What will you build in your city?

Popularising Short Pump Town Center


By Pam Howland, Short Pump Town Center

It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed since the Short Pump area of Henrico County in Virginia was not much more than a couple of cow pastures and was considered the rural outskirts of the tri-cities. Short Pump Town Center was the first of its kind to offer an upscale, open-air shopping experience for Richmond and the surrounding communities. It helped create what is now a shopping destination surrounded by hundreds of other retailers, restaurants, condominiums and single-family homes.

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Fort Worth’s Renaissance Square Launches on Popularise

By John Flint, Lockard Companies

Lockard Companies got involved in Renaissance Square City of Forth Worth in 2009.  It’s hard to believe that it’s already been three years. But when you factor economic downturn and the pullback in retail development, we’re actually quite blessed to be as far along as we are today: Walmart will open this spring, and a host of other stores will open in the summer. Great progress is being made, but there is still much work to be done.

That’s where Popularise comes in…

When we came across Popularise, light bulbs immediately went off. The idea made complete sense: harness the power of social media and crowdsourcing to enhance the development. 

How will this work? 

By giving the community a voice into what stores, shops, and offices open up for business. Most shopping centers or mixed-use developments are a function of demographic research and supply and demand. And honestly, the demand piece was a little tricky to figure out, which is why the demographic information was so important. 

But with Popularise, developers have a new tool to harness the voice of the community in a positive and productive way that helps shape the tenant mix. If hundreds or thousands of people say they want a Chick-fil-A at Renaissance Square, you better believe that we are going to do everything we can to get Chick-fil-A in our project. And frankly, knowing that we have the community’s support can really help us close the deal!

Community driven approach.

In a neighborhood like Southeast Fort Worth, which has been deprived of retail development for so long, we wanted to avoid the thought, and even the perception, that we know what’s best for the community. Our company does this sort of thing for a living, so honestly, we do have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t. But we never want to be the sort of company that arrogantly proclaims what a community needs and never asks the community what they think. Popularise is our tool to ask, “What would you build here?”

Of course, there are economic realities to real estate development. Will we promise that the most popular ideas will be included in Renaissance Square? Unfortunately we cannot make that promise.  But what we do promise is that we will do our level best, within the constraints that we have, to listen to your voice, and try our best to bring you what you want. If you read some of the other posts on this blog (especially the Coin Laundry), I think you’ll get a good sense of what we’re hoping to accomplish with Popularise: gather ideas, analyze the data, and put our brokers to work on bringing those ideas to fruition!

Tell us “What would you build here?”

So send us your ideas, follow our Drawing Board, and let’s build Renaissance Square together!

Popularising the Coin Laundry: Part 2

By Kristen Vails, Executive Director, Plaza District Association

When posting this project on Popularise, we weren’t sure what we were going to get. We had a hunch we’d get lots of input from the community, but we weren’t sure if it would garner actual interest from potential businesses. Either way, we were hoping to get an idea of what the community wanted, and if a viable operator happened to emerge, even better!

Well, we’ve been overwhelmed with the input from the community. You guys really know what you want! Thank you so much for being involved and caring enough to give your thoughts. We’ve also been amazed at the amount of operators who have expressed interest, it’s a great sign for OKC’s economy and really reflects that #3 Best City to Start a Small Business ranking we received this year.

We learned a lot from our friends at Popularise on how this process has been successful. We wanted to share with you a little more insight to the specifics of the process, and how decision for the future of the Coin Laundry will be made.

How does the Popularise process work?

Popularise is NOT a contest.  Popularise is a community engagement platform that can be used as a research and planning tool for gathering ideas, learning about local demand, and finding potential local business partners.

For the Coin Laundry our process has been the following:

Step 1. Get the input: After launching Coin Laundry, our goal was to reach out to as many local businesses, residents and people who enjoy the district (and maybe even ones who would enjoy the district if we had X) to submit ideas for what they would want to build in the Plaza District. The first month we have had the drawing board, we have been pushing our online community to give us their ideas and support the ideas they liked.

Step 2. Analyze the Data: In sorting through the ideas, we tried to identify potential ideas that fit the physical constraints of the building, as well as viable businesses that had the ability to execute their plan. Not all ideas worked. Some popular ideas did not produce any real operators interested in opening a business in the Plaza District. We also wanted to balance the popularity of a single idea vs. the fact that several similar concepts were posted multiple times. Lastly, focusing on what the locals wanted was important, although Popularise is an open platform, we wanted to give weight to those who live, work, eat, & play in the Plaza District* That’s where your zip codes came into play, thank you!

