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Celebrating the Local

February 8, 2013

A community’s heritage and diversity spurs home-grown economic development

 

There was a time when cities and towns looked to developers and manufacturers and the service sectors to bring in jobs and to help revitalize the economy.

But there is a growing recognition that art, entertainment, food and culture can drive change and can generate significant levels of residential and commercial economic value for municipalities, philanthropists and the private sector that is willing to make the investment as well as promote smart growth principles.

There may be no better example of a city that is investing in its rich musical heritage than Nashville.

The capital of Tennessee has long been known as Music City, because of the Grand Ole Opry and its status as the center of the country music industry.

But now, Nashville is striving to show it’s much more than that. Bluegrass has moved its way south from Kentucky to Nashville and the area also attracts Christian contemporary, jazz and blues artists. Jack White— founder of the garage band the White Stripes — also now calls Nashville home.

In fact, no metropolitan area in the United States or Canada has a larger concentration of music related jobs and industry than Nashville. And a study commissioned by the Nashville Chamber showed that in 2006, the music industry had a $6.38 billion impact on Nashville’s economy and that 35,000 jobs were directly tied to music production and music related tourism.

To ensure the city maintains its brand as a music mecca and, moreover, ensures that music continues to help drive the economic engine, Mayor Karl Dean in 2009 created a 46-member think tank of sorts to help spread the word to artists that there’s no better place to live, work and play than Nashville.

“Nashville is not any city, we’re ‘Music City’. We have an opportunity to grow that identity and benefit both our city and the music industry in the process,” Dean said when announcing the Music Business Council. “My goal is to make Nashville the destination for music performances, festivals, business and education.”

The council meets quarterly and in many ways is still in its organizational phase, having broken itself into four separate committees. The council’s creative talent committee has bandied about a plan that would draw young artists to the areas by offering more affordable housing. In addition to providing shelter, the idea is to also develop a pocket of artistic talent that, once fully developed, would help develop more talent.

While music is now a driving part of the economy, REALTOR® Shirley Zeitlin remembers a day when Nashville didn’t always embrace the ‘Music City’ moniker. “The feedback outside of the city was a Hee Haw image,” she said, adding that within the last decade all that has changed. Today, there’s no doubt the artists are an integral part of the neighborhood and nothing to be ashamed of.

“Our country music people are very sophisticated and educated and are part of the community,” she added.

Zeitlin, owner of the self named firm that employs 100 REALTORS® in two counties, is also the president elect of the Arts and Business Council of Greater Nashville. The council was formed in 2007 to foster better relationships between area artists and the business community through a variety of different programs, including one called Volunteer Lawyers and Professionals for the Arts, which provides pro bono legal services to low-income artists.

“New Orleans has the French Quarter, San Francisco has the Wharf and trolley cars and Nashville has the music,” Zeitlin said.

While Nashville is trying to enhance its branding through music, Yale, Michigan has successfully taken advantage of its food heritage. And that ain’t no baloney.

For more than 20 years the Chamber of Commerce in Yale, population 2,000, has sponsored an event centered around the well-known sandwich meat that draws more than 10 times that amount of people to the area, some as far away as Canada, said Yale Chamber of Commerce President Barb Stasik.

Indeed, the annual Yale Bologna festival draws crowds of people who over a three-day period buy and eat more than two tons of bologna. It’s available on a stick, in a quarter pound barbecue grilled sandwich on a bun, or in a cheese snack pack.

Stasik, publisher of the Yale Expositor, said the event was initially started 21 years ago by the Chamber which was looking for an event to promote the town. Yale, which was settled by German and Polish immigrants, has been making bologna since the 1800s.

It was started with a $2,000 budget and was put together “on a wing and a prayer,” she said. The Chamber now pumps between $30,000 and $40,000 into the festival to pay for the costs of tents, bands and other activities — such as the crowning of the Bologna King and Queen, outhouse races, a street dance and fireworks and a parade down Main Street.

The only thing that people pay for, she said, is the bologna, which is provided by Yale Bologna, also known as C. Roy Inc., and the T-shirts that are sold.

Owners Nancy and Dick Roy start butchering the bulls that will be used for the bologna in the spring. The recipe belongs to Dick Roy’s great grandfather, T.J Minnie, who emigrated from Canada.

