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Corona Crisis: Can German City Centers Be Saved?

  • August 06, 2020

There are, of course, places that are doing all they can to save their city centers – some of them with more conservative ideas and others with creativity. In the northern Bavarian town of Ebermannstadt, for example, which has a population of just 6,917 residents, the mayor hired a manager for the city center and launched a startup contest called “StadtUp,” a play on the German word for city (Stadt). The best business idea stands to win the equivalent of 60,000 euros in goods and services supplied by local companies. The result: The small town now has a half dozen new companies.

In Schweinfurt, another city in Bavaria, local retailers reacted to the crisis by joining forces and establishing their own online platform. They set up a partnership with a cargo bike manufacturer in town and a delivery company, enabling them to guarantee same-day delivery. “Corona has had quite an effect,” says city manager Thomas Herrmann. “Otherwise, the project likely would never have materialized.”

Marburg and Bayreuth, meanwhile, have had positive experiences with vouchers or with tax-free allowances supplied by employers, redeemable in city-center shops. Since early June, more than 200 municipalities have been sharing their ideas on the web platform die-stadtretter.de.

Calls for Financial Assistance

In the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, meanwhile, the government has launched a 70-million-euro city-center program explicitly to help cities purchase empty storefronts and enliven them. It isn’t entirely clear, however, how such storefronts might be used.

“It’s not so important what they do with them. The main thing is for decision-makers to come together and come up with a joint strategy,” says Thomas Krüger, an expert on city center development at HafenCity University in Hamburg. The shopping street in Hamburg, for example, has benefitted from a business improvement district, a public-private partnership concept which involves property and business owners paying mandatory dues, out of which security personnel or additional street cleaning services can be paid.

But the model is currently running into difficulties. “In hard times, just when such initiatives and upgrades are badly needed, it often doesn’t work,” says Krüger. The owners simply don’t have the money available.

The situation has become so bad in many places that mayors have begun calling for even more financial assistance from federal and state governments. Many municipalities aren’t even able to cover their share of a fund designed to improve city centers, Association of German Cities President Jung complains. “As such, we are demanding that 90 percent of the contributions come from the federal government or from state governments in the future,” Jung’s organization is also asking for a billion euros to help city centers.

Article source: https://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/corona-crisis-can-german-city-centers-be-saved-a-3d8289b6-064c-4c42-b3e5-cd243bfda5e9#ref=rss

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