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5 Success Stories

December 26, 2013

Good communities are good business. This is why the REALTOR® Party has created multiple Community Outreach Programs which can help make a difference in your local market. In this story, Joe Molinaro, NAR Managing Director of Community and Political Affairs, shares five success stories of communities where local associations utilized REALTOR® Party funding to make a difference.

Breckenridge, CO

THE SCENERY IS STUNNING in Breckenridge, Colorado, but Sarah Thorsteinson saw only trouble on the horizon. Some people in the alpine resort town were suggesting that offices — including real estate offices — should be banned from occupying ground-floor spaces on downtown’s Main Street. They argued that the growing number of offices on Main Street turned off tourists and that ground-floor spaces should be reserved for shops and restaurants.

Thorsteinson, government affairs director for the Summit Association of REALTORS® (SAR). knew the association needed to act fast if it wanted to preserve a mix of commercial activities on Main Street. “We wanted to squelch the idea before it was actually proposed because we were afraid that if it was proposed, it would be approved,” she said.

The association needed a silver bullet — and Thorsteinson knew exactly where to look. She sought help from the Land Use Initiative of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (NAR) — one of many instances when REALTOR® associations have turned to an NAR Community Outreach program to address issues related to commercial real estate. The Land Use Initiative provides associations with expert opinion and guidance from the law firm of Robinson & Cole. SAR received a set of talking points that made a strong case against banning ground-floor offices. “That made us look like the authority on the issue when we talked to members of the community, the town council, the economic development commission and others,”Thorsteinson said. “Ultimately, the issue became so contentious that it just went away and never came back."

Portland, ME

THE MAINE COMMERCIAL ASSOCIATION of REALTORS® (MCAR) is a key player in an effort to establish a rail connection between the state’s two largest population centers — Portland and Auburn/Lewiston. Using 30 miles of idle track, the Smart Growth Mobility Project/Maine Rail Transit Coalition is working to connect people to job centers.

MCAR secured a $15,000 Smart Growth Action Grant from NAR that allowed the diverse coalition of developers, environmentalists and public officials to complete an important study and seek necessary changes in transportation funding and land-use planning policies. The goal is to create a sustainable transit system that will increase land values, connect thriving economic hubs and encourage transit-oriented development that creates compact, walkable communities.

“The $15,000 NAR grant probably advanced this project five years,” said Tony Donovan, an MCAR board member. “It helped us finish the business plan and get everyone involved. What is really  exciting is that the developers of the land — that is the REALTORS® — and the protectors of the land — the Sierra Club — are working together on this project.”

Hays, KS

THE CITY OF HAYS, KANSAS, is small, but the population has grown 30 percent over the past 40 years to 21,000, straining the city’s stock of affordable housing. Demand from retirees, young healthcare and education professionals and students at Fort Hays State University — which closed some of its dorms — is out stripping supply.

The Hays Board of REALTORS® (HBR) obtained a $2,000 Housing Opportunity Grant from NAR to help conduct a survey of the community’s housing needs and identify possible solutions. While the survey focused on the need for affordable housing, the issue affects commercial real estate as the shortage of places for workers
to live discourages businesses from expanding to the Hays area.

Some of the possible solutions to the housing shortage also involve commercial real estate,including using the upper floors of downtown commercial buildings for housing and creating a Core to Campus Corridor where housing would be within easy walking distance of the university, downtown and a busy shopping district.
“It’s time we look at these opportunities and see if we need to do something different as a city,” said HBR member Lyn Klein.

Seville, OH

LIKE MANY HISTORIC SMALL TOWNS, the village of Seville, Ohio (population 3,000), needed a new blueprint for the future. Now it has one with help from a $15,000 Smart Growth Action Grant to the Medina County Board of REALTORS® (MCBR) from NAR.

The grant paid for an assessment by the National Trust Main Street Center (NTMSC),which helps communities determine how to revitalize their traditional downtowns and commercial districts. An NTMSC assessment team focused on three specific areas of concern for Seville: two brownfields at the edge of downtown; empty ground-floor retail spaces in the downtown core; and the closing of a 68,000-square-foot school built in 1916.

The team produced a 36-page report with dozens of recommendations. Within five months, progress was made in all three areas of concern — including establishing a business-friendly historic district downtown, pursuing grants to evaluate the brownfield sites and attracting an investor to redevelop the school into a mixed-use project.

“They gave us the blueprint in how to go forward,” said Rick Stallard, MCBR member and village councilman. “We have been following those steps, implementing them one at a time, and it’s really starting to pay off. There’s are surgence and things are going in the right direction again.”

Atlanta, GA

THE ATLANTA COMMERCIAL BOARD OF REALTORS® (ACBR) used a $10,000 Smart Growth Action Grant from NAR to jump start planning for transit-oriented development at a rail station. The grant helped pay for a charrette — a planning workshop where various constituents gathered to develop a common vision for a Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) station in suburban Edgewood.

With a large but an under utilized parking lot, the seven-acre site was ripe for redevelopment. Armed with market data supplied by ACBR, charrette participants came up with a live/workplay design featuring multi-story apartment buildings, shops, restaurants, a parking garage and central commons.

ACBR’s role didn’t end with the conclusion of the charrette. “We didn’t want to complete the design and have it sit on a shelf,” said Robert Broome, who was the ACBR’s government affairs director at the time. “The board lobbied to ensure that the Edgewood final report was incorporated into the city’s comprehensive development plan."

For information on NAR’s Community Outreach Programs and how they can help commercial real estate in your local market please visit http://bit.ly/NAR Outreach or contact Joe Molinaro at jmolinaro@REALTORS.org.