Step 3Combine Popularity + Financial Viability: Finally, we tried to combine the popularity of an idea with other traditional factors including:

-        financial viability

-        experience of the operator

-        long-term neighborhood potential

How will we make our decision?

In looking at all the information received, we believe there was clear broad-based support for 3 popular ideas—

Popular Concepts Categories:

1.     Dining (14)

2.     Other (8)

3.     Retail (6)

and looking at the support by build-it’s, we have:

Popular Concepts Categories by Build It’s:

1.     Dining (155)

2.     Coffee/Tea (52)

3.     Bar (31)

The “other” concepts did not have a common theme, and the “retail” concepts lacked in support by the broader community.

In looking at the categories by “build its”, restaurant was clearly popular. Considering the zoning of the district does not allow solely bar, we thought by narrowing the concept to “restaurant/bar or restaurant” we’ve pinpointed a general use that we believe will be well received by the community.  Additionally, restaurant/bar concepts were the only ideas in which operators actually contacted us with interest. 

What happens now?

Through the engagement on Popularise, we’ve had several business operators approach with interest. Some of these the operators have concepts posted, some do not have ideas posted, but their concepts represent ideas that were well received on the site. (Ex: breakfast, lunch, café, etc.)

We are currently in discussions with about five operators. Over the next couple of weeks the property owners will be reviewing business plans and meeting with operators to better understand their financial viability, experience and overall concepts. Ideally, we hope to have a decision and announcement in the coming weeks!

However, the Plaza District is still seeking input in general for what’s next. Continue to submit ideas for the buildings—it will help us with future projects to better understand what the community wants. Thank you so much for your ideas and thoughts, we are looking forward to this next season for the Plaza District!

*We’re very aware that not all of our neighbors are connected to us through our online community. We have efforts planned to gather community input through more traditional methods to establish the needs and wants of our neighbors for future projects. For the Coin Laundry, these methods did not work for the timeline on which this particular project needed to move. From this process, we’ve definitely learned some things that will help us gather input in traditional ways as well. This has been a fantastic learning experience.

Popularising the Coin Laundry: Part 1

Why did OKC’s Plaza District decide to “popularise” the Coin Laundry?

By Kristen Vails, Executive Director, Plaza District Association

For the last four years in my role as the Executive Director of the Plaza District, not a week has gone by without someone telling me what needs to go into the district next.

Moreover, not a day has gone by without me daydreaming about that as well. I’ve built an entire little city in my mind—it’s in this little city where I walk my dogs to the corner café for breakfast and coffee. Lunch breaks are spent grazing the fresh food market and chatting with shop owners. At 3pm I hit up the lemonade cart for my afternoon stroll. After work, friends are meeting up at one of the studios to draw together. On the weekend we hit up the various art, live music and performances happening in the district. Sunday night we picnic and enjoy an outdoor movie. Everything in this little city of mine is centered around creativity, collaboration, food and drink. All of those things that bring people together, all of those things that make a place…a place I want to be.

But that’s just my dream. Everyone’s dream is different. Our perceptions of what should be are all shaped by so much—our families, backgrounds, interests, economic situations, health and attitudes all play a part in shaping what we need and want.

I came across Popularise just a couple months before the Coin Laundry was purchased—and it was love at first sight. Wow. A resource that allowed the community to tell the developer what they’d like to see next, and allowed people to show off the places they’d loved in other cities. A place where neighbors could voice what is needed, and entrepreneurs a place to test out their ideas.

So when the Coin Laundry was purchased, I pitched it to the owners. I knew they genuinely cared to know what the community wanted. I knew the Plaza District needed to see all of these ideas and the community’s response to them, and I knew the community cared enough to tell us those ideas. Our sponsor Fowler VW was so excited about the idea and how important it could be for the district, they came on board with rent support for the business we end up finding. It’s that sort of teamwork—neighbors, developers, sponsors, business owners and leaders that make good stuff happen for the neighborhood.

Twenty years ago, if you had asked someone what should be built in the Plaza District, you probably would’ve gotten “a police station” as a response.

But in 3 weeks, here we are with 38 ideas, 300 “build-it’s”, 11,000 views and the closest response to a police station might have to be the gourmet donut shop.

It’s not through yet! Continue to give us your ideas—for the building and the district. Let us know what’s truly on your minds for the future of this neighborhood.

