Green Infrastructure 101

5036625486_e60cef8f76_bIn today’s changing climate, planning for natural hazard mitigation and the reduction of wet weather impacts is a top priority, particularly in coastal communities and flood-prone areas. Communities with growing populations face additional pressures, as more people and increased development strain existing water infrastructure and a place’s capacity to weather storms. In light of these challenges, green infrastructure represents one way towns and cities can better manage stormwater and help increase their resiliency.  Continue reading “Green Infrastructure 101”

Interim Evaluation of HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD)

public_housing_RAD, or the Rental Assistance Demonstration program administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), may not be as radical in its approach to preserving low-income housing as its acronym suggests, but an interim evaluation of the pilot program indicates it shows promise. Continue reading “Interim Evaluation of HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD)”

North Carolina Education and Workforce Development Part II: The North Carolina Community College System first post in this CED blog series on education and workforce development in North Carolina elaborated on Work Ready Communities. Part II examines opportunities for workforce development within the North Carolina Community College System.

Improving pathways to higher education is a key component in workforce development. Businesses desire competent workers with skills and training that are able to meet workforce demands. Localities are in a unique position to facilitate the development of human capital through the support of policies and programs. As SOG Professor Jonathan Morgan points out, “Communities and regions must operate successfully on each side of the human capital equation by both stimulating the demand for skilled workers and ensuring that the supply of workers is sufficient to meet that demand. The goal is to create lots of good jobs and have great workers to fill them.”

If you build the talent, the industry might Continue reading “North Carolina Education and Workforce Development Part II: The North Carolina Community College System”

Biophilic Design, Part II: Case Study

bio1Note: This is the second of three blog posts on biophilic design, a design philosophy that seeks to incorporates nature into man-made spaces. Part 1 introduced the topic of biophilic design. This post, Part 2, discusses a case study on biophilic design. Part 3 will explore the idea of biophilic cities.

Manassas Park Elementary School

Manassas Park Elementary School, located in Manassas Park, Virginia, was chosen for this case study because it illustrates the many simple ways that biophilic design can be incorporated into buildings. Manassas Park Elementary features naturally lit classrooms, large windows with views of nature, and outdoor learning spaces. The architects at VMDO chose these biophilic features in an effort to create the best possible environment for children and teachers. While this case study focuses on a school environment, the biophilic design features can be applied to other building types, such as offices, stores, hospitals, and homes. Continue reading “Biophilic Design, Part II: Case Study”

New Report Highlights Public-Private Partnerships

p3sThe Urban Land Institute (ULI) recently published an updated guide to Public-Private Partnerships (P3s) that introduces their varied forms, their utility to both the public and private sectors, and examples of successful P3s from around the county. The report offers insights to local government staff and elected officials as well as private development professionals looking to better understand how P3s may be used to address priorities of both parties. Continue reading “New Report Highlights Public-Private Partnerships”

The Past, Present, and Future of Wood Construction

Google Street View, New Construction 5 over 1, Village Plaza Apartments, Chapel Hill

Did you know that the world’s oldest wooden structure is found in Japan, the Horyu Temple, and has managed to withstand rain, wind, and earthquakes for over 1,300 years? Although wood construction dates all the way back to Stone Age! For thousands of years’ humans have relied on wood to build structures because of its strength and durability.

The benefits to wooden structures are plenty. One, they weigh about a quarter of the weight of equivalent concrete material thus requiring a smaller foundation. In downtowns with decreasing land and increasing land costs, this could be a major benefit. Plus, building with wood can be cheaper and wood structures act as CO2 sinks absorbing and storing carbon dioxide emissions. Although wood is costlier per cubic foot than steel-and-concrete, building with timber is faster potentially resulting in a cheaper construction cost overall and boosts the efficiency of the building. Continue reading “The Past, Present, and Future of Wood Construction”

Historic Mill Redevelopment: Taylors Mill

millIn this post, CED will continue to look at the impact that redevelopment of historic mills can have on local communities. In previous posts the CED blog examined how historic tax credits can help finance adaptive reuse projects like the Renfro Mill and Monroe Hardware Warehouse. This post will take a closer look at how these projects can act as a catalyst for local economic growth.

Taylors Mill, Taylors, South Carolina (pop. 21,617[1])

Taylors is a small community located in upstate South Carolina eight miles northeast of Greenville. The origin of Taylors dates back to the mid-19th century when the Southern Railway expanded its service from Charlotte to Greenville. Located adjacent to the Enoree River, the Southern Bleachery was built in Taylors in 1924 to service the booming textile industry prevalent in the area at that time. While the bleachery didn’t actually produce textiles, it did convert them through bleaching and dyeing prior to sending them off to be incorporated into finished goods. During World War II, the Southern Bleachery produced cloth for uniforms, bedding and tents, and at its peak employed over 1,000 workers. The mill remained operational until 1965, when it was purchased by the Burlington Company. Continue reading “Historic Mill Redevelopment: Taylors Mill”

North Carolina Education and Workforce Development: Work Ready Communities

heiwa_elementary_school_18A powerful common denominator between economic development and human capital development is education. Communities with well-regarded schools incentivize businesses to be recruited to an area to make use of local talent. It is a cycle in which the economic vitality of an area is contingent upon the strength of local schools, using indicators such as standardized test scores, graduation rates, educational attainment, school report cards, and school performance grades. This puts a heavy emphasis on the presentation of those metrics. But contextually, what is missed by these traditional indicators? What other educational measures can be leveraged to emphasize the preparedness of the workforce in an area? Additional considerations may come into play. Continue reading “North Carolina Education and Workforce Development: Work Ready Communities”

