Niagara Gazette — Citizens, urban planning professionals and political leaders gathered at the Rapids Theatre on Main Street to listen to some folks with a great deal of experience in transforming urban environments.
The two planning professionals — Charles D’Aprix and Michael Lydon — were brought into town to speak as part of the Main Street Symposium, an all-day walking tour with lectures and conversation.
People came from around the region to discuss the once-bustling Main Street of the 1950s, filled with shops and entertainment spots that has since become a sleepy stretch of road plagued by vacancy and blight.
Most of the conversation — both from the lecturers and audience members — revolved around what could be done to bring life back tho Main Street and the city, with the often discussed causes of the downfall taking a back seat for the afternoon.
D’Aprix is an economic development specialist with three decades of experience and a knack for helping folks fill empty store front. He said the key to filling blighted areas with profitable businesses is creating an environment that fosters entrepreneurship.
“For economic development you don’t need a lot of money but you do need a hell of a lot of creativity,” he said.
And it’s important for municipalities to encourage people who want to start businesses and offer them a system of support. A key part of a successful effort to encourage entrepreneurship is setting up a centralized office in the target area with a qualified and competent staff — whether volunteer or paid — to offer advice and information to business start ups.
“You need a central location,” D’Aprix said.
The old model of economic development — chasing one company and trying to lure them to your town with incentives — is outdated D’Aprix said, and no longer works in today’s economy.