Nothing happens without vision, dreams and ideas, but reality has to step in at some point to make those dreams happen. Next week, I’ll dive a little more into the process, realities and what users and small businesses can expect from their involvement and the future of the Coin Laundry.

Stay tuned, and keep those ideas coming!

Instagram + Popularise = Maketto Mood Board

We rolled out the Maketto Mood Board on Monday as our first Instagram-driven Drawing Board.  It’s being used by Maketto’s two owner-operators, Erik Bruner-Yang and Will Sharp, to document the bits of creative inspiration that they run into everyday.  

We’re thrilled with the photos thus far of Erik’s trip through Taiwan and Cambodia. He’s using our our new Instagram feature to capture and share the cuisine, design and culture that will become Maketto.

The integration of Popularise with Instagram is something we hope we’re just scratching the surface with.  All that Erik and Will do to add an Instagram to the Mood Board is include a hashtag and thanks to the PubSubHubbub Instagram API, the photo shows up instantly.  

We’re brainstorming ways that we can open this up to current and upcoming Drawing Boards so that any Popularise user can use Instagram to add their ideas to a Drawing Board.  The API is full of possibilities around geotagging, hashtags and user subscriptions so there are tons of possible directions to explore with this.

If you have an idea for an Instagram-driven Drawing Board that you want to host on Popularise, drop us a line at support@popularise.com!


1351 H Street: A look inside the process

1351 Completed

“What we learned and where we go from here”

When we launched our first project, 1351 H Street, we did not know what to expect. Crowdsourcing real estate development is a relatively new idea and although we believe in the process, we knew it would take some experimentation on our part to learn how to best engage with and involve the wider community.

Real estate by nature is not transparent; both tenants and landlords tend to be very secretive about any potential plans and normally fear community input. More often than not, the community is unaware of what businesses will be opening in their neighborhood until after the decision has been made. When we decided to ask people on the front end: “What would you build here?” we did not know if we would get a single response, much less thousands.  

The 1st lesson: We were not clear enough in communicating with users and small businesses about what to expect from their involvement and how the process works.

How does the Popularise process work?

Popularise is NOT a contest.  Popularise is a community engagement platform that can be used as a research and planning tool for gathering ideas, learning about local demand, and finding potential local business partners. Each member will use the platform differently depending upon the specifics of their project.  

At 1351 H Street, our process was the following:

Step 1.  More People = Better Information: After launching 1351 H Street, our goal was to reach out to as many local businesses and residents to submit ideas for what they would want to build on H St.  The first period was about gaining as much local input as possible, so that the amount of data could be considered statistically representative of local demand.

Step 2. Analyze the Data: In sorting through the ideas, we tried to identify potential ideas that fit the physical constraints of the building, as well as viable businesses that had the ability to execute their plan. Not all ideas worked. Some popular ideas did not produce any real operators interested in opening a location on H Street. Many of the businesses suggested did not make sense for the building; the space is too large for just bagels and too small for a real gym.  We also wanted to balance the popularity of a single idea vs. the fact that several similar concepts were posted multiple times. Lastly, focusing on what the locals wanted was important, although Popularise is an open platform, we wanted to give more weight to those who live, work, eat, & play in the H Street neighborhood.

Step 3.  Combine Popularity + Financial Viability: Finally, we tried to combine the popularity of an idea with other traditional factors including economic viability of the business, track record of the operator, construction issues, long-term neighborhood potential, and most importantly the ability to execute on the idea.  In a handful of cases, National bank and fast-casual chains expressed interest in the property, which may have produced a greater financial benefit, however  (while this speaks to the growth occurring on H Street) we did not feel it was an accurate reflection of the popular demand.  

How did we make our decision?

In looking at all the information received, we believe there was clear broad-based support for 3 popular ideas——daytime retail, a local market, and quality dining options—that the community felt would help expand H Street beyond a largely nightlife driven corridor. For example, a local market was submitted three times in different forms — Green Grocery & Bakery, 39% Produce, and Our Organic Market.  

When DURKL first approached us with interest, we agreed that stand-alone retail faced many challenges and may not be viable on H Street today. Our solution was to find a partner that would help create critical mass and a destination, drawing customers beyond the traditional shopping times. Maketto, the collaboration between DURKL and Erik from Toki Underground brings together two local operators with strong track records; the concept combines all three ideas—-fashion, restaurant, and a market—-into something that we believe is both unique in Washington, DC and will be cutting-edge nationally.

What’s next for Maketto?

