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News & Notes

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Bloomberg: Icahn Urges Family Dollar CEO to Seek Sale ‘Immediately’

The retailer has been struggling to compete with rival discounters, drugstores and big-box retailers such as Target Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. To combat slumping sales, Family Dollar embarked on a review of its business this year. As part of its turnaround plan, the company is closing about 370 underperforming stores and opening fewer new ones. It’s also lowering prices in a bid to entice shoppers.

‘Consistently Underperformed’

Family Dollar has “consistently underperformed its peers” in same-store sales, total revenue growth, sales per store, sales per square foot, operating margins and capital-structure efficiency, Icahn wrote in the letter, which opened by remarking on the “cordial nature” of the previous night’s discussion.

Meanwhile, in Providence we’re throwing out our zoning regulations to accomodate the “proven business model” of this “consistently underperforming” retailer. Olneyville risks ending up with an empty big box more craptacular than the building that was torn down to make way for it.

Providence Business News: Solomon proposes citywide 15-year tax stabilization plan

“I want to send a loud and clear message to the development community that Providence is open for business,” Solomon said in the news release. “If we don’t bring certainty to this process we are losing a once in a lifetime opportunity to grow our tax base, grow our population and create much needed jobs. I plan to reach out to the developers who have expressed frustration with the process to assure them my plan will remove the politics and uncertainty that has plagued this city for far too long.”

The new system would be based on recommendations issued earlier this year by an economic development task force formed by the city council partly in response to the continued vacancy of the Industrial Trust building.

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WPRI: Family Dollar to cut jobs, close 370 stores

Family Dollar said Thursday that will cut jobs and close about 370 underperforming stores as it tries to reverse sagging sales and earnings. The discount store operator will also permanently lower prices on about 1,000 basic items.

Family Dollar reported that net income dropped to $90.9 million, or 80 cents per share, from $140.1 million, or $1.21 per share, a year earlier. Revenue fell to $2.72 billion from $2.89 billion. Analysts surveyed by FactSet expected earnings of 90 cents per share on revenue of $2.77 billion.

Revenue at stores open at least a year dropped 3.8 percent, worse than the 2.8 percent drop it had in the fourth quarter.

However, Family Dollar representatives told the City Plan Commission in January that they had a proven business model that mandated streetfront parking relative to their proposed store in Olneyville.

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PBN: City again tackles rezoning

Providence will try again this year to drag its zoning code into the 21st century.

Like many other communities across the country, Rhode Island’s capital hopes to remove barriers to urban growth within its 1950s-era, land-use regulations and this month begins a citywide public process to rewrite them.

The last time Providence tried a comprehensive zoning rewrite, in the midst of a building boom in 2005, the effort met community resistance and was drastically scaled back.

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Where Would Jesus Park?

WPRI: Store’s opening squashed by judge

Federal Hill and West Side friends and neighbors rallied on Sunday morning in support of Cluck!, an urban farm supply store that is trying to open at the site of a former gas station on Broadway.

The business was approved by Zoning to open but was challenged in court on a technicality and lost, forcing owner Drake Patten to begin the Zoning process from scratch. Read Drake’s commentary on what has happened.

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News & Notes

Dunsmuir Separated Bike Lanes 462

Protected bike lane in Vancouver, Canada. Photo (cc) Paul Krueger

USA Today: More small towns thinking big

These small but growing towns are applying some of the most forward-thinking planning tenets to create true downtowns, arts districts and new traffic patterns that alleviate congestion and encourage walking. They’re changing zoning to build city-style condos and apartments above stores. And they’re getting away from big parking lots and strip malls by putting parking underground and behind stores. Often, the downtowns are created around a new city hall, transit stations, arts center — or all three.

“We’ve got to start designing our cities for people first and automobiles second,” says Carmel Mayor James Brainard, a lawyer who picked up some European design sensibilities while studying in England.


American Planning Association: Milwaukee’s transit debate: Streetcar desire vs. disaster

Mayor Tom Barrett is the prime mover behind Milwaukee’s plan to build a brand-new streetcar system. Bright, modern vehicles would traverse a two-mile route through the city’s East Side, downtown and historic Third Ward, a former warehouse area now popular for its shops and restaurants.

Barrett believes flashy streetcars can revitalize Milwaukee’s city front and points to the popularity of the 10-year-old system in Portland, Ore. Today’s streetcars, Barrett says, are more about attracting attention than providing transportation.

“I look at this as an economic development tool,” Barrett told the Tribune. “Look at Portland. That system has aided in spurring development and growth, which is what all communities are looking for now.”


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Link

Boston.com: Innovation fellows to get $300K for RI projects

Allan Tear, co-founder of Betaspring, an incubator program that helps high-tech entrepreneurs turn their ideas into companies, aims to create a “start-up revolution” in areas including art and design and food and beverage that he says are founts of largely untapped economic potential.

