Many U.S. cities are growing faster than their suburbs for the first time in decades. Of the new downtown dwellers, many are empty nesters—freed of the need to factor in school districts, looking to downsize homes and yards. They are gravitating to dense urban cores looking to take advantage of ease of walkability and spend in trendy restaurants, boutique shops, entertainment venues, theaters, and museums.
In a recent Wall Street Journal story, some of the fastest growing U.S. cities include New Orleans, Atlanta, Denver, and Washington, D.C. According to recently released Census data, in 27 of the nation’s 51 largest metropolitan areas, city centers grew faster than suburbs between July 2010 and July 2011. By contrast, from 2000 to 2010 only five metro areas saw their cores grow faster than the surrounding suburbs.
Between 2000 and 2010, more than one million baby boomers moved out of areas 40 to 80 miles from city centers, and a similar number moved to within five miles of city centers, according to an analysis of 50 large cities by the online real estate brokerage Redfin.
“Ensuring a positive experience on the way to your venue is as important as the experience they get inside.”
What does this mean for venues located in city cores? The performing arts centers, arenas, and entertainment venues that for years have been isolated islands surrounded by a sea of corporate headquarters, high-rise office buildings, and industrial manufacturing? These venues should begin to see an increase in demand for weeknight performances and perhaps enjoy an overall increase in attendance, especially if your venue can begin to book baby boomer (ages 50 to 70) appealing performances and shows.
Here are the top 10 cities (population of 300,000 or greater) with the highest concentration of baby boomers: Rochester, N.Y.; York/Hanover, Pa.; Canton, Oh.; Kingsport-Bristol, Tenn.; Charleston, W. Va.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Palm Bay-Melbourne, Fla.; Youngstown, Pa.; Santa Rosa-Petaluma, Calif.; and Portland, Me. Washington, D.C.’s current population growth is all due to baby boomers.
Surveys of boomers’ preferences show that they are more interested in “smart growth” areas than in sprawl.
“They are such a large generation that even if only a small percent of them embrace urban life, the effect could be dramatic,” said AARP spokesperson Amy Levner.
One reason for the shift back to urban areas may be improvements in quality-of-life factors, such as safety, that traditionally drove residents to the suburbs. In the past decade, cities have become considerably more livable. With a growing preference for walkable communities, it is also prudent for venues to consider how patrons access your facility. Are the major pathways well lit? Do you offer a trolley, pedi-cab, or other quick transportation from major parking areas, high-rise residences, or nearby restaurants?
Ensuring a positive experience on the way to your venue can be as important as the experience they get once inside. Take the time to walk your urban neighborhood around your venue. It will be worth your time and effort to work with your city managers to ensure that the new urban dwellers can safely enjoy their walkable neighborhood all the way to your front doors.
For performing arts centers and other venues offering packages or multi-access passes, consider working with downtown residences as they are being built or in the selling phase to incorporate a year membership or other season pass into the cost of dues or offer special discounts to welcome downtown dwellers to the neighborhood and introduce them to your venue.
Getting to know the various concierges at these upscale residences can also work in your favor. Make sure these individuals get a sneak peek at your shows, and have plenty of brochures on hand for the upcoming season.
To hear more ideas to encourage downtown dwellers into your venue and other ways to boost your attendance, register for IAVM’s Performing Arts Managers Conference taking place February 22-25, 2014, in Kansas City, Mo. Register today.