Brewery Incubators On the Rise

unknown-2The CED Blog has previously covered the economic development power of breweries to revitalize downtown Main Streets. And the blog recently detailed the utility and potential of retail incubators in helping aspiring entrepreneurs launch a business and establish a physical store location. And now, something new is brewing that combines these strategies: the emergence of brewery incubators. Continue reading “Brewery Incubators On the Rise”

Biophilic Design, Part I

unknown-2Note: This is the first of three blog posts on biophilic design. Part 1 introduces the topic. Part 2 will discuss a case study on biophilic design. Part 3 will explore the idea of biophilic cities.

Given complete freedom to choose their ideal home or office, people generally choose spaces that connect them with nature. This instinctive attraction to nature, called biophilia, is explained in part by the way humans evolved. Humans spent 90% of their existence as hunter-gatherers, living in caves and other dwellings seamlessly integrated into their natural surroundings. They evolved to respond to and thrive amongst these surroundings. Only relatively recently, with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, did humans move into cities en masse and begin to separate themselves from nature.

Since then, the human habitat has shifted indoors to the built environment, where people spend the vast majority of their time.  Imagine the modern office. “We put people in windowless offices and give them a computer and a desk and think they should be able to work just fine because they’ve got all the obvious things they need, like air to breathe, artificial light to see by and access to all kinds of information,” says Stephen Kellert. “But we find that they don’t actually work all that well in those kinds of environments. They are more likely to experience fatigue, lack of motivation and higher rates of absenteeism.”

Insert biophilic design. Biophilic design aims to address the human-nature disconnect and improve human well-being by bringing nature into the built environment. It does this by incorporating environmental features (water, air, sunlight, plants), natural shapes and forms (shapes resisting straight lines and right angles), and natural patterns and processes (sensory variability). It can be seen in buildings small and large, from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater to Bank of America’s One Bryant ParkContinue reading “Biophilic Design, Part I”

Flexible Opportunities in North Carolina’s Brownfields Program

brownfrfrIn the past the CED blog has explored the basics of brownfields programs in North Carolina, how they are administered and implemented, and their role in revitalizing communities. In this edition, we’re looking at two innovative facets of the state Brownfield’s program that were developed to better respond to the needs of landowners and developers to clean contaminated sites and bring them back into productive use. The Ready for Reuse program and Redevelopment Now Option give flexibility when pursuing projects that have high public benefit, and so should be in the toolbox of every local government, developer, or landowner when pursuing development or sale of contaminated land. Continue reading “Flexible Opportunities in North Carolina’s Brownfields Program”

Retail Incubators and Main Street Revitalization: Part II

modiv%20retail%20incubatorIn Part I of this post, the CED blog introduced retail incubators and a program-based model that provides financial, educational and networking support for retail start-ups transitioning to brick-and-mortar stores. In Part II, CED examines the space-based model.

Space-based retail incubators allow retailers to occupy shared, tiny or temporary stores in locations that would have either been too risky or financially prohibitive for a retail start-up.  Rents are not usually artificially supported, but costs to the retailer are minimized as a function of the size of the space, through shared costs or the type of lease. Unlike with the program-based model, the burden of establishing the incubator does not usually fall on the public sector. As discussed in Part I, property owners have an interest in bringing in and sustaining new retail tenants, and the emergence of space-based incubators across the country highlights the creative measures that private investors are taking to fill vacant storefronts. Continue reading “Retail Incubators and Main Street Revitalization: Part II”

Predicting Gentrification in the Era of Big Data

pic_7Gentrification occurs when properties in lower-income neighborhoods are bought and renovated that subsequently raises property values but displaces low-income families. Displacement is potentially of even higher magnitude when development and construction of new housing does not meet the demand from an increase in population. In this narrative, gentrification can create additional social and economic inequities due to further displacement of a low-income population from their employment centers as well as reducing economic diversity in an area. The challenge with meeting the needs of a population that might end up being displaced is determining which populations are likely to become displaced. Once that population is determined, local governments could take measures to reduce the negative impacts of a population being displaced and potentially reduce the number of people being displaced. The key is predicting where gentrification may occur next. This blog post will identify several methods that are made possible due to the advent of Big Data. Continue reading “Predicting Gentrification in the Era of Big Data”

EB-5 Visa Program Helps Fund NC Charter Schools

Dillard School-CCPThe CED blog has written previously about the EB-5 program, which as a reminder allows foreign national to obtain a green card for themselves and their families in exchange for an investment in the United States of either $1 million, or $500,000 in an area that is designated as particularly high need (for more information, read here).  These visas are an interesting pathway for high net worth foreign nationals to fast track their approval for residence in the United States, and were designed to encourage meaningful investment in the country.  However, given the complications associated with finding an investment, and the increasing popularity of the program, since its inception a number of specialty firms have risen to present EB-5 compliant investments to applicants.

