center of life. Historic downtowns across the country are experiencing a similar return to their roots as these places once again become the center of town life. But a 21st century historic downtown must satisfy different needs than for previous generations.
We designed this project to highlight the unique historic buildings and focus on public spaces designed for community interaction. The downtown is designed along Beaton St with Commerce St and Main Street parallel on either side. There is no central square - the courthouse stands a few blocks away from the district core. Most of the buildings along the 7-block stretch of Beaton Street are 2-story, and many second-story spaces have sat vacant for decades. There are great opportunities to add more businesses, residents, and action on the street. We knew that the combination of strong marketing for an organically vibrant place would drive the demand for shops downtown and create the incentive for property owners to care for their historic gems in hopes of attaining a quality tenant.
With a diverse economy, growing population of young families, strong population of mid-level managers and generational wealth, a uniquely resilient commitment to the arts, and the largest town for 25 miles, the latent market potential here is ripe.
A dynamic artists residency at 100 West is attracting visitors from around the globe, and visitors from the nearby Dallas-Fort Worth metro area are becoming familiar with this quintessential small Texas town as a respite from big-city-life, just 1 hour away.
We knew that an infusion of creative collaborations and a directed focus on great public spaces would create the resounding momentum and fertile environment for the Corsicana community to thrive downtown.
In the four months of project initiation and event planning, 11 new business owners either signed leases or opened a new establishment. You can feel the excitement, the anticipation and momentum of downtown becoming 'the' place to be in Corsicana.
Slideshow of the event's activities
We structured the project in coordination with the Corsicana Preservation Foundation, City of Corsicana, the Corsicana and Navarro County Chamber, and the Corsicana Convention & Visitor's Bureau.
Work began with four months of preparation, visiting and watching usage patterns downtown, and meeting with community leaders, downtown business owners, and residents young and old to hear what visitors currently enjoy about downtown, what they would like to see for the future of downtown, and to get a feel for the community. At the same time, we began matching ideas with motivated groups and individuals who could contribute to making ideas become reality.
Social media promo
The centerpiece of the project was a popup retail event with 12 popup shops in vacant storefronts or underutilized lots.
Events throughout downtown Friday through Sunday included:
- a theatre performance at The Warehouse Theatre,
- musical performance at The Palace Theater,
- professional ghost investigation at the Opry,
- historic architecture tour,
- magic show,
- fashion show,
- popup dog park,
- popup biergarten (complete with live music, local beer, and set furniture borrowed from the Warehouse Theatre)
- property tour and property marketing material to promote for-sale and for-lease real estate opportunities,
- and special attractions for customers at downtown businesses.
Fashion Show on the Street on Beaton St & 6th St
One street corner even had an on-street demonstration of pedestrian-friendly design by extending the sidewalk to create a protected corner between parallel parking areas. Over 150 borrowed plants created additional landscaping throughout the downtown.
The project also included event marketing, graphic design, and media promotion.
Since 11 new business owners either signed leases or opened a new establishment during the four months of our event planning, very few spaces were available for popup shops! The AP Development team therefore worked closely with city staff to establish policies for the temporary use of small areas in noncompliant buildings for the popup shops. Afterward, Main Street Program staff were given a Popup Event Guidebook to implement a tailored popup retail program. The Guidebook included the new policies, best practices from international popup programs, a Temporary Lease Agreement template, and Lessons Learned from the Corsicana experience.
To leave a lasting impact in the community, AP Development strives to employ at east one local young intern for each project. On this project, four high school students committed their valuable ideas, time, resources.
Billboard event flier
The project created a unique opportunity for the leadership and community in Corsicana to capitalize on this use of resources, giving them the catalyst/stimulus/imperative to focus on ideas they maybe already had - now they had the political capital to create the framework and get ideas going! It brought everyone on board with the enthusiasm that THIS IS OUR CHANCE.
City staff passed a window display ordinance (with recommendations by ASH+LIME) into effect shortly before the downtown popup event. One property owner decided it was time to clean out and list his space. Another made major improvements, readying his space for his already-agreed-upon tenant. Even a few property owners who didn't intend to lease their spaces began sprucing things up! For a prospective entrepreneur, it suddenly felt like the right time to make a move, sign a lease, buy a building.
