South Street Headhouse District (SSHD) has a big job. This business improvement district serves South Street, Headhouse Square, Bainbridge, and Fabric Row by complementing basic city services with business development, marketing and events, cleaning and greening, and capital improvements. Elena Brennan, President of SSHD, says, “Each part of the District has a distinct character. Our job is to promote the entirety of the area and all its diversity.”
Lately, SSHD has turned its attention to 4th Street Fabric Row. Long the region’s sweet spot for fabric and sewing notions, 4th Street has seen a surge in locally-grown, indie retailers. Elena is one of them. She is the owner of Bus Stop, a boutique shoe store and has been on Fabric Row for 9 years now. “I chose Fabric Row. I saw a lot of potential there. The fabric shop owners welcomed me with open arms.” Demand is strong for retail leases on Fabric Row. But public investment was needed for 4th Street to reach its full potential.
“When I came on board,” says Mike Harris, Executive Director of SSHD, “4th Street merchants had not received the benefits of the district.”“The businesses wanted lights!” says Elena, “That’s been on people’s wish list for many years. It looked like a ghost town after dark.” Mike concurs, “”Lights were their #1 priority… Businesses would leave their lights on after business hours to compensate. Businesses were investing via their electric bills to make the street look good.” SSHD needed to invest too.
“The businesses wanted lights! That’s been on people’s wish list for many years. It looked like a ghost town after dark.”
“Our budget was tight,” says Mike. “We didn’t have the dollars to hire, especially not knowing if we had city funding for the project.” So SSHD came to the Collaborative for a preliminary design.
A key part of the design process was a community task force that brought everyone with a stake in 4th Street together. In particular, the task force brought the ultimate funders to the table—a good thing, according to Mike. “I wanted to get them excited about us.” Participants included 4th Street merchants old and new, SSHD board members, the Commerce Department, and Councilman Mark Squilla.
“Just starting the project got people thinking,” says Mike. “We focused on things that we could do. We didn’t want a study on a shelf.” The Collaborative’s volunteer team put together a conceptual plan that includes pedestrian lighting, patterned crosswalks, sidewalk bump outs, street trees, planters, street furniture, ideas for using old cast iron trolley line poles for public art, and prototypes for storefront façade improvements.
“Just starting the project got people thinking. We focused on things that we could do. We didn’t want a study on a shelf.”
Through its partnership with the Collaborative, “We created an awareness of 4th Street’s goals, and we had a plan to shop around,” says Mike. “The cost estimate was especially useful. It gave us a magnitude of potential cost to make the case for capital funding”
SSHD used the Collaborative’s conceptual plan to secure $1.3 million in funding for pedestrian lighting for 7 blocks, decorative crosswalks, and 14 flowering cherry trees. Funding primarily came from the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative—a bond issued by the Street administration and slated to expire in January 2016.
The project was done at warp speed—starting in November 2015 and ending with a lighting ceremony on February 8, 2016. ”The stars aligned with funding, an experienced team (Urban Engineers, Seravalli, Inc., and Carr and Duff, Inc.), and amazing weather,” says Mike. “It just furthers 4th Street’s economic development. The new lighting allows people on South Street to see that there are more businesses down here. It has elevated the mood on the street.” Next, SSHD and 4th Street fabric Row will pursue planters and street furniture to complete the new look.
"The new lighting allows people on South Street to see that there are more businesses down here. It has elevated the mood on the street.”