Both Erik and Will are committed to building something with and for the local residents and their supporters.  As a way to engage with their future customers, they started the Maketto Mood Board, posting pictures of their favorite cuisine, fashion, and design as they look for inspiration and ideas in building Maketto.

We encourage anyone who is interested in learning more about the Popularise process, our decision-making, and Maketto to reach out to us at support@popularise.com. We are always excited to hear from our users.

Popularise Launches in Seattle, WA

It’s always exciting when someone embraces one of your ideas.  It’s even more exciting when that person wants to build on it (literally!) and apply it in a new context.  So we were thrilled when Tom Bartholomew from Skanska contacted us about using Popularise to change the way urban mixed-use development takes place.  Today we launch our first new city, Seattle, with Skanska’s 400 Fairview, a 300,000+ square foot development in the heart of South Lake Union.

Both Popularise and Skanska share the same vision:  If you start designing a project based around what the neighborhood wants and then build a dynamic experience at the street level—great local restaurants, retailers, and community space—-then the rest of the development will grow from and feed off of that energy, ultimately resulting in a better overall project.

I suspect that to people outside the real estate industry, this sounds obvious.  But what you may not know is that most developers, when developing a large scale mixed-use building, focus on the office and residences on the upper floors and largely ignore the ground floor—which is the only floor that most of the neighbors will interact with. 

Developers analyze the financials and end up renting that ground floor to national cookie cutter tenants—banks, drugstores, etc.—rather than building a place that will bring vibrancy to a neighborhood and make it a place people want to live and work in.  Not only is it generally more profitable to rent to large corporate chains, but in my experience, it is also easier to sign a lease with them than it is to find and cultivate local tenants.  This was precisely the reason for Popularise: we wanted to bring the public into this process to help us identify the best local businesses that would fit into and invigorate their neighborhoods.  

If the neighborhood embraces the development and you build something great with them, then both you and the community benefit.

We look forward to seeing the ideas Seattle has to offer.  We think that they will not only inspire us, but help create the standard of new development in cities around the country. 

What would you build at 400 Fairview?


Popularise 2.0

It has been three months since the launch of Popularise and we’re excited by the amount of activity that has been going on thus far.  Like any project, Popularise is going to evolve as we learn how the community uses the website.  So, one of our top priorities over that past 90 days has been to gather feedback and comments from our early users. Based on what we’ve learned, we are making five big changes:

  1. Open up the platform - It turns out lots of people want to use Popularise to crowdsource their real estate projects.  So, we have opened Popularise to the public.  Anyone, whether they are developers, architects, small business owners, real estate brokers, government officials, who has a real project they want to crowdsource, will be able to post their project on Popularise.  We’ve found there are many benefits to asking the local community and potential customers for input and we want to share that opportunity with others.  If you have a local project that you want input on, we welcome you to start your own Drawing Board and benefit from the thousands of people willing to give you ideas, advice, and support.
  1. Projects are now “Drawing Boards” - We’ve evolved our Project pages into something slightly different we’re calling “Drawing Boards”.  Our aim is to characterize the crowdsourcing process more accurately.  Multiple users told us they thought projects on Popularise were essentially elections.  Instead of an election, it makes far more sense for the interaction and activity on the website to be an open planning and design process where the online community participates alongside business operators, property owners and developers.  To us, this feels like putting a project “on the drawing board.”
  1. Comments - A month into launching Popularise, we saw a vibrant discussion about What would you build at 1351 H St take place on Frozen Tropics, one of our favorite neighborhood blogs.  This resulted in an “Aha!” moment.  Comments! Of course!  So we added features to allow for more commenting, which hopefully encourages a similarly positive discussion on each Drawing Board.
  1. No more Shortlist - For our first project, 1351 H Street, initial user feedback indicated we needed to clarify the difference between a real business that we had vetted and a user idea.  This resulted in our Shortlist.  We thank RedRocks and DURKL for being innovative and open-minded about putting themselves and their brands out there.  As it turned out, the Shortlist doesn’t make sense.  Making Popularise an open platform for crowdsourcing ideas and gathering community input makes more sense than making two separate lists.
  1. The Blue “Business” Ribbon – It was clear, that there were two different groups submitting ideas: people from the community sharing a pure idea and actual business operators posting themselves and their businesses.  Although we removed the Shortlist, there is still a big difference between a standalone idea and a real business.  We want to make sure people are able to easily distinguish between them.  So, we added a feature to let users self-identify their concept submissions as ideas or real businesses.

