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3p Weekend: 10 Companies Thriving in American Downtowns

Mary Mazzoni
| Friday May 2nd, 2014 | 1 Comment
Downtown Container Park, which includes this treehouse for kids, is one of many newly opened businesses in downtown Las Vegas spurred by a $350 million private fund.

Downtown Containerpark, which is made from shipping containers and includes this cool treehouse for kids, is one of many newly opened businesses in downtown Las Vegas spurred by a $350 million private fund.

With a busy week behind you and the weekend within reach, there’s no shame in taking things a bit easy on Friday afternoon. With this in mind, every Friday TriplePundit will give you a fun, easy read on a topic you care about. So, take a break from those endless email threads, and spend five minutes catching up on the latest trends in sustainability and business.

The migration of major companies from urban downtowns to surrounding suburbs has spanned decades. Across the U.S., commuters sit idly in traffic jams while cities become blighted by decreased business activity and population loss. But as more Americans move back to once-forgotten urban centers, top companies are doing the same — bolstering their bottom lines and revitalizing downtowns in the process.

1. Zappo’s CEO is turning Las Vegas into startup paradise

In 2011, Zappo’s CEO Tony Hsieh announced he was starting a $350 million fund to transform a blighted stretch of downtown Las Vegas into a hotspot for young entrepreneurs. Hsieh has big dreams with his Downtown Project — from “empowering people to follow their passions” to creating a “vibrant, connected urban core” and the “co-working capital of the world” — but with $200 million allocated to real estate development alone, he has a solid shot at making it happen.

Sara Corbett of Wired.com caught up with Hsieh in downtown Vegas earlier this year. (If you’re craving a bit of inspiration, do yourself a favor at check the post out here. It’s really worth a read in full.) Less than three years after the initial announcement, the Downtown Project team is snapping up old motel complexes and commercial buildings that haven’t flourished in decades. They’ve also set up a $50 million TechFund to endow promising startups, Wired reported.

2. After 40 years in the ‘burbs, Panasonic moves to Newark

After the contract on its suburban office park expired, Panasonic North America relocated its headquarters to downtown Newark, N.J. Employee retention played a part in the company’s decision to choose Newark over flashier urban centers like San Francisco and Washington, D.C. But as TriplePundit founder Nick Aster discovered in an exclusive interview at Fortune Brainstorm Green 2013, so did social responsibility.

Although CEO Joe Taylor told TriplePundit that Newark wasn’t the most “financially lucrative” choice in the short-term, it happened to be smack dab in the middle of one of the best mass transit hubs in the U.S. — allowing the company to retain its top talent in an environmentally and socially responsible way. The 12-story headquarters was the first new office building for Newark in more than 20 years.

3. Target test-drives downsized stores to bolster city presence

Target has been headquartered in downtown Minneapolis for more than 50 years. The retail giant expanded its operations in the city in 2012, buying up additional office space across the street from its 250,000-square-foot headquarters — a move that buoyed the spirits of downtown property owners and investors.

Earlier this year, the company began test-driving miniature versions of its stores that will fit in urban downtowns. The first downsized TargetExpress store, near the University of Minnesota, will be even smaller than the CityTarget stores the retailer began introducing more than two years ago.

4. Dan Gilbert gives a boost to downtown Detroit

Dan Gilbert recently moved thousands of employees from his company Quicken Loans’ former headquarters in the suburbs to downtown Detroit. The conscious businessman has also purchased more than a dozen downtown properties in recent years and speaks openly about his commitment to revitalize the district.

5. New Belgium toasts to life in Fort Collins, Colo.

Bicycles outnumber cars in the parking lot of New Belgium Brewery's headquarters in Fort Collins, Colo.

Bicycles outnumber cars in the parking lot of New Belgium Brewery’s headquarters in Fort Collins, Colo.

Since 1991, New Belgium Brewery has grown from a few bottles in a basement to the nation’s eighth largest brewery — and it’s done it all in Fort Collins, Colo. While the brewery only employs 350 people in the city, its reach and influence is unparalleled.

As Trevor Hughes of the Coloradoan.com put it: “The brewery is something of a cultural touchstone for Fort Collins: The decisions New Belgium makes not only shape the beers we drink, but affect the kinds of bikes we ride, the racks we lock those bikes to and the trails we pedal along.”

Over the past two decades, the company has attracted tourist dollars, driven the use of solar panels and electric cars, and even helped change state law. Now, CEO Kim Jordan is taking her change-making business prowess to the East Coast — with the construction of a $175 million facility in downtown Ashville, N.C.

6. Futuristic hotel promises to revitalize downtown Houston

Hotel Alessandra will not only be the flashiest new hotel in downtown Houston, but it will also be the key to the district’s rebirth, the hotel’s architect told the Houston Business Journal in March.

“This and other projects are going to rejuvenate downtown Houston, bringing a lot of excitement and activity to the area, where people will live, work and play,” Kap Malik, design principal for the project, told the paper. “It will be a landmark building.” The 25-story luxury hotel is expected in the third quarter of 2016, just in time for the Super Bowl.

7. Little Caesars founder spurs big change in the Motor City

Dan Gilbert isn’t the only one that’s striving to rebuild troubled downtown Detroit. Little Caesars Pizza founder and current Detroit Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch and his family have provided a steady stream of investment to the city for the past 25 years. Projects such as Comerica Park, the MotorCity Casino Hotel, Hockeytown Cafe and the renovation of the Fox Theatre have brought millions in revenue to the city. The latest will be a $650-million arena district for the Red Wings — planned for the city’s Cass Corridor.

8. Coca-Cola expands operations in downtown Atlanta

Coca-Cola's headquarters in downtown Atlanta.

Coca-Cola’s headquarters in downtown Atlanta.

Last year, Coca-Cola Co. announced it would open a 2,000-person information-technology office near its headquarters in downtown Atlanta, relocating some tech staff that had been based in the suburbs. With this most recent move, the company will employ more than 6,500 people downtown, reports the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

9. Northwestern Mutual doubles down in downtown Milwaukee

Although the company already maintains a hefty presence in downtown Milwaukee, Northwestern Mutual is doubling down with the construction of a massive, 1.1 million-square-foot office building in the heart of the city center. The project will create 1,000 construction-related jobs through 2017, as well as 1,900 permanent jobs for the city and millions of dollars in new tax base.

10. Companies steadily return to downtown Chicago

In recent years, at least 10 companies have relocated some or all of their business from the suburbs back to downtown Chicago, including United Airlines, BP, Gogo.com and Motorola. The district’s days as an urban ghost town are long gone — as both big businesses and young, talented employees ditch the suburbs for the city life.

Treehouse image courtesy of Downtown Containerpark

New Belgium headquarters image courtesy of New Belgium Brewery

Coca-Cola headquarters image: Flickr/psyberartist

Based in Philadelphia, Mary Mazzoni is an editor at TriplePundit. She is also a freelance journalist who frequently writes about sustainability, corporate social responsibility and clean tech. Her work has appeared on the Huffington PostSustainable BrandsEarth911 and The Daily Meal. You can follow her on Twitter @mary_mazzoni.

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  • http://purggo.com Mark Zhang

    Great article, very impressed by Zappo. Just recently finished reading Tony’s Delivering Happiness.

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