“I thought it would never survive the first year,” Nancy Roy said of the festival. “When the Chamber approached us (about supplying the bologna) I said ‘sure, uh huh.’ They have done wonderful work keeping it alive.”

Not only is it alive, it continues to prosper, despite the economic downturn across the nation, especially Michigan.

Stasik said the chamber has never analyzed how much money the event has brought into the city, but she’s confident it exceeds the $30,000 the chamber targets toward it. Folks who attend the festival meander through the town and shop at other locally owned businesses such as furniture shops, as well as the pubs where they can wet their whistle.

“It wasn’t thought of as an economic boom for the town. We kind of did it tongue and cheek. It turned out to be exactly what we needed,” she said.

On the west coast in San Jose, Calif., there is the Mariachi and Mexican Heritage Festival, a weeklong celebration of Mexican and Mexican American heritage complete with music, art, film and dance.

The event showcases Mexico’s vibrant history and culture said President and Chief Executive Officer of the Mexican Heritage Corporation Marcela Davison Aviles. “We’re not just tamales, rice and beans, we’re just as diverse and complicated as America is,” she said.

It always is held in the fall, he said, to take advantage of the pleasant weather in Northern California. Upward of 50,000 people attend the weeklong event, which funnels about $6 million into the local economy from festival goers who spend the weekend in hotels and eat at area restaurants and play golf at the local courses.

“The downtown (San Jose) merchants love us,” said Aviles. “And people do make money off this festival.”

The Mexican Heritage Corporation uses the proceeds from the event to support mariachi music education in two San Jose schools, and there is a request to expand the program into three more. Additionally, the Mexican Heritage Corporation sponsors youth music and dance programs in the summer. In all, Aviles expects the corporation’s efforts will reach 800 students this year.

There are other similar festivals across the United States celebrating a city’s heritage.

A weekend festival called the Jazz and Arts Festival in West Oak Lane — a Philadelphia neighborhood — is featured in the article ‘Creativity and Neighborhood Development: Strategies for Community Investment,’ written by Jeremy Nowak, president and chief executive officer of The Reinvestment Fund, a leader in the financing of neighborhood revitalization.

Nowak teamed up with the Social Impact of the Arts Project at the University of Pennsylvania to explore what he calls the power of “place making” or the way “households, businesses, government and civic and cultural institutions can combine to increase economic opportunity, the quality of public spaces, and investment and development activity in distressed places.”

The 2007 monograph analysis recommends that there be investments in community-based creative activity to enhance a community’s placemaking role and to increase its potential. Specifically, Nowak recommends that investments be made in creativity, development and knowledge.

The West Oak Lane community in Philadelphia is an example Nowak holds out as a successful attempt at placemaking. Nowak notes that the West Oak Lane neighborhood in Philadelphia for years had “been losing ground,” as middle income African American families moved to the suburbs and left behind abandoned houses and storefronts. But a concerted civic action addressing public safety, school quality and property condition helped stabilize the neighborhood.

“The festival reflects and facilitates these changes. The current Jazz and Arts Festival attracts thousands of people from both inside and outside the neighborhood. Dozens of bands perform for free and commercial booths are set up for art exhibitions, food and children’s activities,” the paper notes. It “defines local identity and serves as a market signal about renewal.”

Harrisburg, Pa., — which is abuzz with art galleries and restaurants — also is an example of successful placemaking. Midtown Harrisburg — once blighted — now is bustling with activity.

As Harrisburg native, photographer, and co-owner of the Gallery Blu art gallery, Christina Heintzelman-Jones notes, “there’s almost a panache to living here now,” she said only half jokingly adding that the presence of artists in a neighborhood, even one in transition, often helps mitigate what could be seen as a risky investment.

Christina Heintzelman-Jones and her husband Bluett Jones, bought an older building — she believes it once was a shoe store — renovated it and opened Gallery Blu in the developing Third Street Corridor Art District in Harrisburg about 18 months ago.

The gallery is one of many art studios that has emerged in midtown Harrisburg and is a regular stop for folks who attend “3rd in the Burgh,” held the third Friday of every month when galleries stay open late displaying art work and providing refreshments and wine for after-hours patrons.

