Business financing along with tax and utility incentives and reduced fees for new businesses was the apparent top priority for about 60 “VIP participants” who gathered for an official exchange of ideas designed to help “vision, inform, and prioritize for the future of downtown Washington.”
That top choice of the listed opportunities for development was an almost two-to-one favorite over the development and beautification of Depot Street areas. Public restrooms on The Square and extended business hours to better accommodate shoppers and tourists tied in third place. Participants suggested improved gateway signage (pointing the way to certain places and attractions) as their fifth most popular choice.
The brainstorming session was conducted by experts Alice Sampson and Joel Cordle, hired by Main Street Director Elizabeth Elliott as “the best of the best” at what they do.
The process began with attendees being directed to think of downtown Washington ten years from now, 2027, and envision what they would see; who they would see; and what they are doing. The group returned with a list of more than 30 “visionary” answers.
The second step was to identify things going on or assets already in place that could help to realize those goals. And with that in mind, the group returned a list of more than 30 “opportunities” in answer to the questions: What is needed? What assets are needed? What partnerships are needed? And what can downtown create to meet the vision? “This is one of the best lists we have ever seen,” Cordle and Sampson commented.
“To me, these look like good support for those visions,” Cordle expanded. “They are good opportunities to help meet those vision ideas. You have done a lot of work and there is no shortage of great ideas for downtown Washington.” Sampson explained that they would “take all this information back and put it into themes with some narrative. It will be presented to your city leadership, so you will be seeing it again.”
Among the visions produced in the first phase of the exercise (the visions) were having all buildings occupied and open on The Square, a craft brewery, family activities and programming, inclusiveness, destination dining, a trolley for both transportation and tours, innovative development by and for young people, and community branding.
Other opportunities listed in the final phase included such things as a splash pad in Simpson Park, free wifi in the downtown area, more events at the theater, extending the brick sidewalks, and strategic and consistent advertising.
Elliott was very happy with the turnout for the event and thanked all for attending. She pointed out that it was the second part of an ongoing effort. The first, she said, was a survey she sent out some months ago. Of over 250 responders, 77 percent indicated that a thriving downtown Washington is very important and 16 percent considered it important.