A Vision for Bellevue, Part 2: Business District Re-Vision-alization, by Mark Robinson

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This is the third post in a series of posts by Mark Robinson titled, “A Vision for Bellevue.” To see the first post in the series, “Introduction,” click here. To see the second post in the series, “Leadership,” click here.

To continue the series on A Vision For Bellevue, I have addressed Leadership. Let’s make this one thing very clear…leadership does not only exist in our local government chambers, nor should we only rely on our local government to push for revitalization. We also need to look to our other community leaders in order to help move things forward. This blog will address my thoughts on our business district, and where I think we should start.

So speaking of leadership, and now, how it relates to our business district, I think we need to increase the scope of the area we are talking about. Currently the community of Bellevue is linked into the Tri-Borough Communities Joint Zoning Ordinance which is inclusive of Bellevue, Avalon, and Ben Avon. Also, our Chamber of Commerce isn’t the Bellevue Chamber; it is the North Suburban Chamber of Commerce (http://northsuburbancoc.org/).  Because of this, I am going to widen the scope of this blog to encompass all three of our communities.

When the group of 2008 got together, the key points that were brought up regarding the business district were:

Collaboration between government and business district, Introduce new business, More diversified businesses, Downtown face lift, Encourage unique businesses in Bellevue, Promote borough industrial/manufacturing areas, Market housing and business district, Downtown face lift, Incentivize new businesses to come to Bellevue, Beautify business district, Business district continuity, Provide additional public parking, Become more involved with surrounding communities to help market/attract to Bellevue, Find ways to utilize any/all areas such as unused public property for the good of the community, Acknowledging local business involvement

Obviously, this group recognized the importance of a solid business district to a community. In case you haven’t heard, a lot of these things are being worked on! If I merge some of those statements down to a single category, we as a community are addressing some of these starting with the Streetscape plan. Not to leave Avalon and Ben Avon out for a second, but Bellevue has completed the design phase for a new streetscape which puts us one step closer to construction on a beautification and safety improvement effort for a part of Lincoln Avenue! This is a really exciting and HUGE first step. During this process, the community was engaged in the planning phase which came up with general design of what the street is going to look like. It incorporates green infrastructure, safety improvements, and general opportunities to improve the usability of the sidewalks as you stroll down Lincoln Ave. I will give a lot of credit to our council, while there have been hiccups in the process (search The Citizen website for the articles on the bump-out’s) , to keeping this project moving forward, even if it felt painful at times.

One very important note!!! Just making the street beautiful will not ensure the success of our businesses and the business district. So while we may be revitalizing the business district we still need to have a vision (hence the title Re-Vision-alization). For this…we must rely on our business district leaders to set forth a vision and in that vision we must ensure that our local governments embrace it and ensure that any roadblocks to their success are removed to make it as easy as possible.

Before I get too far into it, I am going to apologize for diving down a little into the weeds of the business realm. Most people find this sort of information dry and boring and may actually take a nap halfway through this; however this could potentially be the most important area of focus when ensuring the growth of our communities.

So listen up Bellevue, Avalon, and Ben Avon business owners and North Suburban Chamber of Commerce….what is our vision? How are we going to come up with a vision? What is important to developing that vision? After reading what the group came up with 5 years ago…here is how I think we can start making progress!

1. Understand the market!

Do we know what our target market looks like in this area? What businesses do we currently have in the Tri-Boroughs? Where are they located? We need to understand the makeup of the community and the greater area so that we can understand what we need to do to not only keep our local residents coming through the door, but in order to grow, what more we can do to attract residents of the greater Pittsburgh area to want to come here.

We do need to understand what our opportunities are. To do this, we should breakdown a listing of all of businesses by sector. How many restaurants do we have? Arts and Entertainment? Retail? Services?

Let’s get some demographics down on paper and map out our businesses. The other part to understanding the market that is critical is to understand the demographics of the areas so that we can understand the spending potential in the area.  I know this can sound a little bit tricky but, I believe that the BDAC committee, about 2 years ago, actually did all of this work! Let’s talk to them and see where we can avoid having to do some extra work.

We also need to get out there and talk to the business owners. By inviting our business owners to share information regarding their perspectives on the current and future economic health of the business district and what their individual needs are and where they see opportunities, we can develop the information that we need to support initiatives around business retention and expansion initiatives.

Once we understand things a little better we are well on our way to developing a plan.

2. What do the customers want?

If we are going to understand the business point of view, we also should understand our consumers! A well thought out consumer survey should be put together and we should engage our businesses customers and residents in getting this information.

I really cannot count the number of times I have heard people say, “Someone should reach out to the community to see what they want! Ask them what they like and what is missing.” If you are one of those people, then I have a question for you. Why don’t you do it?!? As a community, we are always looking for people to become engaged and help out. I am sure our chamber would love to have a volunteer to help them go down this path.  The people involved in the chamber have lives that are just as busy as everyone else. The more people we can engage to volunteer, the less work there is for everyone involved. If you are interested in helping with this I encourage you to reach out to them, or comment on our page or send me a private message and I will personally connect you those that would love your help!

These are all critical things to know.  When a new entrepreneur engages a real estate agent to find a new place for their business, wouldn’t it be great if that real estate agent said…”Hey I heard that Bellevue, Avalon, and Ben Avon are looking for a place like that” and bring that person to view our selection of real estate options.