Heintzelman-Jones and her husband are extremely active in the neighborhood and have held three fundraisers at the gallery, including the most successful dubbed “Sweet Salvation” where almost $10,000 was raised for the local Salvation Army through a silent auction of art work.

Gallery Blu also hosted two fundraisers for Cathedral School, a Catholic school in Harrisburg. The money raised for the school is, not surprisingly, targeted toward its arts program.

“We’re not even Catholic but it doesn’t matter. We wanted to help the arts program,” she said.

They also want to help other artists living in the areas. Heintzelman-Jones said she and a coalition of other art gallery owners have started bandying about the idea of developing an arts incubator that will help provide artists with the supplies and the space they need to work. “We are a cohesive group. We all are working together to talk about advertising and outreach. There is cooperation between all the players.”

Heintzelman-Jones attributes much of the enthusiasm occurring in Harrisburg to the decision of HACC — or Harrisburg Area Community College — in 2001 to bring its curriculum to midtown Harrisburg. Although the community college had a presence in the greater Harrisburg area it wasn’t in the urban center.

She’s not alone in thinking it made a difference in the town. “It’s transformative to the neighborhood,” said Former Harrisburg Mayor Stephen R. Reed. “It’s catalytic. It brings a critical mass of people very quickly at one location and it creates instant synergetic benefits and spin-off that attracts additional investment.”

The remarks were made by the mayor at a dedication ceremony for HACC’s Midtown 2 building. The building initially erected in 1917 once housed the Evangelical Press Building, where Christian literature was published. After Evangelical Press shuttered its doors, it was a municipal building housing city workers, then stood vacant for months.

The Midtown 2 building was purchased in 2006 by GreenWorks Development LLC and is being leased long term by HACC. A $19 million rehabilitation of the 130,000-square-foot building was made possible with help from the state, the city and HACC. The space is used for trade and technology programs for both degree and non-degree programs.

An “urban meadow” or block long pedestrian walkway connects the Midtown 2 building to HACC’s initial real estate — appropriately called Midtown 1. That building— the former worldwide headquarters of AMP — was donated to the community college in 2001.

The urban meadow was funded in part by Dauphin County and it provides green space for students and also is used by the community college in its horticulture and landscape design programs.

It’s no wonder the financial commitment from players like those helped spawn the development of a slew of restaurants and a spate of art galleries as well as a the Midtown Movie Cinema that shows small independent films and a large bookstore called Midtown Scholar Bookstore.

Nancy Rockey, HACC vice president of college and community development, is a self described Harrisburg “lifer.” Rockey, 52, grew up in the suburbs just outside of Harrisburg and recalls as a child jumping on mass transit and taking the 20-minute trip into town to shop for shoes at the trendy shoe shop in the city.

Rockey recalls a “thriving” Harrisburg in the 1960s when she was growing up, followed by what she described was a ghost town in the 1980s and 1990s.

All that has changed, said Rockey, who attributes the revitalization to a partnership of not only the community college and local and state government, but a commitment to work with the business and residents who never left the area.

“We didn’t close our doors up,” Rockey said. ”We opened our doors to the community.”

Bill Fontana, executive director of the Pennsylvania Downtown Center, says Harrisburg deserves praise for the successful revitalization of its midtown area. Pennsylvania Downtown Center is a statewide nonprofit organization that provides outreach, technical assistance and education services in order to help communities revitalize their central business districts and surrounding residential neighborhoods. PDC embraces the “Main Street Four Point Approach,” among other programs, touted by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The four point approach is a community-driven strategy that encourages communities to focus on design, or capitalizing on a city’s best assets such as historical buildings; promotion — or marketing unique characteristics through advertising and retail promotion activities or special events and local festivals; organization, or having everyone work on common goals; and economic restructuring, such as using unused space and turning it into productive property and expanding existing businesses.

Fontana gives Harrisburg as an example of revitalizing its urban center. With community partnerships, such as HACC, the arts, festivals and local heritage all play a significant role in attracting people to midtown. He noted at one point there was no activity in midtown Harrisburg once people left work for the evening.

“Now on the weekends you can’t even get parking spaces in downtown Harrisburg,” he said noting that restaurants, celebrations and the art galleries draw crowds.

“At one time it was the first or second most distressed small city in America, and now it constantly makes the list of best places to work and invest in and live in. There’s no question that region has made tremendous strides.”