In the CED blog’s previous discussion of the program we highlighted the construction of a hotel and marina in Wilmington, NC, which was led by USAInvestCo, a Wilmington based developer whose principals have engaged in projects around the country, and which focuses on providing EB-5 investment opportunities.  This post will highlight a similar firm, Education Fund of America, which provides investors with the opportunity to allocate capital to Charter schools, including at least four in North Carolina according to their websiteContinue reading “EB-5 Visa Program Helps Fund NC Charter Schools”

Library Living? Integrating a library into a mixed-use development

libraryWould you ever want to live and shop on top of or next to your library that is part of a mixed-use development? Cities looking to catalyze on a library’s energy and flow of people could consider the development of a library as a component in a mixed-use project, which is development that integrates multiple components such as residential, office, and civic uses. Including a library in a mixed-use development could ease the public burden on the high construction and maintenance costs of building and operating a library while also attracting new tenants or residents. Cities across the US are contemplating or have executed on this model including Milwaukee, Marion, Portland, and New York.

Continue reading “Library Living? Integrating a library into a mixed-use development”

Retail Incubators and Main Street Revitalization: Part 1

Retail%20Space%20for%20LeaseLaunching a retail business in a downtown storefront is a capital and knowledge intensive endeavor. Equally, Main Streets across North Carolina and the country are struggling to retain and attract vendors, with each new empty window display threatening the economic health of the street as a whole. In this two-part series, we explore how retail incubators can bridge the gap between capital-strapped retailers and empty storefronts. Continue reading “Retail Incubators and Main Street Revitalization: Part 1”

Statistics on Your Corner: Using Data Better in CED


In previous posts the CED blog explored the many publicly available sources for local data that can inform municipal staff, real estate professionals, and policy makers. But how can local governments make use this data, and how can they know that the conclusions reached are valid? Often municipal governments accumulate a trove of demographic, socio-economic, and parcel data that together are daunting for local governments to use. Statistical analysis is one option that local governments may pursue to effectively use this data to drive policy decisions and monitor the success of programs and the state of the community.

If your eyes glazed over in the last sentence and you feel your blood pressure rise with the sight of the word statistics, read on! Better use of data in community and economic development may be simpler than you think. Continue reading “Statistics on Your Corner: Using Data Better in CED”

Hope through Housing: A Model for Addressing Pressing Community Challenges

site-box-HM1-1024x280In the Town of Carol-Blue, Donny, a local community developer, finds himself in a really tough position. Both the county and city budgets are constrained and the challenges the town face economically seem only to grow in size. After performing an analysis of senior housing demand, he realizes that the anecdotal stories he heard from friends about their tough time finding housing for older loved ones are not isolated incidents. He also read in the paper about drastic needs his towns has to address, such as housing veterans and the lack of resources socials services has had in supporting foster children and their adoptive families. Typically, he thinks of these problems as unrelated but he happened to read an article about a non-profit called Generations of Hope. The non-profit helps in developing communities of intergenerational housing with the purpose of helping to alleviate pressing social problems. Could this be a solution in addressing multiple Carol-Blue challenges at once?

Generations of Hope and Intentional Intergenerational Housing

Generations of Hope is a non-profit community development corporation that specializes in facilitating the development of specialty intergenerational housing models. Generations of Hope (GOH) began its mission in 1993 through its first planned community, Hope Meadows.  Hope Meadows was provided a million dollar grant from the State of Illinois to purchase and redevelop a 22-acre former military base that would go on to include both senior apartments and housing for foster families. In this housing model, foster children are adopted by foster parents and are given support by seniors. In exchange for below market-rate rent, seniors volunteer six hours a week with foster children, performing various task such as tutoring, playing games and helping with other child care services. Continue reading “Hope through Housing: A Model for Addressing Pressing Community Challenges”

Renewed Funding Extends New Market Tax Credit Program Through 2019

Grading siteThe CED blog has previously written about the importance of New Market Tax Credits, and their place in the process for developing real estate transactions (a primer can be found here, and a discussion of the process for investment can be found here).  Briefly, these credits are designed to drive capital to underserved communities, notably those which are determined to be ‘highly distressed,’ and provide investors with a 39% tax credit, paid over seven years, for investments in qualified projects.  Credits are allocated to designated Community Development Entities (CDEs), which then select impactful projects in which to invest.  Because funding for the Program is limited, investments tend to be highly competitive: this makes the impact of the project extremely important, and allocations often tend to concentrate around the various CDE’s mission targets, which could range from solar energy, to rural health, to small business development, to any number of other things. Continue reading “Renewed Funding Extends New Market Tax Credit Program Through 2019”

A Guide to Value Added Alleys for Small Towns and Cities

alleyAlleys, in the American context, are cramped spaces tucked behind commercial buildings that house the ancillary services businesses and households require such as trash removal, utility access, and deliveries. Glimpsed only momentarily by passing pedestrians, these spaces are often perceived as dirty, unwelcoming, and even unsafe. In contrast, pre-automotive cities such as London, Kyoto, and Melbourne, have a network of alleys (or laneways) meant explicitly for pedestrians. As shortcuts and intimate retail spaces alleys in these cities are clean, safe, and home to creative expression. Now small towns and cities across North Carolina like Kinston, Brevard, and New Bern are seeing successful renovation and investment in alleys. How can other communities looking to bring value and vibrancy to downtowns energize these neglected spaces? Continue reading “A Guide to Value Added Alleys for Small Towns and Cities”

Finding the Hard Numbers for a Rising Problem: A Method of Calculating Demand for Affordable Senior Housing

The supply of affordable senior rental housing is a growing concern across North Carolina.  The source of this problem is linked to North Carolina’s growing senior population and a rising overall demand for affordable rental housing. As mentioned in a previous blog post, by the year 2050, according to the US Census, the nation’s senior population is expected to almost double. At the same time, North Carolina is one of the top states in relative baby boomer growth; a fact that comes as no surprise to those choosing to relocate to North Carolina for retirement.

