Downtown needs a management district

Mukang Cho is CEO of In-Rel Properties, a national real estate investment firm which owns Chase Tower in Lexington.
Mukang Cho is CEO of In-Rel Properties, a national real estate investment firm which owns Chase Tower in Lexington.

Before we make an investment, we spend a great deal of time studying the underpinnings of the market in which the property is located. A diversity of industries, a robust economy, population growth and a well-educated work force are some indicators we study. It's good business.

Lexington, which scored well in those categories, has made great strides in recent years with the downtown area. It's one of the main reasons that our company, In-Rel Properties, bought its first building in Kentucky and spent more than $13 million on the purchase and renovation of Chase Tower.

We believe good business is good for the community. But a good community is also good for business. To advance to that next level, Lexington must join other cities around the country that have already taken affirmative measures to create synergies between business and community. A good place to start is by developing a downtown management district. There are more than 1,200 management districts in cities across the country.

These districts charge a small annual assessment to property owners in exchange for augmenting public services and marketing efforts that benefit downtown. Studies show that downtown management districts can increase commercial property values, decrease property vacancies, drive investment in the area and bring more people — both residents and visitors — to downtown. For a central business district to be viable long term, it needs to be a place where people want to live, work and shop.

People like the convenience and amenities that come with suburban living — being able to go to a grocery store, hair salon or dry cleaners in just a few minutes. These amenities must be intact, along with plentiful housing stock and an ample amount of office space, in order for a downtown to work. A central business district must become its own self-sufficient ecosystem. This is where a downtown management district can help.

A carefully planned, balanced and staged downtown development is critical for long-term success. A downtown management district can make the urban core more attractive to visitors and residents alike through investments in infrastructure and public services.

It can augment city services, such as improving lighting to increase visibility at night, creating streetscape grant programs to incentivize public improvements and assisting in retail business recruitment and retention. This is a formula that works. We have seen this play out firsthand in the markets where we have a presence.

In downtown Tampa, for example, we purchased an iconic office building called Rivergate Tower in 2011. The building was developed by Hugh McColl, who would go on to build Bank of America. Our investment in Rivergate Tower, which earned us a nomination from the American Institute of Architects, was good for business and good for the community.

One of the principal factors that led to our investment in Rivergate Tower was the direction in which the downtown was headed. The look and feel of the central business district, with the aid of the Tampa Downtown Partnership, was beginning to improve.

The Downtown Partnership provides a variety of services to the city's residents and visitors. It collects more than 200 tons of trash a year, reports on safety and code violations, trains downtown guides to assist with restaurant suggestions and stranded motorists and bicyclists. These are only a few of the myriad services that make residents and visitors want to spend time and money in downtown Tampa.

Our Rivergate Tower, which languished half empty for years before we bought it, is now well occupied and home to many thriving businesses, from publicly traded companies to Florida's leading law firms and promising technology start-ups.

In-Rel Properties supports the creation of a downtown Lexington management district. It's what we need to take downtown Lexington to the next level.