We hope you enjoy these changes and we welcome any other feedback or suggestions as we continue to build and grow Popularise.

-Ben, Dan, Brandon, and Kenny

What makes a Popularise user?

Popularise passed the 1,000 user mark a few weeks ago (hooray!) so we thought it would be an appropriate time to take a first stab at digging through the data and figure out who are users really are.

Well, in a nutshell, the typical Popularise user is a DC resident aged 25-34 who lives near the H Street corridor and likes to drink a few pints of DC Brau at Little Miss Whiskey’s and The Pug.

How did we figure that out you ask? If you’re interested, here’s how:

So the user being “a DC resident who lives near H Street” comes from our users entering their zip code when they sign up.  I pulled our user counts organized by zip code and threw them on a map using TileMill and voila:

If you mouse over the red circles, the number of users in each zip code will come right up.  For those that prefer tables:

So about a quarter of our users come from the 20002 zip code that includes the H Street corridor, Capitol Hill, Eckington amongst other neighborhoods. That covers where they live.

How did we figure out where our users like to hangout? We ask our users to tell us their favorite hangout when they sign up. Here are our user’s top 5 hangouts:

So that’s how we came up with the idea that the typical Popularise user likes to have a few at Little Miss Whiskey’s and The Pug.

How did we end up with the age group of 25-34? For that we looked at the gender and age of our users that chose to sign up with Facebook (45% of our users):

So as you can see, there’s the bulge in the 25-34 year age group.

Finally, how do we know that our users like to drink DC Brau when they are at Little Miss Whiskey’s and The Pug? We don’t. I just made that up because I thought it sounded good.

In all seriousness though, one of the main goals of Popularise is to provide a platform for local neighborhood residents to engage directly with real estate developers, property owners and business operators. Since our featured project is located at 1351 H Street we think it is pretty great that so many of our users are local to the neighborhood and socialize at the nearby restaurants and bars. It means that the ideas, comments and build-its that are being submitted are coming from the people that will ultimately be the consumers of whatever business(es) open at 1351 H Street.

I’m personally really interested in seeing how our user base evolves when we launch our next project (soon!).

-Kenny, co-founder

Hard Hat Tours!

Last week, we invited a dozen users to join us for our first round of Hard Hat Tours at 1351 H Street.  Here are some of our users taking a tour of the property:

Popularise users touring 1351 H Street

Having Popularise users see the property spurred some great discussion about potential use, and gave them the opportunity to give us very helpful feedback.  I thought it would be worthwhile to share some of the best questions and comments:

1. How will the process of picking the tenant(s) work?

We have to consider both what is popular and what is economically viable in making decisions about tenancy.  With traditional development models there is very little ability to capture a broad segment of true local demand.  Using Popularise, a landlord can look at both components — consumer demand and economics.  Our goal is to find a business(es) for 1351 H Street that not only reflects what people have been asking for in the neighborhood but also will succeed financially (including factors such as raising the capital to open, as well as paying market rent).  For Popularise to truly change the way neighborhoods are developed, we must prove that engaging with the community and succeeding economically are mutually reinforcing.

2.  What is the time frame for picking a tenant(s)? 

Our goal is to announce a tenant(s) in approximately 60 days.  While we have received tremendous feedback to date, we want to reach as deeply as possible into the surrounding communities before making a decision.  In my geek speak, we want to achieve a statistically significant number of votes to make sure we have a good representative sample.

Other frequent comments we heard from hard hatters:

-The building was bigger than they expected. (It has a huge first floor that stretches through an outdoor patio all the way to the alley, similar to Rock & Roll Hotel.  In addition, the building has a large second floor.)

-Many people were struck by the possibility for multiple uses. Everyone saw it was possible to house a combination of ideas in the property.

-A bunch of folks asked for something that caters not just to a nighttime crowd but also functions during the day.  There has been a lot of interest in trying to expand H Street’s daytime activities and street traffic, obviously balanced by the fact that most of a business’ revenue would come in the evenings, at least for the near future.  People want something that can help H Street grow beyond the bars and nightlife that are thriving today.

-A few people were interested in the development process in general and were wondering if they could continue to stay involved even after the business is selected.  We think this is a great idea and will work on ways to make that possible.

Thanks to all who joined us on the tours.

If you would like to RSVP for an invite to join the next Hard Hat Tour please email us at contactus@popularise.com

We always welcome questions or feedback — just email us or comment below!

-Ben, co-founder