Last month, to surprising response, I. Would the town of 7,319 have the capacity to absorb enough of the traffic, noise and other potentially negative impacts to balance the benefits the new concert hall might bring? How bad would it be for residents of Claus Circle, the residential street closest to the new hall.
The issue produced a lively back-and-forth among commenters, who seemed to be divided into three camps: the Claus Circle residents, who were understandably concerned, having purchased a home in the shadow of a grocery store only to find it morphing into a nightclub; second were civic boosters, insisting that the new business would be a positive; third were Deadheads, who I’ve learned take any perceived jab at their favorite band very personally. Were it Billie Joe Armstrong or Lars Ulrich and not Phil Lesh building a nightclub in Fairfax, you have to wonder how it would play to camp #3.
This month, I’m going to address the second group, the civic boosters. The Claus Circle people have legitimate concerns. Unfortunately for them, the greater good might have to prevail here. Cultural amenities -- be they museums, theaters or live music venues -- are good for property values. No matter if Phil’s shows empty the remaining communes dotting the Western Marin countryside or if he books Michael Buble, the addition of a significant cultural attraction – like a live music venue – is good for property values.
And the fact that it’s Lesh (not “Phil,” I don’t know him personally) who’s behind the new concern, named – surprise! – after a Dead song, might actually increase those values even more; his hippie ethos suggests that his shows will be more accessible to moderate and low-income residents than entertainment booked by Bill Graham Presents.
“Local availability of cultural amenities can have significant impacts on property values,” says Economist Stephen Sheppard of Williams College, in Buying into Bohemia: the Impact of Cultural Amenities on Property Values, a 2010 study completed by the Massachusetts-based Center for Creative Community Development (C3D). “They must,” he continues, “be combined with policies that ensure continued access to the community for low- and moderate-income renters.”
The concept of art improving a neighborhood is not new. Traditionally, it has been the artists who’ve reclaimed blighted urban neighborhoods, followed (at a safe distance) by young professionals and, finally, families. This is the formula used by wastelands turned hot neighborhoods like Manhattan’s SOHO and San Francisco’s Hayes Valley.
The impact of cultural amenities in small towns and suburbs is not as dramatic, but it’s inarguable – as long as the amenities in question are accessible to local residents. Buying Into Bohemia suggests that this access can be capitalized, as local residents will save money on transportation to cultural events, sometimes receive ticket discounts aimed at locals and learn of events they might have missed, were they not in their front yard.
Using hedonic models and focusing on 11 Massachusetts towns, the C3D determined that cultural amenities’ impact on property values are directly tied to per capita expenditures on the arts. Measurables vary from city to city but the bottom line is the same: spend the money, make the money. And spend it wisely.
Right now, there is a . Residents’ concerns are similar to those facing Phil Lesh in Fairfax: traffic, parking and noise. A single-screen movie theater – if that’s what they’re planning – will not impact a community as much as a live music venue. It will, in the long run, also benefit property values, however minutely.
I’m not saying that the residents of Claus Circle should suck it up and deal with the changes. Their situation is very different from that of the community as a whole. And I’m not saying that Lesh’s proposal should be rammed through because his affiliation with the Grateful Dead somehow captures the “spirit” of the “real” Fairfax. I’m saying that the benefits of such an addition to the community might outweigh the costs.