Plan creating vision for downtown

2/14/2013

Meetings ongoing to form 'big picture' for downtown district.

Meetings ongoing to form 'big picture' for downtown district.

By SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

Reconfiguring Main Street, making downtown attractive to new restaurants and specialty stores and changing some other downtown streets to one way are just some of the ideas that have been discussed during the Downtown Master Planning process in the past month.

Two public hearings were held Jan. 22 and Feb. 5 to gather input from property and business owners in and around the central business district. Another meeting is set for March 12.

On Wednesday morning, city planning department staff provided a recap of the first two meetings and took additional comments about the process so far.

City planner Roberto Becerril said the first two meetings were designed to gather input and will help form a "big picture" idea for what downtown should become.

"We're in the process right now of gathering as much information as we can. What works? What doesn't work? What do you want to see? In the end, this is going to impact all of you. This is your opportunity to voice your opinions," he said.

Changing Main Street to three lanes was brought up at the past couple of meetings. Becerril said changing Main from its current four lanes probably would allow more parking spaces along the street.

At the next public meeting, city public works and engineering are expected to provide more information about costs, benefits and disadvantages of changing the street.

Other issues the public has brought up included curb and gutter matters along Stevens Avenue, possibilities for sculpture and art, altering the pedestrian "bump outs" that extend into intersections, brick streets and making some streets, such as Chestnut, Pine and Heroes Way, one way.

Duane West said one-way streets downtown don't make much sense.

"The whole point of this exercise is to improve business activity and improve the reason for people to come down and do business. Why inconvenience everyone else?" he said.

Beverly Schmitz Glass, executive director of Downtown Vision, said that before digging into streets, sidewalks or curbs, people ought to first decide what they want downtown to be. For Glass, it could be a special district within the city that includes people living downtown, shopping at specialty stores and attending events.

Once there is a consensus about the overall future look and feel of downtown, deciding on changes needed will be easier, she said.

"In my mind, this is where you go to find little niche marketing that you're not going to find in the mall. This is where you come for different restaurants and night life (and) second-story loft living," she said. "But until we figure out what we want it to be, I think we need to look at it from 30,000 feet."

Some of the ideas for new businesses that have been floated include new fine dining and steakhouses, a brewery, ice cream/yogurt shop, a grocery store and more general retail and specialty shops.

West cautioned about "pie in the sky" thinking. While not opposed to improving downtown, he said there is a limit to how much money taxpayers and business owners can invest in those improvements.

"If we've got things that need fixing, let's fix them. But there are limits from a pocketbook standpoint of what we're going to be able to do," he said. "If we make this a convenient place for everybody to come, young and old, and as attractive as possible then it's going to be up to the people who choose to operate businesses here to decide what niche they want to reach."

The master plan is intended to guide improvements or enhancements that will help attract more business and general activity to downtown.

The public meetings are opportunities to share ideas, gather input and prioritize potential projects and identify funding needs to include in the city's capital improvement program. The city expects the input portion of the plan to be completed by May. Recommendations will be sent to the planning commission and city commission.

The next Downtown Master Plan meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. March 12 at the City Administrative Building.

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