ULI Arizona asked leaders and members from across Arizona to share their experiences and perspectives in this ever-changing world due to COVID-19. Their views represent various real estate industry segments and delve into both professional and personal thoughts and ideas in this snapshot in time, and what positive opportunities can be found today, and in the future.
Gilbert’s Economic Development Redevelopment Manager, Amanda Elliott, shared her thoughts and observations on Gilbert, Arizona. This is Amanda Elliott’s first guest post in this series through ULI Arizona.
The Tale of Two Downtowns: Six weeks ago, I toured a colleague through Gilbert’s downtown Heritage District. The District was brimming with visitors of all ages. On any given night, including weekdays, restaurants saw a two hour wait. Hale Theatre which recently underwent a major renovation was seeing sold out shows and even extended some performances. Our weekend makers markets and farmers market saw scores of visitors. Downtowns are a special place. They are often the historical and cultural center of a community. In Gilbert, we like to think of our downtown as the community living room – a place where people come together with friends and family members, feed their souls, support local, be creative, laugh, have fun and feel connected.
The day Governor Ducey announced the stay home order, I was in the Heritage District. It seemed fitting that it was an overcast day. It was quiet; eerily so. My heart ached for this place. A place, I have had the honor to nurture and grow over the last five years. I know the business owners and property owners; I know the residents and the artists, and I know their stories and their family members. I have built relationships with each of them over the years and my heart ached knowing that today’s environment would create hardships for these incredible, hardworking people.
But as I walked around Downtown, completing my maintenance checklist, I saw ways the restaurants pivoted for takeout, I saw high school seniors having their graduation photos taken by their parents, I saw smiling people walking along the Powerline Trail path. Downtowns are resilient places. Studies have shown that because of the density and diversity of resources they weather economic hardships better than any other area in a community. The District is full of small businesses, unique restaurant offerings, handmade goods and it is the place that we meet our loved ones. There is no doubt that our downtown businesses, like others throughout Gilbert are suffering. Yet, I still see the community rallying around them and I see the businesses supporting each other and I see the sense of pride the community has in this center that they created. The Heritage District and the many other downtowns across the state may look different today than they did in early March, but I am optimistic about their recovery.
If as a community, you haven’t rolled up your sleeves and started planning for recovery, you best get started. There are opportunities for brokers, developers, cities and urban place management organizations (UPMO) to come together to develop a course of action to get your downtowns online. For cities and UPMOs this may be activating public spaces while also providing safe and clean environments. Perhaps this comes in forms of more handwashing stations. For developers and brokers, its considering ways your municipality may connect you with makers or artists to temporarily fill empty space left by a shuttered business. Pull together industry specific brainstorming sessions and with a few moderated questions, you have now enabled businesses to assist each other in reopening. I see opportunity in listening to our businesses and pulling out our rolodex to connect them to resources. If you hear your tenants have a need and city code or policy is hindering their ability to operate, contact your city officials – we want to be flexible and responsive. Don’t be shy to share your needs – someone out there has a solution. We can all do this together.
Town of Gilbert – Office of Economic Development
Redevelopment Program Manager