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Q&A with Tommy Pacello

Project Manager with the Mayor's Innovation Delivery Team

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Clean It. Activate It. Sustain It.

That's the simple formula the Mayor's Innovation Delivery Team has prescribed as the solution to boosting business in three neighborhoods — South Memphis, Binghampton, and the Madison/Cleveland corridor in Midtown.

Last week, the team announced the first three of nine initiatives aimed at helping new businesses get off the ground and existing businesses improve their operations. The team rolled out plans to retool the existing Renaissance Business Center on Beale to better meet the needs of modern businesses, launch a neighborhood strategy to attract retailers to the city core, and remove blight through the city's "25 Square" model of tackling weeds and trash block by block.

The Mayor's Innovation Delivery Team is funded by a Bloomberg Philanthropies grant, which paid for the development of the new business strategy, as well as initiatives announced last month to reduce gun crime. — Bianca Phillips

How were the neighborhoods chosen for this initiative?

Tommy Pacello: We looked for neighborhoods that had the greatest opportunity to become what we're calling urban magnets, places that really attract people. All of these neighborhoods were developed prior to World War II. They have compact block patterns and an architectural style that's different from the rest of the city. A place has to be lovable for you to get up and fight for it every day.

Explain "Clean it. Activate it. Sustain it."

"Clean It" is about getting rid of environmental barriers to development and investment. It's not just the city coming in and doing a clean sweep of blighted properties. It has to be about getting the community to take ownership of the blight conditions.

"Activate It" is the concept of short-term action, long-term change. What are the quick things you can do to shift the momentum of the neighborhoods? The perfect example of that is what you saw on Broad Avenue with "New Face for an Old Broad." One tactical urbanism project revitalized that entire street, and as a result, there's been $8 million investment in a three-block area in a down economy.

"Sustain It" are these deeper policy changes that have to take place at City Hall. You have to have the support network behind you to ensure that it's sustainable.

How important is community involvement?

This can't be a top-down approach. This has got to be community driven, first and foremost. That's what was successful about Broad. T Clifton Art Gallery and Splash Creative and the Cove took leadership, and as a result, we now have Victory Bicycle Studio and Muddy's Bake Shop and 3 Angels and the new bars that are popping up.

The thing about Broad is the city just stepped back and let it happen, and now we would like to nudge the civic groups and say, "We endorse this. Go and do these things."

The "25 Square" blight reduction strategy, which asks residents to identify properties that have blight and overgrowth issues, has been in place for over a year. Are you adding something new?

We're adding some community stewardship components as well as some other geeky, wonkish stuff, like web-based CRM programming. Director of Community Enhancement Onzie Horne is trying to get the neighborhoods involved by hiring residents to clean up properties, but we're adding some programming to ensure everything happens in order, like making sure the street sweeper doesn't come the day before the lots are scheduled to be mowed.

What's the neighborhood retail strategy?

The trends in retail are changing. Retailers are not looking to invest at the fringes of the city. They're beginning to backfill. It's ridiculous that I live downtown, and I have to drive to Poplar and I-240 for a pack of white T-shirts. You have to provide services in the core of the city. Step one is getting existing businesses up to speed, and step two is to fill in the gaps around them by attracting new retail to the neighborhoods.

What is the city planning to do with the Renaissance Business Center?

It's been around for about 12 years. The services it's providing are not well-known, and they're a little outmoded as far as what the needs are of modern entrepreneurs and small business owners. We're saying, "Let's relook, retool, revamp, and rebrand it to meet the needs of a modern business owner."

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