Chapter 9
Maintaining Downtowns
in Smaller Cities: Can
Little Brothers in the
Shadow of Larger Cities
Lead Revitalization Efforts
with Sports, Entertainment,
and the Arts?
9.1 Introduction: Economic Change in a Small City
e economic changes that transformed large metropolitan areas and their cen-
tral cities have also impacted smaller regions. As leadership in some smaller cities
focused on revitalization strategies, they usually encountered the additional chal-
lenge of more limited wealth that sometimes constrained options. Smaller cities are
less likely to be home to large community or private foundations that could make
investments in assets such as Clevelands Playhouse Square. Smaller communities
are also likely to be home to fewer large corporations. If one or more of these busi-
nesses moves to other regions, the economic eects are frequently devastating in
306Reversing Urban Decline
terms of the loss of jobs and the resulting depreciation in land values. Of equal
signicance, however, is the loss of executive talent, and that often means the avail-
ability of fewer people to work with public leaders and involve the private sector in
the design and implementation of a revitalization strategy. e loss of corporations
in smaller towns can also result in a shortage of leadership for positions on the
boards of arts and cultural organizations, weakening the ability of these institu-
tions to participate in redevelopment eorts. e loss of executive talent for these
organizations is often staggering when communities strive to maintain amenities
to underscore their attractiveness and potential as a location for new and expand-
ing businesses. If some of the arts and cultural organizations fail, then the ability
to attract other businesses is further constrained, as new businesses could fear that
the absence of amenities would reduce their ability to attract and retain the human
capital needed to be competitive and protable. e acquisition of local businesses
by out-of-town corporations can also reduce the availability of local executive tal-
ent to help a smaller city with its revitalization strategies. If a community is seen
as a place where younger executives stay for a short period of time before resuming
their climb on the parent company’s corporate ladder, they might be less likely to
participate in community building activities.
Smaller cities and regions also suer from the revitalization eorts undertaken
by nearby central cities seeking to revitalize their own downtown areas. In addi-
tion, the growth of suburban and exurban cities at the edge of larger metropolitan
areas means that there are areas of development seeking to oer some of the same
town center or downtown experiences that smaller cities might also try to oer. For
example, at the same time that Fort Wayne was focused on its downtown devel-
opment activities, Indianapolis, located 125 miles to the southwest, was advanc-
ing its own initiatives. Other cities in the greater metropolitan Indianapolis area,
Carmel and Noblesville, were also emphasizing new town centers. ese suburban
or exurban cities are located 115 and 105 miles from Fort Wayne. If that competi-
tion was not sucient, Muncie and Anderson, Indiana, 79 and 85 miles south
of Fort Wayne, were also trying to revitalize their core communities. Reading,
Pennsylvania, once a prototypical smaller city oering opportunities for quality
jobs and a small downtown city experience for its residents, is located 63 miles from
Philadelphia, 81 miles from Baltimore, and 56 miles from Wilmington, Delaware.
Each of those cities is engaged in extensive revitalization eorts. Reading has to
also compete with suburban cities such as King of Prussia and West Chester, as
well as other smaller cities, such as Hershey and Lancaster. Within this dynamic
environment of urban change and competition from larger and similar sized cities,
can a smaller city establish a niche for itself through a focus on sports, culture, and
entertainment amenities in a revitalized downtown? is chapter looks at some
of the eorts in two smaller cities and the outcomes within two very competitive
environments where several cities are engaged in revitalization eorts to attract
residents and businesses.

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