Soren Ryherd, whose Providence company Working Planet helps businesses maximize profit through online marketing, plans to launch dozens of retail stores online — with the goal of eventually moving some into empty storefronts to help revitalize Main Streets and neighborhoods.

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The Rant

Angelo's

Angelo’s on Atwells, a business that obviously wants customers.

I’ve been mini-ranting here and there in posts and comments, but allow me to just devote one post to this, and as we do every year, let’s talk it out.

There’s something that I really don’t understand about clearing sidewalks. I can see that some residents are selfish, shovel a path to their car and everyone else be damned. I don’t like it but I understand that some people have no civic pride or common decency, and since their is no action from the City, I understand that those people simply don’t shovel and seemingly don’t care.

What I don’t understand is businesses. What goes on in your brain when you go to your business, unlock your door, turn on the lights, and wait behind your cash register for customers, but don’t shovel? Even if 100% of your customers arrive by car (which does not happen anywhere in Providence), those people still need to get from their cars to your cash register.

Yes, civic pride and common decency may be gone, but in a massive recession simple customer service is out the window too? That photo at the top, that is Angelo’s on Atwells Avenue. That was yesterday morning, they weren’t even open yet, but their sidewalk was clear. They have civic pride obviously, but they also know, even if they are not open, their customers and potential customers are walking by, so they clear their sidewalks.

There’s a couple other businesses on the Hill that are really good at shoveling, Chef Ho’s is notable for their snow removal as well. And both Chef Ho’s and Angelo’s keep this up all year. While the rest of Federal Hill is a trash pit, Angelo’s sidewalks are always swept and clear of debris, they care for the street trees adjacent to their property, they hang lights during the holidays, plant flowers, they hose off puke…

I simply cannot wrap my brain around why more businesses don’t have Angelo’s attitude.

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News & Notes

Okay, Fine, It’s War [The Stranger]

For cars we have paved our forests, spanned our lakes, and burrowed under our cities. Yet drivers throw tantrums at the painting of a mere bicycle lane on the street. They balk at the mere suggestion of hiking a car-tab fee, raising the gas tax, or tolling to help pay for their insatiable demands, even as downtrodden transit riders have seen fares rise 80 percent over four years.

No more! We demand that car drivers pay their own way, bearing the full cost of the automobile-petroleum-industrial complex that has depleted our environment, strangled our cities, and drawn our nation into foreign wars. Reinstate the progressive motor vehicle excise tax, hike the gas tax, and toll every freeway, bridge, and neighborhood street until the true cost of driving lies as heavy and noxious as our smog-laden air. Our present system of hidden subsidies is the opiate of the car-driving masses; only when it is totally withdrawn will our road-building addiction finally be broken.


Urban Office Momentum [UrbanLand]

The U.S. office market has shifted its geographic momentum this year, with central business districts (CBDs) and popular urban corridors recovering better than suburban markets. One significant sign of the improving health of CBDs has been a notable increase in corporations migrating from outlying suburbs to downtown or urban locations.

So far this year, major suburban-to-urban office relocations have been announced or are being contemplated in such varied markets as Chicago, Detroit, and Las Vegas, among other places.


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Parking is hard

Parking Lot District

Providence’s Parking Lot District. Image from Bing Maps.

On Sunday, The Providence Journal had a story titled Developer who would head Rhode Island’s Route 195 panel relishes a challenge. That developer is Colin Kane, Governor Chafee’s nominee to chair the 195 Commission. On Saturday he introduced a panel discussion at the PPS Symposium.

As part of his remarks Kane stated that the Jewelry District and 195 land redevelopment would be “useless” without parking. The North Kingstown resident stated he only eats at Al Forno and Capital Grill when he comes to Providence because both restaurants have parking. If he tries to go elsewhere he is stuck “doing the loop” searching for parking. Apparently, parking is too much of a challenge”¦

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Hasbro to expand to LaSalle Square

15 LaSalle Square in Providence

Image from Google Street View

Channel 10 is reporting that Hasbro will announce today their expansion to 15 LaSalle Square in Providence. The property was vacated by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island when they move to their new headquarters are Waterplace.

A 3pm news conference with the Mayor of Providence, the Governor, and representatives from Hasbro is said to be scheduled at LaSalle Square.

Hasbro announced several months ago the expansion into Providence as the company set to move workers from Massachusetts and add more workers to the division settling in the capital city. They had made no official announcement of where in Providence they planned to settle, though rumors were pretty heavy about the LaSalle Square location.

The new location at the end of Empire Street creates a mini-Gaming District in Providence with Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios being located in another former BCBS RI building down a block away.

Hasbro will maintain its corporate headquarters in Pawtucket.

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News & Notes

From Here to There: A Creative Guide to Making Public Transport the Way to Go [Embarq]

Major automobile companies spend billions of dollars annually to advertise their products to customers. In 2009, General Motors alone spent $3.2 billion on advertising campaigns and overall marketing efforts for their products. Major auto companies collectively spent $21 billion worldwide and it looks like their investments are working. The number of private vehicles in Brazil more than doubled in less than a decade — 1.2 million in 2001 to 2.6 million in 2010. India experienced a 20-fold increase in the number of private motor vehicles in the last decade.