Throughout the country’s slow recovery from the Great Recession, the housing market has gained steam mostly because of rental demand.  According to a report from the  Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard, the nation’s share of renter’s is 36%, and the current rental housing market is at its tightest since the 1960’s. Vacancy rates are at a five-year low.  During the beginning of the housing market recovery, a significant share of new rental properties resulted from the conversion of former owner-occupied dwellings. Today, this reconfiguration has slowed and new building is picking up, though newer rental housing is mostly targeted towards those with higher incomes. Continue reading “Finding the Hard Numbers for a Rising Problem: A Method of Calculating Demand for Affordable Senior Housing”

USDA Programs Boosting Access to Local, Fresh Foods Across North Carolina

Guilford County's Mobile OasisThe role of local food systems in supporting community and economic development is a topic that has received significant coverage on the CED blog. Blog contributor and SOG faculty member Rick Morse has covered this topic extensively on this blog, sharing strategies to promote local food initiatives, including resources specific to North Carolina, while contributor and faculty member Jonathan Morgan recently discussed how a community might go about quantifying and measuring the economic development impact of local foods systems.

United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) offers several grants and programs directly to applicants and to states that can help communities develop their own local food systems. This post will highlight several of their programs designed to improve access to and expand production of locally and regionally produced foods:  Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP), Specialty Crop Program, and the Organic Certification Cost Share Program. An additional cornerstone USDA program, Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP), used by the City of Raleigh to establish their downtown farmers market, is also described in this post. Continue reading “USDA Programs Boosting Access to Local, Fresh Foods Across North Carolina”

A Primer on Applying for Historic Tax Credits and the National Historic Register

In development, it is often easier to start from scratch – buy a property, clear the land, and begin building the structure you want.  In fact, this is frequently the most cost effective way to develop a property: old structures can literally be ‘messy,’ with major deferred maintenance, old systems, and outdated uses commonly making it cost prohibitive to bring an old building back to life.

However, at the same time many of our State’s older buildings are beautiful, character-rich structures which should be worth saving.  North Carolina’s history of textiles and manufacturing alone has left the state with hundreds of beautiful buildings with fascinating histories, plus detailing and charm that would be nearly impossible to replicate.  At the same time, as much as a developer might wish to preserve a structure, financial realities must prevail, and some properties are simply not financially viable as they are.

Readers of the CED blog should be aware of the existence of Historic Tax Credits, and the value of their use in the redevelopment space (see previous posts here, here, and here).  However, to the owner of a historic structure, or someone hoping to invest in one, the process might seem far too complex and daunting to be worth their time.  This common misperception leads property owners to follow the path of least resistance, and allow their properties to fall into further disrepair.  Continue reading “A Primer on Applying for Historic Tax Credits and the National Historic Register”

The Future of Parking Decks you imagine living in a 135 square foot apartment? Well, a dozen students at the Savannah College of Art and Design did just that. Along with alumni and professors, the students turned a class project into reality. Through a special use permit, students temporarily lived in these micro-units in an underutilized parking deck in Atlanta. While not a full repurposing of a parking deck, the SCADpad is one take on how to repurpose decks in the future.

Parking decks can be unattractive, costly to build and operate, and tied down to potentially valuable downtown land that might not even be taxed. The US Census estimates that there are 105 million parking spots in the US; however, other estimates bring that number to 750 million! Even with alternative transportation options, the car still rules which means parking decks will continue to take up valuable downtown space in the foreseeable future. However, what happens when that foreseeable future is actually all not that distant, when cars no longer are the popular transportation option? What happens to those massive concrete parking decks? Depending on the design and material choices, parking decks will fall apart or become underutilized. Continue reading “The Future of Parking Decks”

Challenges and Opportunities in Strip Mall Redevelopment

StripMall_GormanThe ubiquitous strip mall lines arterial roads in, out, and often through nearly every town and city in the United States and presents unique challenges to communities in North Carolina looking to revitalize aging commercial corridors. While big-box stores have undergone creative transformations to remain active spaces and indoor shopping malls attract catalytic revitalization efforts as discussed in previous CED blog posts, the many small strip malls characterized by a small or no anchor tenants have struggled to combat vacancy, with 2011 seeing the highest vacancy rates nationally at over 11%, leading to eyesores for communities and challenges for local planners and developers.

From 15-501 in the Triangle to Charlotte’s 56 designated Business Corridors slated for potential redevelopment, North Carolina’s retail landscape is filled with strip mall development with high redevelopment opportunities. Mixed use retrofit of strip malls has been touted as bringing added value to commercial corridors, better serve aging baby-boomers who would like to age-in-place but don’t want or cannot depend on auto-oriented centers, and as a way to better utilize existing infrastructure in the inner suburbs of urban areas.  Why then, has there been so few successful redevelopments, and even less retrofits? The answer lies with the nature of strip malls and the land use associated with them. Their solutions take vision, creativity and planning to accomplish. Continue reading “Challenges and Opportunities in Strip Mall Redevelopment”

