NEFA Award Recipient

New Haven, CT

Contact Name
Margaret Bodell
Project Dates
2010 - Present
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2011
Real Estate, Business Planning, Workforce Development
The Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) took note of the growing empty storefronts and seized the opportunity provided by this current economic downturn to imaginatively utilize existing their community resources by matching entrepreneurial artists, with collaborative property owners with vacant spaces, DCA sent out its first call to artists in to participate in a pilot program in March of 2010. The motivation for this project was to enhance the walkabilitiy of downtown and provide small business opportunities to the creative community. As a result a new network of budding businesses and creative exchanges take place daily and in the evenings 7 days a week. Many visitors travel to Project Storefronts as a destination on this previously less traveled street.
Project Goals
What were the project goals?
The Goals: To create visitor destinations in formerly empty spaces which drive new consumers into underutilized areas, increase foot traffic and business to not only these spaces but neighboring ones as well. To raise awareness of New Haven's different commercial districts and help promote spaces to potential long-term tenants which can eventually create jobs. To grow interest and awareness of New Haven's various design businesses and expand people's understanding and appreciation of various creative endeavors existent in our city to blossom and grow.
Have they changed over time?
The Goals have expanded the projects due to the success of the initial 90 days to further incorporate business development through collaborations with the Economic Development Corporation.
Who are the project partners and stakeholders?
Project Storefronts partners are the New Haven Economic Development Corporation, The City of New Haven Office of Economic Development, the City of New Haven Department of Cultural Affairs, Related Properties and the Project's participants.
Project Specifics
How was the project implemented? What were the steps taken?
Project implementation began with research into other efforts nationwide, talks with project coordinators, lawyers and insurance companies to structure the guidelines, terms and legal agreements. A call to artists and entrepreneurs was issued and with an invitation to attend a info session. Next steps where a long process of identifying available storefronts and negotiating with the owners. New Haven's project differs from most of the other storefront projects in the nation as it offers a real storefront business tryout for 90 days with possible extensions and small business support if the project is viable. Applications were reviewed by a jury of professionals and the small business staff of New Haven's Office of Economic Development. The selected projects moved in and built-out their space. An official launch of the Program took place in late summer 2010.
Have they been refined over time?
As Phase II approaches a tiered reporting and deliverable requirements for the projects has been implemented.
What were your major obstacles?
The nature of vacant real estate, getting a commitment from a Real Estate Company for more than a few weeks run. Planning the advance marketing of events can be tricky due to the pop up nature and the possibility of the space being rented. Another issue is the day time availability of project recipients who may have day time jobs and are required to hire staff for daytime hours. These start up businesses may also have challenges with cash flow for payroll for the first term.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
Building projects up together - allowing for group marketing and forming a destination
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
Suggestions are: To bundle up projects next to each other find a string of empty storefronts will allow the group marketing and forming the destination. Projects can aid each other in the efforts of developing customers. Have a lawyer look over all legal agreements, invest the city in the outreach and host as many info sessions in different part of town to reach the whole community. Keep a list of properties as back up in the event a store front gets rented.
Project Impact
How has this project contributed to creative community building?
The project has taken a formerly barren portion of a city block and transformed it into a brightly lit hub of creative growth and exchange for businesses as well as individuals attending creative workshops and co-workers at a new co-working site.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
Some of the Project Storefront businesses were able to refine and adapt business plans after trying out operating a full time business for over 120 days. Two of these businesses have become viable, one of which is in permanent leasing negotiations.
Were there unexpected impacts?
Project Storefronts has achieved goals far beyond those we set out to fulfill. The gelling of a creative community that is here to stay has taken root in the ninth square and the beginnings of new creative job creation is in formation.
CCX Workshop Handout