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Understanding Strategies and Tactics in Commercial Corridor Revitalization.

Dyste, Diana Catherine Dyste.

Selby Avenue was developed in the late 19th century as a bustling commercial route extending west from downtown St. Paul. Its development was in conjunction with the expansion of transportation routes, which both facilitated, and was facilitated by, population growth and suburbanization. At one point, Dale Street was the western most point of development along the avenue, but over time, the commercial route extended past Dale, serving the neighborhoods’ needs both commercially and residentially. The onset of the World Wars and the Great Depression produced regional disinvestment, at which point the neighborhood began to decline.

At this point, urban environments across the United States were experiencing similar declines. In response, federal urban renewal policies and practices of the mid-­‐twentieth century left the physical and social environments altered by governmental action and inaction. Most influential of the governmental policies that affected communities in the mid-­‐century were the Housing Act of 1949 and the Federal-­‐Aid Highway Act of 1956.1 The results of these policies maintained longstanding impacts on urban and suburban environments throughout the United States. Population and demographic changes and vacant lands are examples of specific results of these policies that can be seen along Selby Avenue.

Because of the affects and influences of these policies on the social and built environments, Selby Avenue faced dueling characteristics east and west of Dale Street. This dichotomy is now being examined in order to create a custom and contextually appropriate revitalization strategy for the avenue west of Dale. Revitalization strategies along Selby Avenue are not a new concept, but previous plans in the 1970s focused on the avenue east of Dale through historic designation and physical rehabilitation projects. Thanks to these efforts, the avenue east of Dale continues to date as a stable, mixed-­‐use environment of commercial and residential life. Unfortunately, these rehabilitation and revitalization plans excluded Selby west of Dale, where the region continues to claim many vacant lots, residences, and storefronts. It is because of this historical context and resulting state of the avenue that contemporary revitalization strategies are being researched and applied. By interpreting the past, it is understood that these contemporary projects must focus on equitable, grassroots preservation and redevelopment strategies.

It was with focus on these objectives that in 2010, the Selby Avenue Action Coalition (SAAC), a diverse group of neighborhood stakeholders, came together to find ways to inspire enterprise and investment on nine underutilized blocks of Selby Avenue. The mission of SAAC is “to implement targeted actions that support, guide and enhance the revitalization of Selby Avenue between Dale Street and Lexington Parkway.” The organization seeks to achieve this mission through the following three goals:

  • Reduce the number of persistently underutilized, blighted and vacant properties
  • Increase visitor-­‐ship and pedestrian traffic
  • Build community capacity to grow, nourish and replenish Black enterprise and workforce

By focusing on action plans related to community, economic, and cultural development, SAAC works on projects that either close gaps or strengthen existing agendas that:

  • Brand the neighborhood
  • Market the street to visitors
  • Rehab buildings and beautify the landscape
  • Fill in vacant plots with more constructive uses
  • Recruit and retain disadvantaged business enterprise
  • Complete destinations along the street

The goal of this CURA Report is to become acquainted with, and aid in the understanding of, strategies, tools, and tactics of commercial corridor and neighborhood revitalization. The report analyzes theories and contemporary examples of revitalization projects with focus on grassroots efforts and includes a look into the organizational structures and strategic planning behind the movements. The objectives of the research are:

  • Summarize both foundational and contemporary literature on general strategies, practices, and tools used to advance corridor revitalization
  • Identify successfully revitalized commercial corridors similar to Selby Avenue

While SAAC’s main objective is to encourage commercial enterprise along the avenue, the organization seeks to do so while leveraging cultural assets. The avenue is located within an African American community, many of the residents having relocated from the historic Rondo community through which Interstate 94 now runs. Because of the organization’s interest in focusing on minority run businesses and the aligned African American Heritage Corridor project, the literature review focuses not only on revitalization theories, but also includes research on the importance of social capital, public participation in planning processes, concepts of cultural economic development, and specific projects centered within African American or minority communities.

The final report begins with a brief background and explanation for the current state of Selby Avenue as a means of providing context for the literature review and case studies. The research focuses on the collaboration between commercial corridor and neighborhood revitalization with focus on cultural heritage. The information for the report is gathered from an extensive review of published journal articles, news articles, governmental and organization documents, along with website and non-­‐published documents. Case study “best practices” are presented to extract key findings appropriate for replication. The CURA Report will be used directly to inform and shape the activities outlined in SAAC’s Action Plan (October 2011) for the corridor, and will aid in the drafting of its extension document, the SAAC Commercial Corridor Visioning or Strategic Plan (projected Spring 2013).

Based on the literature review and case study research, it became apparent that there are many different modes of development, all of which are highly connected. Unfortunately, these approaches are often discussed and conceptualized separately. Typical academics and literature often separate concepts and strategies between economic, community, and cultural development. Uniquely, the SAAC commercial corridor revitalization project seeks to incorporate numerous aspects of development in their revitalization project, including economic, cultural, and social. Although the goals and strategies of revitalization for each project differs based on its individual context, the report is intended to act as a resource to guide stakeholders to sources and provide recommendations that will aid in creating a unique and tailored Selby Avenue commercial corridor revitalization project. The report presents research on the use of these strategies and techniques in projects outside of the Twin Cities to encourage economic investment while leveraging cultural assets. Although each source and project differs, the following general strategies have proven to create the strongest revitalization techniques:

  • Identify and Map Community Assets
  • Include Community Input and Public Participation in Planning Processes
  • Create Strategic Partnerships
  • Understand and Adhere to Governmental Policies
  • Incorporate Cultural Economic Development/Progressive Cultural Development
  • Create Designated Zones or Districts, including Cultural Heritage Corridors, Business Improvement Districts, etc.
  • Strategically Plan and Compose Organizational Documents


Publication date: 
Conducted on behalf of Selby Avenue Access Coalition. Supported by the Kris Nelson Community-Based Research Program, a program of the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) at the University of Minnesota.
46 pp.
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