Every city’s got a Motor Row. On Chicago’s Near South Side, it’s block after block of boarded-up car dealerships. Now, it’s blossoming into an entertainment district, and some of the city’s top restaurateurs are eyeing its empty buildings.
But for every Motor Row, there are a dozen run-down neighborhoods that aren’t likely to redevelop any time soon. How does a restaurateur with a taste for first-wave gentrification tell the difference?
The best sign is being close to an existing commercial district, notes Steven Josovitz, vice president of Atlanta brokers The Schumacher Group. “These areas are almost touching better, more built up parts of town, but generally just don’t look as nice or have any street visibility.”
Motor Row is just west of McCormick Place, the largest convention center in America. Says co-owner Rob Katz of Boka Restaurant Group, who’s looking at the district, “There are 100 large shows a year, so there are a set amount of people coming through the doors.”
There are other ways to sniff out up-and-coming neighborhoods. One is to look for paper trails, which can indicate coming development. Building permits and liquor license applications are public records. Says Cliff Bramble, partner in Rathbun’s in Atlanta, “You can find out a lot of information by reviewing the zip codes that have the most building going on.”
Or, you can talk to people, from realtors and politicians to monitoring conversations online. “Use the Internet to learn who’s paying attention to certain areas,” advises Mario Ponce, of the New York consulting firm Partners in Hospitality.
Lastly, there’s no substitute for eyeballing the streetscape. “If the neighborhood has houses that have been rehabbed, and the yards look like they are taken care of, that is a good sign for us,” says Bramble. He also recommends talking to cops on the beat. “Ask them what they think is the next upcoming area. They have a tremendous amount of wisdom and street knowledge.”