Such overwhelming statistics in favor of private vehicles, backed by billion dollar investments in advertising campaigns, point to the urgency with which public transport must catch-up in this competitive marketplace. Often times, so much energy is focused on the technical and financial aspects of getting public transit projects off the ground that branding and marketing become an afterthought.

In an attempt to give public transport a competitive edge, EMBARQ released a report on marketing and branding public transport.


Great places: smart density as part of economic flourishing [Grist]

Done right, density can be an engine of prosperity. Business executives should love great places just as much as hippies like me do.

Here’s the basic idea: When smart, skilled people start to gather in a place, the process becomes self-perpetuating. More smart, skilled people show up to be near the others. And the more smart, skilled people you get close together, the more you reduce transaction costs and increase “knowledge spillover,” which leads to commerce and innovation.


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News & Notes

Actually, Highway Builders, Roads Don’t Pay For Themselves [DC.Streetsblog]

You’ve heard it a thousand times from the highway lobby: Roads pay for themselves through “user fees” — a.k.a. gas taxes and tolls — whereas transit is a drain on the taxpayer. They use this argument to push for new roads, instead of transit, as fiscally prudent investments.

The myth of the self-financed road meets its match today in the form of a new report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group: “Do Roads Pay For Themselves?” The answer is a resounding “no.” All told, the authors calculate that road construction has sucked $600 billion out of America’s public purse since the dawn of the interstate system.

Pedestrian-Only Shopping Streets Make Communities More Livable [Planetizen]

Pedestrian-oriented shopping streets can be key to making communities more livable, particularly when they are well designed, managed and strategically connected to networks of public transit, pedestrian paths and bike routes, says planning consultant Luis Rodriguez.

Smaller Cities Becoming Hotbeds for High-Tech Growth [Area Development]

By utilizing the strengths of existing business as well as government and academia, smaller cities are becoming hotbeds for the biotech, IT, renewable energy technologies, aerospace/defense, digital media, and a host of other high-tech endeavors.

Editor’s Choice: The Ten Best Opinion Pieces of 2010 [Next American City]

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News & Notes

Mass. Senate approves bill licensing 3 casinos [ProJo]
The bill includes an ammendment allowing Fall River to develop a casino on 300 acres of land at the northern edge of the city. Here in Rhode Island, Gordon Fox is making noise about calling back the Assembly to override the Governor’s veto of a casino ballot question.

Ximedica to expand HQ by 23,000 sq. ft. [PBN]

US Bicycle Route System begins connecting America [USDOT FastLane Blog]

Watery Future for the City of Light [New York Times]
French President and Paris Mayor at odds over closing 1.2 miles of expressway along the banks of the River Seine.

Readying Streetcar Plans, Cincinnati Considers Reducing Parking Requirements [The TransportPolitic]
“Cincinnati is thinking seriously about how to make its proposed streetcar system a vital element of a growing downtown, not simply a trophy piece to parade around in demonstration of its progress. The city’s Planning Commission has taken a major step in that direction by signaling its support last week to significantly reducing parking requirements in areas within two blocks of future streetcar stops.”

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Can I get there from here?

The ProJo recently covered the story of retailers feeling cut off by the reconfiguration of Route 195. On the old alignment of Route 195, Exit 2 went to Wickenden Street and the big green sign on the overpass said as much. Now, the eastbound exit which one would use to reach Wickenden is simply signed for India Point and Gano Street, much to the chagrin of business owners on Wickenden.

I hate that this is such an autocentric problem, but I’m sure it is true. When there is no Wickenden Street exit, people can’t find the street.

This video shows how to reach Wickenden and some of the shops on the street:

RIDOT is responding to the concerns of the business owners and plans to experiment with some signage for Wickenden Street. RIDOT will look into placing smaller signs on Route 195 alerting motorists to use the Gano Street exit to reach Wickenden. And on Route 195 Westbound, the new South Main Street exit will have Wickenden Street listed on the big green signs on Route 195.

This is indicative though of the city falling short when it comes to wayfinding. RIDOT can put all the signs they want on Route 195, but there needs to be better signage on city streets.

The sign above on Route 195 westbound is before the Washington Bridge. It tells drivers to use Exit 2 to reach Benefit Street, Brown, RISD, and Johnson & Wales. That exit leads you onto South Main Street so you will eventually arrive in the middle of RISD’s South Main campus area, but I challenge you to pretend you don’t know, and rely on signage to try to reach Benefit Street, Brown, and J&W from Exit 2.

Sitges, Spain
Sitges, Spain. Photo by Jef Nickerson

To make our city truly visitor friendly and to help customers reach business districts, Providence really needs to invest in a comprehensive wayfinding system.

Where’s Wickenden video via Providence Daily Dose

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