What is the first thing you notice when you visit a commercial district? Storefronts and buildings probably make that list. Great storefronts are critical to a vibrant street environment. They engage passersby and contribute to active street life. Not surprisingly, façade improvement programs have become a common and effective tool in many commercial district revitalization efforts.
Yet many facade programs go wrong quite quickly. Without design guidance, the “after” might not look much better than the “before”, and resources spent will have less impact than you might like. Unfortunately, overcoming this issue can be a challenge. Many BIDS, BIAs or CDCs working to revitalize low-income or distressed corridors do not have the budget to engage a retail designer to help prepare and review façade improvement applications. Even when they do, this person is often not a retail design expert.
With that in mind, we thought it would be helpful to share some of our own insights as they relate to the key takeaways from a wonderful new publication entitled, Laying the Groundwork:Design Guidelines for Retail and Other Ground-Floor Uses in Mixed-UseAffordable Housing Developments, prepared by the Design Trust for Public Space in partnership with the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development. The publication is the result of extensive research and collaboration from a broad range of design and retail experts – including our own Principal, Larisa Ortiz – who served on the advisory panel. It is available for purchase on the Design Trust website.
While the report outlines best practices and provides practical guidance for those building new retail space in mixed-use buildings, we think it also provides excellent insight for those looking to develop facade improvement programs. A good facade improvement program not only impacts the overall look and feel of the district, but if done with certain principles in mind, can help businesses achieve higher sales. Incorporating these concepts into your facade program design will help ensure that the program meets the objectives of your district stakeholders as well as the businesses themselves.
So keep in mind the following key principles as you design your facade improvement program….
1. Maintain Transparency
In many urban districts, retailers (even after a façade improvement program) cover their windows with sales posters and signs. Store-owners want to attract customers with these signs but in doing so they block visual connection between inside and outside and often create an uninviting storefront. A customer who can’t see inside a business is highly unlikely to walk inside.
One way to keep the façade transparent and place signs at the lower (or upper) section of the storefront, immediate below (or above) eye-level.
In order to guarantee full transparency, facade improvement programs should add a clause requiring windows to be kept free (or with minimal) signage and that product display should not block vision to the store’s interior. In fact, the minimum of 70% transparency recommendation does not refer only to the substantial presence of store windows, but that these windows be kept fully transparent.
Exterior illumination provides light on the sidewalk and highlights the facade at night. Exterior lighting can also be used to accent trees and planting. An active, well-illuminated street frontage improves safety for retailers, residents, and the district. It also reduces the need for security gates by creating a safer street front.
One important consideration is the relationship between lighting and store signage. Both should be coordinated and the new façade design should minimize lighting presence above the sign, especially if the units above are residential.
An active, well-illuminated street frontage improves safety for retailers, residents, and the district. It also reduces the need for security gates by creating a safer street front. Ideally, security gates should not be allowed in retail spaces under lease agreements. There are many other ways to provide security, including security systems with video, sensors, alarms, etc.