North Carolina Biotechnology Center Fueling Growth in NC’s Biotech Industry

biotechIn the last couple decades the biotechnology industry has seen substantial growth globally and in the United States where the industry has reached a market capitalization of over $1 trillion (EY Biotechnology Industry Report). Growth in the biotech industry has soared as well in North Carolina following the state’s long-term investment starting in the 1980s with the creation of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center (NCBiotech), a nonprofit based in Research Triangle Park. As a testament of NC’s biotech industry strength, Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News ranked the Raleigh-Durham area as one of the top 10 biotech clusters in the country based on National Institute of Health funding, venture capital funding, patents, lab space, and jobs. Today, there are over 600 life science companies in NC employing 61,000 people at an average salary of $81,000. Continue reading “North Carolina Biotechnology Center Fueling Growth in NC’s Biotech Industry”

Embrace Your Unique Place: Asset-Based Economic Development

Brevard White Squirrel cursing outThe White Squirrel. You may wonder what makes it white,  is it an albino or second-cousin to the common eastern grey squirrel? Did it originate in a carnival, victim of a failed science experiment, or was it simply a quirk of evolution?

What does a rare breed of a common critter have to do with economic development and this blog? Quite a bit, if you are the city of Brevard. Every year thousands of visitors head to the county seat of Transylvania County to attend the White Squirrel Festival, take a tour in hopes of a sighting and stay to play, eat and shop.

Brevard isn’t the only town in America that can claim the white squirrel but it has certainly made the most of it, just as other towns and cities across North Carolina have turned a quirky asset into a draw. Visit Mount Airy and feel like you’re taking a stroll down Mayberry’s Main Street on the Andy Griffith Show.  See Wilson and wonder at whirligigs. Welcome the snow season with the Banner Elk wooly worm and celebrate spring with the Fayetteville Dogwood tree.

Identifying and leveraging a community’s organic socio-cultural, environmental and economic advantages for sustained economic growth is known as asset-based economic development. The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) published a series of papers, Asset-Based Economic Development: Building Sustainable Small and Rural Communities, which profiles successful strategies ranging from the marketing approach identified here to adaptive reuse of historical assets. North Carolina examples of asset-based development can be explored the School of Government’s web-based resource, Building Assets for the Rural Future: A Guide to Promising Asset-Building Programs for Communities and Individuals on the Economic Margin. The topic has also been discussed in this blog in a previous post. Continue reading “Embrace Your Unique Place: Asset-Based Economic Development”

Coding for Economic Development

Pixabay: free for commercial use, no attribution required
Pixabay: free for commercial use, no attribution required

“In short, software is eating the world.” – Mark Andreessen, co-founded Netscape

From cell phones, cars, to wearable tech, software keeps finding new ways to enter our lives. Mobile apps are flourishing and have transformed service-delivery whether we are banking online, hailing an Uber ride, watching Netflix, or shopping on Amazon. In short, the increase in software and software-related positions potentially indicates a growing need for information technology positions and coding skills. According to a 2014 Brookings report, of all STEM fields, information technology had the most job postings in the US. However, jobs that require programming skills stay open for twenty days longer than non-STEM jobs. The growth in software development is not restricted to information technology companies, but fields as far ranging as agriculture to car manufacturing. This could indicate the growing demand for coding skills in various industries dependent on software-development, IT related or not. Continue reading “Coding for Economic Development”

Blow Horns, No More: Establishing Railroad Quiet Zones

Railroad Crossing in Kinston, NC

Many North Carolinians have fond memories of railroads and trains being a centerpiece of local downtown activity. Not only are trains effective transportation instruments, but also can be an identity for some communities. The railroad tracks are often located in the epicenter of cities, and history reveals that some towns were even built around the railroad’s path. Unfortunately, not all residents have a favorable view of railroads running through their cities and towns. For example, consider the number of families housed near railroad crossings that wake-up multiple times at night because train horns are blown at railroad crossings. Some municipalities have begun instituting “quiet zones” at railroad intersections. This blog post will explore the process of establishing these quiet zones and offer some useful past and on-going examples. Continue reading “Blow Horns, No More: Establishing Railroad Quiet Zones”

Brownfields Programs as a Revitalization Tool: NC Case Studies

Site Plan for the River Landing Park in Williamston, NC
Site Plan for the River Landing Park in Williamston, NC

Last month the CED blog published an overview of Federal and State Brownfields programs and how these programs can assist in remediating and revitalizing tough-to-develop sites that  are plagued by environmental contamination. This post will provide two case examples of how the US EPA and NC Brownfields Program have been employed in two North Carolina communities.

Case #1: Conover Station, Conover, NC

In the town of Conover, an abandoned Broyhill Furniture manufacturing plant has been turned into a revitalizing, mixed-use development. Conover (population 8,165) is located in Catawba County, just east of Hickory along Interstate 40. When the Broyhill plant closed its doors in 2005, it quickly became an eyesore in the heart of the community. Petroleum and volatile organic contamination from years of underground and aboveground storage tank use was present in the soil and groundwater, with problematic product lines existing underground and throughout the buildings. Despite the challenges, the town saw potential to redevelop the site into a mixed-use development that would preserve the historic Warlong Glove building as its centerpiece.  Continue reading “Brownfields Programs as a Revitalization Tool: NC Case Studies”