3. Marketing & Communication

The other major thing we need to work on is development of a marketing plan for Bellevue. This has been done a number of times in other communities around Pittsburgh. Did you know that the Butler County Community Development Corporation was named the “Number 1 Small Economic Development Agency in Pennsylvania”? Did you know that they have experienced 4.5% job growth and ranked #6 in the nation in this category?! Sure we don’t have the land to experience that type of expansion but I am sure they would be able to tell us where we should start, what roadblocks they encountered and how they overcame some of their struggles. I am sure some conversations with them would be extremely beneficial to us here in the Tri-Boroughs. The only way that Butler County could have been this successful is with a strong marketing plan to attract businesses to the area.

In order to put this marketing plan together, not only do we need all of the information listed above, but we also need to decide what niche the Tri-Boroughs can fulfill and we don’t need to pick just one. The key is to develop your identity to attract multiple different kinds of business that all target the same consumer segments.

I think the message we want to send was already stated in the 2008 mission statement:

Bellevue will leverage its unique small town ambience and city proximity by bridging tradition and progressiveness to be the community of choice in the Pittsburgh Metropolitan area.

We should be the community of choice for residents…as well as businesses!! I think that the motto that is used by the community group BIGr (Bellevue Initiative for Growth and Revitalization) sums it up perfectly!

Bellevue: Possibility everywhere you look!

Let’s get our message out there and get everyone lined up in support of it!

So where do we go from here? How do we do this? How much work is involved? Who takes the lead?

These are the questions that start swirling around in everyone’s head. They start feeling overwhelmed and before too long nothing gets done. I have seen this happen with tons of volunteer groups in Bellevue and am certain that other communities with no direction have experienced that same thing.

To stick my neck out a little bit, I am going to call on our Chamber of Commerce to try and recruit more business owners in the Tri Boroughs area, and start the conversation off, using my plan outlined in step 1.

All good business people are in it to make money. By working together we can all make more! Should the council be involved? I would think that a few members of council should be involved in these conversations. BUT….they should be there to listen…not to dictate. They need to hear what the businesses need and ensure that whatever roadblocks there are, are moved out of their way. They need to embrace the direction that the Chamber wants to go and be there to support them.

I have heard a number of times that the council is not responsible for the success or failure of businesses in our area and generally speaking this is correct. But it is up to our town councils to ensure that there is an environment that allows us to compete and succeed.

A lot of folks will look at this and say but what does it mean to the residents of our community? To summarize it, this is what we are looking at…(from a very high level!)

A more successful business district means more people from our community and outside of our community come here to spend money!

More money into our businesses means more tax dollars generated.

More desire to come to our communities means property values start to increase.

These are the main things that are holding our local governments back from taking bigger strides forward with respect to maintaining the infrastructure of our communities and this also includes our school district!!

This is where we will succeed or fail. I hope we can all come together and push forward in the right direction.

Thanks for reading and please leave some comments regarding what you want to see happen in our communities! There is no reason we can’t start those lists of wants and needs right now.

One more thing….to add a little suspense….I have a very creative idea (meaning – I stole it from another community) that would push more people to shop local and reduce your property taxes at the same time!! Stay tuned to the next blog if you want to know what it is!!

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3 Responses to “A Vision for Bellevue, Part 2: Business District Re-Vision-alization, by Mark Robinson”

  1. Mark, I really appreciate your efforts and enthusiasm. It’s a great start to what is desperately needed in our communities. Let me say that the first thing that is needed are investors that can buy and rebuild multiple properties in a coordinated effort to attract businesses including local and regional chains. The installation of lamp posts and planters and new trash cans has been done so many times and has never worked. Many communities have died with brand new brick sidewalks. There needs to be an effort much like Lawrenceville and South Side Works have had in order to jump start an entire community. Also, I’m just going to go nuts and say a dirty word. Alcohol. There I said it.

  2. You said the magic word, Mike. Alcohol! Your cigar is on the way. And I’ll say another dirty word (well, two in fact). Roosevelt democrats! They’re out there still, they always vote and they would vote for Charles Manson if he had a D beside his name on the ballot. It’s not that all democrats are bad it’s just that all bad politicos are usually democrats (eg., see Pennsylvania/politicians/prison inmates).
    What we really need in this community is a council with a laissez faire attitude regarding business. Let the experts (the business owners) determine and develop what’s best for the business community not some chucklehead with no education or active successful (successful in bold font and underlined) participation in a business. The last thing we need and have needed for many years is some self important clueless individual or individuals that won a popularity contest to be calling all of the shots.

  3. Hi Mike,
    Thanks for taking the time to read the blog and providing your encouragement! I have seen multiple times where buildings have been purchased in Bellevue with a plan in mind only to see those plans fall through. You are right we do need investment in our facilities in order attract more businesses to our area. I do believe however that we need to show ourselves as a community with a vision and a plan to make it happen before we get those investors in here. Without that plan, we are risky investment at best!

    Also, on the alcohol front, you aren’t the first that has brought that up to me today but I will give my thoughts here on why it wasn’t included in the blog. I know that it is a hot button issue in our community. I know that it cannot be brought to the ballot again as a referendum question again for at least another year or two. So for the perspective from which the blog was written, I was dealing with the here and now.

    Regardless of where I stand on that issue, we still need to do something. Should we have conversations about it right now?…that’s what I am on the fence about. As a community we have a lot of healing that needs done first before that conversation can take place again. In no way am I trying to stall the issue as I do understand its importance to a business district and the life it can breathe into a revitalization effort, I’m just saying that I think we should table it for now, and get the ball rolling first 🙂

    Thanks
    Mark R.

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