Facebook images for promotional posts
AP Development promoted through the Corsicana Main Street Facebook Page, Corsicana Daily Sun, a high-visibility electronic billboard on IH-45, event calendars throughout DFW, and to our large network of colleagues and friends who love historic downtowns and great, family-friendly places.
The weekend attracted more visitors than usual, only surpassed in attendance by Christmas holiday events. The Saturday of the event, sales at Lady Diana’s Zen Cafe quadrupled a typical Saturday, the new Changing of the Garden had their biggest Saturday ever, and the new Sweet M’s had a ‘phenomenal day.’ The popup shops felt the same success - Cinnfully Awesome sold out by 3pm Saturday, and Tracy Springer’s dress boutique had her highest sales from any similar event. Popup owner Suzanne Plyer gained 40 new likes on her Thyme & Elegance Facebook page and said it was a direct boon to business, gaining a few new gigs for her catering company. By securing her popup lease in an recently renovated storefront, she realized this location (she thought was ideal to open her shop) wasn't exactly a good match. She also realized that owning a shop may not be an ideal compliment to her thriving catering business, deciding instead to lease a small space at an existing shop to sell her new line of prepared foods.
The Baum Dog Park popup spurred conversations between the community, Mr Baum Jr (the property owner), and the city to negotiate a permanent dog park there. The Biergarden was such a hit, community members were immediately discussing how and when to orchestrate the next.
Best of all, for attendees, the experience of being downtown was better than anytime in recent memory - there were so many things to do, see, and places to hang out. Most of the shops stayed open all day. At 3pm a young couple with their 18mo old daughter said they had been downtown since 10am and were surprised to have continued to enjoy themselves for so long.
Volunteers from Corsicana High School National Honor Society, Corsicana Preservation Foundation, and individuals active in the downtown helped prepare downtown for the event.
The high school interns created new and strengthened existing relationships with business owners and community leaders, as well as learned about their town’s demographics, and reinforced their roles as leaders in the community.
Sunday’s Property Tour attracted 17 interested individuals, and at least one potential buyer even began negotiations with a property owner during the tour!
The project’s process ignited inspiration and set a new vision for the potential of downtown to be a social hub for the community, in a 21st Century way.
City of Corsicana staff Scott Jones, Director of Economic Development, and Karie Denny, Main Street Program Director, both contributed greatly to the success of this project. Thanks also to the Board Members of the Corsicana Preservation Foundation whose unwavering support and contributions to the project were indispensable. The Corsicana and Navarro Chamber as well as the Corsicana Convention and Visitors Bureau added greatly to the overall outreach and impact this project.
Sponsors added to the vibrancy of the event, making possible the dog park and biergarden:
A plethora of student volunteers with the Corsicana High School National Honor Society donated their time to preparing popup shops, the dog park, biergarten, and landscaping throughout the downtown.
The project was produced in partnership with consultants on the AP Development Team:
- community stakeholder engagement, sponsorship development, as well as assistance with project planning, and code/ordinance/demographic research by ASH+LIME,
- event logo and graphic design by 806 Designs,
- video by Kelly Christine Photography,
- and images by Simon Luna Photography.
CORE PRINCIPALS FOR OUR WORK
Every downtown is different - as unique as every neighborhood is. Yet the characteristics that help them thrive are based on core principles.
For a great place to be an active central vortex for the community, it needs:
• Good walkable infrastructure
• Local residents in close proximity to shops - either living in the downtown or
within a few blocks
• Locals who buy-in and frequent the retail businesses
• Unique district-wide events to draw new people
• Effective online platforms to communicate with the community
• Entrepreneur incubation
This type of project puts the focus of redevelopment on economic development. By bolstering a city’s natural ecology of small business diversity, exporting goods and services and supporting locally unique industries, local economies grow strong and sustainable.
Great walkable places, where neighbors get to know one another spontaneously create the ties that draw someone to the place, and the roots that will compel them to support their neighbors’ businesses when times get tough. A landscape that facilitates strong connections to people and place will facilitate healthy, wealthy lifestyles throughout the community.
Texas Downtown Association, 2017 Best Promotional Event
(under 50,000 population)