Report: The Unintended Consequences of Housing Finance

Housing in a Community Land TrustThe Unintended Consequences of Housing Finance is a recent report by the Regional Plan Association that addresses the negative externalities of certain federal housing finance rules, and myriad methods to address these externalities through rule changes and amendments. Perhaps it is not immediately apparent how financing rules can have dramatic impacts on the physical form of our cities, but this report demonstrates the way in which these rules encourage certain types of development (single-family housing and large multifamily projects) and discourage others (mid-rise, mixed-use multifamily projects). Continue reading “Report: The Unintended Consequences of Housing Finance”

How to Use Federal and State Brownfields Programs to Accomplish a Community Revitalization Project

technical_assistanceLearning that a site for redevelopment is affected by real or perceived environmental contamination can be one of the biggest barriers to community revitalization. Brownfield sites, which are defined by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality as “abandoned, idled or underused properties where the threat of environmental contamination has hindered its redevelopment,” pose legal and financial challenges to prospective developers. Lenders are typically wary of providing financing to projects with substantial risk for litigation around environmental contamination. Remediating pollutants can also be a costly endeavor for developers.

Despite the challenges, remediating brownfield sites has many benefits for a community. Environmentally, redeveloping on a brownfield site saves greenspace, utilizes existing infrastructure, cleans the air and water, and preserves natural habitats. Additionally, since many brownfield properties are neglected eyesores, remediation can have a positive impact on adjacent property values and crime rates while contributing to a sense of community pride. Continue reading “How to Use Federal and State Brownfields Programs to Accomplish a Community Revitalization Project”

Town-Gown Development Partnerships

3a8026bcbdcf26731b184d523cd71b12In implementing plans for neighborhood revitalization, municipalities look for partners whose investment can help lift the desire for revitalization from plan into action. In the past 20 years, one of those partners has increasingly become the local university. Local universities and colleges already have a substantial commitment to the place in which they reside. They are often one of the largest employers, and like all employers, need to competitively attract employees, and also students. They have compelling reasons to ensure that their home base can continue to bring the best and brightest to their institution. And as universities are more and more likely to have to compete for funding, particularly if they are public institutions, investment in their local community is a way for these institutions to stay relevant to taxpayers. Continue reading “Town-Gown Development Partnerships”

Connect Home: Bridging the Digital Divide Fiber and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are partnering in a public-private collaboration, ConnectHome, to provide families and children living in HUD-assisted housing with broadband, or high-speed Internet. Increasing Internet speeds in low-income communities will increase access to the resources and services, such as educational tools, employment opportunities, and healthcare services, available on the Internet. Continue reading “Connect Home: Bridging the Digital Divide”

Tools for financing development in revitalization areas: HUD Multifamily Loan Products people are familiar with HUD FHA mortgage insurance programs for single-family housing. These programs insure mortgages for lenders providing loans to single-family home borrowers and have been a significant driver in shaping the housing and mortgage markets in the United States over the last 80+ years.

In addition to these more well-known programs, the agency also features insured financing programs for new construction and rehabilitation of multifamily projects, through Section 220 and 221 of the National Housing Act. This post will serve as an introduction to Section 220 and 221 and will be the first of two posts. Part II of this series will examine how these programs are being used in North Carolina. Continue reading “Tools for financing development in revitalization areas: HUD Multifamily Loan Products”

Solar Powers Economic Development in NC

Solar%20in%20NCThe solar industry in North Carolina has grown exponentially since the state adopted its bold renewable energy policy in 2007. The combination of a 35-percent state tax credit on renewables, including solar, wind, hydroelectric and biomass, and a 30-percent federal tax credit contributed to the creation of over 4,000 jobs and $2 billion in direct investment across the state. North Carolina’s solar market took off. In 2014, $126.7 million in tax credits generated $717.6 million in spending. Last year, North Carolina ranked second in the country in solar construction and fourth in solar investment. At the same time, the cost of solar generation fell dramatically.

Although the NC Renewable Energy Tax Credit, which served as rocket fuel for the solar market, expired at the end of 2015, the Federal Renewable Energy Tax Credit has been extended another five years specifically for solar technologies. Another pivotal piece in North Carolina’s renewable energy policy is the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, which requires that 6 percent of electricity sold by investor-owned utilities, such as Duke Energy, be from renewable energy. This standard is set to rise to 12.5 percent solar energy generation by 2021.  Along with the reliability of the sun’s rays, conditions remain attractive for solar investments across the state. Continue reading “Solar Powers Economic Development in NC”

Pedestrian Tunnels: Connecting People with Communities Part II
Pedestrian tunnel at UNCG

Although pedestrian tunnels are often a less visible and flashy form of crossings, they are still an important part of pedestrian safety. That said, tunnels can be exciting too! Tunnels are often out of the public’s eye and have the ability to exhibit creative freedom. Not only can a tunnel make an impact on a local community, but it can also achieve this impact in a subtle manner. Similar to a pedestrian bridge (check out this post on pedestrian bridges), before an organization can determine if a pedestrian tunnel should be installed, it needs to understand the purpose, cost, and funding, and analyze relevant examples. Continue reading “Pedestrian Tunnels: Connecting People with Communities Part II”

New SEC Rules Play to the Crowd

"Hogarth Marillion Paris 2005" by Laurent Franchi
“Hogarth Marillion Paris 2005” by Laurent Franchi

Crowdfunding, a method of raising money over the Internet, usually in modest increments from large numbers of individuals, has been around for almost 20 years. Informed cultural critics (and now, readers of this blog) often point to British neo-prog rock band Marillion’s 1997 email plea to fans for advance album orders as the genesis of crowdfunding. Marillion raised about $60,000 and went on to write and record the album “This Strange Engine,” which featured the single “Man of a Thousand Faces,” which seemed to speak to the budding consequence of crowds of stakeholders: “I’m the man of a thousand faces/A little piece of me in every part I take/I hold the tape for a thousand races/A different point of view in every speech I make.”

