While public hearings aren’t going away, two companies talked about how they are helping developers and civic leaders get input from community members at the 2013 ULI Spring Meeting.

Forest City Commercial Group used Popularise to ask customers
what kind of events and stores they want to see.

Mindmixer, based in Omaha, Nebraska, works mostly with governments and economic development groups to get the audience that might not come to a public hearing. The firm uses a tactic called “gamification,” where each interaction gets the user points that lead to rewards like a virtual badge or a track jacket.

Stephen Hardy, chief community builder for Mindmixer, says something as simple as taking a poll can lead to a real interaction.

“I was talking to one of our top users in Phoenix with more than 11,000 points,” said Hardy. “He said, ‘I’m having lunch with the mayor next week. He wants to hear my ideas.’ ”

Patricia Clare, deputy director of Louisville Metro Economic Growth and Innovation, has seen Mindmixer work in her city.

“The value for us is that the feedback online tends to be more positive on development,” said Clare.

MindMixer and ULI Orange County have partnered to launch a site called MyPlaceOC.com, which is designed to find ways to make California’s Orange County more appealing to a younger demographic.

ULI Orange County and Mindmixer have partnered on a site called MyPlaceOC.com.
Ben Miller’s Popularise, based in Washington, D.C., takes a different approach. Working with Forest City Commercial Group, Miller’s firm asked members what kind of stores, events, and amenities they would like to see at the Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, Virginia. Users suggested a Lego store and Lush Cosmetics, both of which are not currently available in the area.

More Urban Land coverage of Popularise. 

Stephanie Shriver-Engdahl, vice president of digital strategy for Forest City Commercial Group, said the real-world feedback is great to have when she’s participating in an often male-dominated decision-making process.

Miller also has a platform called Fundrise, which allows members of the community to buy shares in a development for as little as $100. He said the capital stack is structured with these shares senior to equity but junior to debt.

Miller acknowledged this isn’t exactly a new idea. “The real estate industry calls it syndication,” Miller said.

Miller says his own expectation that small developers would flock to the site has been turned on its head.

“The bigger the organization, the more interested they seem to be in the concept,” said Miller. “[Bigger developers] need to be more local, they need to be authentic.”

While it’s not a significant source of capital, Shriver-Engdahl said the engagement of these “owners” is invaluable.

“Why would we do this?” said Shriver-Engdahl. “We already have access to capital. But this is social capital, not capital capital.”