Friday, September 21, 2012
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Downtown Revitalization Committee hosts public meeting

Part 2: Vision, goals, assets and hurdles

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[September 21, 2012]  Tuesday evening after going through the surveys that reflect the current conditions of the downtown Lincoln area, Ian Colgan of Development Concepts Inc. moved on to looking at how to initiate change in the city through realizing the vision and setting goals for change.

To begin the upcoming projects, Colgan said, would start with a strategic plan. He said it was necessary to have a vision and goals so that as the city moves forward, it is following a plan that will actually help the city and remain cohesive, beginning to end.

The first part is creating the vision for the future. Colgan presented questions to the steering committee and also to the first workshop on Monday. From this a vision statement was created, which said:

"Downtown revitalization of downtown Lincoln should enhance the quality of life in Lincoln in order to drive population growth and economic development throughout the community."

Colegan explained what the vision meant, saying: "In other words, quality of life. Downtown needs to drive higher quality of life within the city and the region for the purpose of new jobs, new growth being the ultimate goals as part of this vision.

"So downtown needs to be an engine, and that engine is fueled by the fact that it is a compelling place that has increased in diversified shopping and dining opportunities, has increased entertainment options, and is an environment that fosters additional special events more than just what you have now."

Colgan said if this can be accomplished, it will hopefully drive new employment opportunities and will also fuel the local tax base.

Colgan then moved on to setting goals. He said there is a preliminary list of goals, but more need to be added to make it complete.

The goals included adding more night and weekend entertainment venues.

Another goal is to establish more shopping opportunities through small retailers. He said there could be a place in the downtown area for a series of unique specialty shops.

He said downtown retail trends have changed over the years, and what the city might hope for is specialty shops that offer items that cannot be found in other areas or in big-box stores.

Colgan said there is a lot of empty space in the downtown area and a lot of opportunity for new business. He also noted there is a lot of upper-level space that could be renovated to living space or even office spaces.

Colgan moved on to the next stage of the plan: business development. He said the city needed to examine their assets and recognize their hurdles.

One of the best economic strategies for downtowns to build off of is what they already have. Colgan said he asked workshop participants to list the assets of the downtown area.

He said there were a variety of answers, and what he was showing in his slideshow was only a portion.

Top on the list of downtown assets was the local grocery store: Lincoln IGA. Colgan said downtown grocery stores are few and far between in towns the size of Lincoln these days, so it is clearly an asset.

Other items on the list were a cohesive historic fabric, inexpensive real estate, engaged property owners, train station and the development of high-speed rail, Lincoln Theater, unique shops, walkable, and having focal point: the Logan County Courthouse.

Colgan said the next question was: What are the hurdles? These are the things that would stunt growth in the downtown area.

The list included businesses not accepting credit cards; perception of safety, especially at night and near the bar areas; lighting; uneven sidewalks; quality of commercial space to rent; several buildings in disrepair; inconsistent property conditions -- one building looks great and the one next to it may be falling down; and the last hurdle was an overall resistance to change.

Colgan said this was important and difficult. There are people, no matter where you are, who resist change.

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Colgan moved on to the last section he would present: the work being done on a land-use plan.

He began by saying that for a city with a population of only 15,000, the downtown area of Lincoln is really very large.

He noted that the area around the square is where the majority of the retail businesses currently are, but there is also the area along the rail line. He said in most towns there is usually either a downtown square or a business district along a main street or rail line. Lincoln has both and needs to address both areas.

With the coming of high-speed rail, the businesses on Chicago and Sangamon streets are going to play a bigger role in attracting visitors. But, there also needs to be a better way to draw them to the downtown square.

Colgan said that as he looked for a connector, Pulaski Street seemed to have a great deal of potential. He noted there are already food establishments and other business along the street. In addition, it has less vehicular traffic.

He indicated that one possible plan could be to widen the sidewalk area along Pulaski and make it the connection to the downtown square.

He said there were also opportunities to develop new business opportunities in the areas around both Scully and Latham parks.

Looking at other land-use projects that could attract more people to the downtown area, Colgan mentioned perhaps having a space for a hotel. He noted Lincoln has had a downtown hotel in the past, and it might benefit from having one again.

Something else that might attract more people could be locating the YMCA in the downtown area. And finally, he said creating green spaces and seating areas in the downtown area would be an asset to the city.

When Colgan finished speaking, Darren Forgy took the podium once again. In the final segment of the Tuesday night meeting, Forgy presented a slideshow of improvements that have been suggested by landscape architect Kent Massie.


In the final segment of this series, Forgy will go through new landscape design suggestions for Latham and Scully parks as well as the Logan County Courthouse lawn.


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