In the ensuing 20 years, crowdfunding has emerged as a powerful tool for artists and musicians, entrepreneurs, and dreamers. This blog has shared how crowdfunding can allow small businesses and community economic development projects to access capital as well as how crowdfunding is being used to fund civic projects. This blog has also detailed how a North Carolina brewery used crowdfunding for its initial startup capital, which it then leveraged to attract an angel investor and, ultimately, traditional financing.

Beginning this spring, crowdfunding will enter a new phase Continue reading “New SEC Rules Play to the Crowd”

Public-Private Partnerships: Universities & Private Developers

first-ward-park-rendering-370pxUniversity enrollments are at an historic high and an increased student population requires that universities grow in other areas as well, such as housing and facilities. In recent years, universities have been partnering with private developers to advise and help them manage this growth. Previous posts on this blog have highlighted the role that higher education can play in economic development and in downtown revitalization.

There are many benefits to a university in seeking a private partner as they expand and redevelop their facilities. Reduced budgets, hiring freezes, and capital cutbacks mean many university departments are already working at capacity. Hiring a private developer to take on the work of managing major redevelopment greatly reduces the pressure on campus staff and brings in development expertise that the in-house staff may not have. The result of that expertise can mean reduced construction costs, expedited timelines, and better buildings that capitalize on the latest academic trends.

The move to using private developers to create facilities also has the added benefit of providing access to new sources of private funding unavailable to universities, and access and expertise in using funding sources such as government grants, loans, and tax credits, that can significantly reduce the cost burden on the public partner. Private development partnerships can even provide a university the option to complete the project through off-sheet financing if their current debt structure does not necessarily allow for the undertaking of new, costly projects, thus allowing them to still meet the needs of their students despite concerns of debt capacity. Continue reading “Public-Private Partnerships: Universities & Private Developers”

As Walmart shutters stores, what’s next for small towns?

Walmart%20Express%202Less than five years after Walmart introduced its small-format retail model, Express stores are throwing in the towel. This month, the big box retailer announced plans to shutter 154 stores across the country. North Carolina, one of the states to pilot the pared down Walmart experience, will see all 15 Express stores and a Supercenter closed by the end of January.

Walmart Express stores were designed to fill a convenience gap in small towns and urban centers where Walmart perceived an increasing demand for “everyday low prices” in a more accessible format. The stores specialize in healthy convenience food, pharmaceuticals and in some cases, fuel. They occupy between 10,000 and 15,000 square feet, less than a tenth of the typical Supercenter, and employ an average of 30 residents.

The announcement came as a surprise for most, especially since as recently as 2014 Walmart released plans to double the number of new small-format stores nationwide. This decision marks a public shift in strategy for the Walmart Corporation that will now focus “on building up its e-commerce firepower and improving its massive Supercenters and grocery-centric Neighborhood Market stores.” Continue reading “As Walmart shutters stores, what’s next for small towns?”

Pedestrian Bridges: Connecting People with Communities

pedbridgeA pedestrian bridge can be more than just a crossing structure. In some cases, it can be a piece of artwork and a gateway that connects communities. That said, sometimes the total costs and benefits of installing a pedestrian bridge are not fully considered. As such, there is an opportunity to explore the purpose, costs, and funding of building pedestrian bridges as well as examine relevant examples of successful pedestrian bridges. Continue reading “Pedestrian Bridges: Connecting People with Communities”

Behavioral Science in Local Government

75206-fullAnyone who has taken a basic economics course understands that core economic theories rely on the assumption that people act rationally. Anyone who has worked with people understands that, simply put, they are not very rational actors. This is where behavioral science steps in.

Professor Dan Ariely of Duke University was one of the main speakers at an event earlier this fall that brought together local government officials to learn about behavioral science. As the article mentions, the White House has even gotten in on this. In September 2015, President Obama issued an Executive Order that called for the federal government to use behavioral insights to better serve Americans.

Behavioral science (or “behavioral economics”) is, essentially, the study of how people actually make decisions—as opposed to how they “should” according to theory or rationality. Continue reading “Behavioral Science in Local Government”

Millennials Entering the Real Estate Market

mildevIt’s not a surprise that real estate developers, in recent years, have begun prioritizing the wants and needs of Millennials. Millennials say that they prioritize walkability, dense urban space, a sense of community, and the ability to frequent a favorite coffee shop. This year, Millennials are projected to overtake the Baby Boomer generation as the nation’s largest living generation. As mentioned in a previous CED blog, developers have already begun to adjust to this change. Most recently, some Millennials have entered real estate development with a distinct competitive advantage: knowing the customer. Continue reading “Millennials Entering the Real Estate Market”

The Economic Impact of Downtown Courthouses

Downtown Durham County Justice CenterIn 2013, the 11-story, $119 million Durham County Courthouse opened. This 320,000 square foot structure is located on 510 South Dillard Street and is right next to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park and the Durham Performing Arts Center in downtown Durham. Government offices, homes, and businesses are traditionally found in city and town centers. In fact, courthouses like the Durham County Courthouse often represent an important downtown asset and landmark site in many city centers. Although the dependence on cars and the increasing cost of land in city centers leave fewer reasons for governments to keep offices downtown, both the National Main Street Program and the American Planning Association have documented recent increases in downtown revitalization and vitality.

