There are thousands of buildings in America’s downtowns with vacant upper floors. These spaces have a central location, high visibility, unique architectural elements, complete community infrastructure, and are prime candidates for redevelopment. UpstairsDowntown is an award-winning initiative created to help owners reclaim and reuse these vacant upper floors, and turn them into income-producing assets.
The UpstairsDowntown training program was developed by Dan Carmody and Mike Jackson for the Illinois State Main Street Conference in 2005. The conference was held in Rock Island where Carmody led a community-based development non-profit that had developed deep capacity to build innovative forms of housing. Jackson, from his position of Illinois State Architect saw the need to help smaller property owners tackle the buildings that were too small for developers to transform into the kind of housing that was beginning to drive demand in communities across the country. It the time since 2005 downtown housing has become main stream but there remains a need for communities to help in the renovation of the smaller buildings that often provide the most historical character. UpstairsDowntown is designed for those Main Street stakeholders who are not full time real estate developers that collectively seek to add value and build economic vibrancy by making smaller historic buildings more viable.
What the Program has Achieved
- The community of Rock Island, IL, was the starting point for Upstairs Downtown. This community, with inspired leadership from the non-profit, city, and business sector, has developed more than a dozen different major mixed-use projects since 2000 that has added nearly 250 housing units and nearly 100,000 square feet of commercial space in their downtown, in a city of under 40,000. In addition, Rock Island assisted smaller property owners by providing forgivable loans funded by their Tax Increment Finance District (TIF) which helped create another 30 units in increments of five or fewer.
- The Upstairs Downtown program has been showcased at three Town Meetings of the National Main Street Center. This training program has been hosted by state-wide and local Main Street organizations in Arkansas, Connecticut, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Texas, Oregon, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin.
- The success of this program is measured in terms of community capacity. This program enables local leaders to comprehend the complexity or real estate development as it applies to the small-scale properties along America’s Main Streets. This program is not aimed at "professional" developers but rather small building owners and local community leaders looking to improve main street one story at a time..