Monday, May 18, 2009

Ginsburg: Prepared for challenges, Downtown improves against benchmarks

Downtown Cincinnati Inc. (DCI) needs to continue "to provide core services with excellence," president and CEO David Ginsburg said during his keynote address at the non-profit's annual meeting last Thursday at The Cincinnati Club.

Saying that these are challenging times for Downtown, the City, the region, the nation, and the world, Ginsburg said that the organization is well-positioned to handle them.

"We are especially fortunate at Downtown Cincinnati Inc. to have a legacy of great leadership, passion, engagement and support from all of our public and private partners," he said.

Much of this can be attributed to the reinvigoration of new blood into DCI – almost everyone in attendance was not part of the organization when it was founded in 1994.

"Which means that we're engaging more people," Ginsburg says. "We're becoming more diverse. We're taking advantage of some of the wonderful gifts that we have at our reach."

Reports released

The meeting was an opportunity for DCI to deliver its 2008 Annual Report (PDF), highlighting its safe and clean services, communications and marketing, and stakeholder services; and its fifth consecutive State of Downtown report, highlighting the neighborhood's progress against several economic and quality-of-life benchmarks.

Key highlights of the reports, which also encompass the "CBD periphery" neighborhoods and sub-areas of Over-the-Rhine, Pendleton, City West, Betts-Longworth, Adams Landing, and Riverside Drive, include:

  • $36 million in completed construction and renovation projects, with approximately $926 million in projects expected to be completed within the next two years
  • A decrease in Class A office vacancy rates to 16.7 percent from 2007's 18 percent
  • The opening of 20 new retail, restaurant and entertainment establishments
  • The sale of 150 condominiums and single-family homes, bringing the population of Downtown and adjacent neighborhoods to 8,375
  • A $56 million economic impact from total room nights booked at Downtown hotels, an increase of $4 million over 2007
  • An increase in attendance at the City's theaters and museums
  • An 11.8 percent decrease in Part I crimes, the third double-digit percentage increase in a row
  • Competitive pricing and availability for Downtown parking, with an average monthly rate of just under $65

Constantly measuring against peers

Ginsburg spent much of his keynote address speaking about how DCI constantly measures Downtown's performance against its peers.

In January, Ginsburg says that he and 13 of his colleagues met informally in Tampa to discuss downtowns and the economic crisis, and came away with four important findings that will shape the work that DCI does in the next few years:
  • The global financial crisis is having an unsettling effect on America's downtowns, but downtowns may be better situated to handle the disruptions than the suburbs or the exurbs because of our diverse economy, density, appealing, walkable urbanity, and public transit
  • Downtowns have been adjusting to the global financial crisis by focusing and investing heavily on basic public services, by paring away ineffective programs and becoming more streamlined and efficient, and by counteracting the almost totally negative economic messages that are coming from the federal, state, and local governments
  • Although downtown organizations that have been indirectly involved with economic development, the global financial crisis could lead them more and more in that direction
  • In the global financial crisis, downtown organizations are more often being called upon to provide leadership for their communities, against a push of limited resources
"It's exciting to approach these challenges of the future with a board, staff, partners and friends like the family of Downtown Cincinnati Inc.," Ginsburg said.

City, county take notice

Representatives of City and county government have taken notice of DCI's positive momentum.

Hamilton County Commission president David Pepper made special note of a thirty-second television sport produced as part of the two-year, $1 million Life Happens Here Enhanced Marketing Program, saying that almost everything in the commercial is new.

"When you see that video and you realize just how many great things have happened," he said. "You see that video, you hear about all the activity…it really is amazing how different things feel downtown, how much life there is, all the new restaurants."

Coming back from a Reds game last year, Pepper was amazed to see Fountain Square packed with families watching The Karate Kid.

"Who would've thought that?" he said. "Five or six years ago, if you had told somebody that was going to happen, they wouldn't have believed you."

Cincinnati City Councilmember Roxanne Qualls said that demand for Downtown living was ramping up before the current economic downturn, and she fully expects for it to boom when the market recovers.

"I anticipate that, once we come out of this downturn, we will see a pent-up demand that will be both exciting and exhilarating, and also something that will confirm the faith that we've all had in the core city and downtown Cincinnati," she said.

Preliminary perceptions results in

Ginsburg also took the opportunity to share preliminary results from this year's Downtown Perceptions Survey.
"If you don't do perceptions, it almost doesn't matter what the reality is," Ginsburg said.

A total of 794 people took part in this year's survey, compared to 688 last year, with respondents generally finding Downtown "fun, genuine, and unique".

More people also consider Downtown for dining, shopping, and entertainment than they did a year ago.

"As a result, more people are visiting Downtown, those who visit are visiting more," Ginsburg said. "They're staying longer, and they're spending more."

Full survey results will be released later this month.

New board members elected

Nine members were elected to the DCI board: Deborah Dent, president and founder, Willow Creative Group; David Eshman, partner, Deloitte & Touche, LLP; Sallie Hilvers, chief administrative officer, Metro; Gwen Robinson, president and CEO, Community Action Agency; Brian Ross, chief operating officer, Cincinnati Bell, Inc.; Kevin Shibley, general manager, Saks Fifth Avenue; Jim Sluzewski, vice president, corporate communications and external affairs, Macy’s Inc.; Stephen Taylor, district manager and vice president, US Bank; Stanford T. Williams, Jr., vice president, economic inclusion, Messer Construction.

Downtown SID up for renewal

A petition to extend the DCID services plan through 2013 has been submitted to City council for approval.

The four-year plan and budget has attained more than the required 60 percent of the property owners with front footage along any real property subject to the special assessment.

Previous reading on BC:
Last days for Downtown Perceptions Survey (4/30/09)
DCI releases State of Downtown for second half of 2008 (3/23/09)
Downtown SID focus group this evening (6/25/08)
Downtown marketing campaign to be revealed Friday (6/18/08)