According to a study by Place Economics, downtown workers spend between $2,500 and $3,500 annually in their downtown economies. With a central location, government offices are more accessible for employees and travelers and are near supporting businesses such as pharmacies and restaurants. Continue reading “The Economic Impact of Downtown Courthouses”

50 Years of HUD: Rental Assistance Demonstration Program

As the CED blog ends its series celebrating the 50th anniversary of HUD (previous posts can be found here and here), it is only fitting that this post focuses on one of HUD’s newest, and perhaps one of its most radical, programs: Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD).

The RAD program serves a simple enough purpose. It addresses a major funding gap that is resulting in loss of public housing stock. Congressional cutbacks on HUD subsidies over the past 15 years have severely hampered maintenance of many of the nation’s 1.2 million public housing units. HUD estimates it has a $26 billion backlog in deferred repairs. Due to ongoing lack of repair, units are becoming uninhabitable. As they do, they are demolished or sold. From 1990-2010, 300,000 units were lost from public housing stock due to continued lack of maintenance.

These losses come at a point in time when demand is vastly outpacing HUD’s supply. Currently, public housing serves only about ¼ of eligible households. And as discussed earlier in this blog’s HUD series, demand is likely to increase in the future due to rising housing costs. Continue reading “50 Years of HUD: Rental Assistance Demonstration Program”

Commenting on the NC Qualified Allocation Plan year the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency (NCHFA) reviews the Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP) that describes the selection criteria for developers submitting projects for Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC). LIHTC credits provide developers the ability to feasibly develop affordable housing. During the revision process, developers can submit comments regarding the previous QAP.

As of late October, the NCHFA had received over twenty-five comments. The NC QAP affects developers in NC as well as in neighboring states with five of the submitted comments coming from developers outside of NC. In addition to comments by private developers, nonprofit organizations and law firms also provided comments. Three topics that were frequently raised in the comments relate to the principal cap, tiebreaker method and developer experience.  Continue reading “Commenting on the NC Qualified Allocation Plan”

50 Years of HUD: Choice Neighborhoods

CNIlogoIn recognition of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s 50th anniversary, the CED blog is highlighting a couple of HUD’s newest programs that cities can use to help spur revitalization in distressed neighborhoods. One of these programs is Choice Neighborhoods.

Choice Neighborhoods launched in 2011 as part of the Obama administration’s strategy to address poverty, particularly high poverty neighborhoods. As mentioned in a previous post, high poverty neighborhoods leave its residents in a vacuum of the very opportunities they need to lift themselves out of poverty. Choice Neighborhoods, like many of the Obama administration’s initiatives, works to bring opportunity into these impoverished places. Continue reading “50 Years of HUD: Choice Neighborhoods”

Primer on Low-Income Housing Tax Credits: 2015 North Carolina Qualified Allocation Plan

Wesley Ridge Affordable Senior Apartments in Lumberton, NC developed by Weaver-Kirkland Development

Every year the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency (NCHFA) awards applicants with Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) – the most important resource for creating affordable housing in the United States today. The NCHFA uses federal and state funds to produce affordable housing by partnering with for- and non-profit developers. The Applicants are awarded with tax credits equal to nine percent of the qualified cost of building or rehabilitating a property. Without LIHTC, building affordable housing would not be feasible. In 2015, forty-nine projects in NC were awarded with low-income housing tax credits totaling over $25 million and 3,600 units. This blog post will dive into the LIHTC process specifically diving into the mechanics of the Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP). Continue reading “Primer on Low-Income Housing Tax Credits: 2015 North Carolina Qualified Allocation Plan”

Design Thinking

how-museums-can-use-the-design-thinking-process-to-delight-and-engage-visitors-18-638If you feel like things have changed recently in the look and feel of your favorite government website, then well, you might be on to something. In late September of this year, new design standards were released for federal government websites. The focus was on the design of the websites—from the layout to the font, the design of a website impacts how well citizens understand and use it.

Similarly, one of the most prominent buzzwords around business in 2015 is “design-based thinking.” While this approach has less to do with a font style or background color of a website, it is derived from essentially the same way of thinking. What exactly does it mean to think with a design perspective? How could that impact local government and community economic development? This post provides an overview of design thinking and its potential usefulness for local governments in North Carolina.  Continue reading “Design Thinking”

Coastal Dredging in North Carolina

dredgThe North Carolina coastline has a wide variety of inlets that are critical to coastal commerce, such as for commercial traffic at ports, commercial and charter fisherman, and recreation & tourism. According to a report to the Joint Transportation Appropriations Committee by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), routine dredging and maintenance are necessary for these inlets to remain open to support North Carolina’s economy.

An article in the News & Observer in June 2015 estimated that the state’s biggest shipping customer was losing $2 million a month because the sand-clogged navigation channel at Morehead City was too shallow to handle fully laden freighters. State officials sought emergency measures because of the direness of the situation, and the Obama administration freed up $4.1 million for Morehead City. Hopes were high that the added funding would be bring some relief by the end of summer 2015, helping the state’s second-busiest port get back to normal traffic patterns. Continue reading “Coastal Dredging in North Carolina”

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