What downtown needs is a healthy dose of confidence!

March 15, 2019Steve Dieterichs, Downtown Development Director

That was the message I heard recently from a successful downtown business owner who was considering an expansion.

The concept immediately resonated with me. Without saying as much, this entrepreneur was telling me he’s ready to see the hotel project come to fruition along with the additional investment it will spur.

He understands the value and that the real estate development activity we are working to facilitate is the foundation for bigger things to come. Each new developer we engage is getting us one step closer to “the deal” that will change the urban landscape.

But, when he looks out his storefront window with the eyes of a visiting patron, he sees areas that need help. Over time, one unattended item leads to another and, before you know it, downtown starts to look a little neglected. A little like nobody is paying attention. Or worse, that no one cares.

As a member of the downtown community, this owner knows better. However, what does the physical state of our downtown say to the average visitor? Or worse yet, developer or investor? It’s probably not as rosy of a picture as many of us would like to believe.

His advice? Be intentional. Show the community projects that demonstrate deliberation.

I recently shared a list of Top Five 2019 priorities for the Downtown Initiative with the Chamber’s Downtown Advisory Board chaired by Laura Moore, The Grace, and Taylor Sturgis, Key Appraisal Group. These five priorities are:

  1. Complete the wildly popular Pine Street Underpass Beautification Project. A well-attended lighting demonstration was held last month followed by a barrage of supportive social media activity. At last count, one Facebook post by a member of the project team had garnered over 380 positive comments and had been shared almost 900 times! Fundraising for this place-making project will begin shortly, with a goal of completing the project by late spring.
  2. Install wayfinding wraps on the new traffic signal boxes. Twenty-five boxes would be wrapped with special anti-graffiti vinyl, designed with a map indicating points of interest (attractions, districts, parks) from each box. Discussion is underway with the Abilene Downtown Association to marry this concept with a similar project of theirs, targeting individual businesses.
  3. Repair curbing in the central business district. Curbs downtown are in awful condition and, in many cases, hazardous. While curbing in the downtown is technically the property owner’s responsibility, we are working to find a public-private solution to repair broken curbing, mitigate trip hazards and paint faded areas.
  4. Work with specific property owners on façade improvements. A few of the larger commercial buildings downtown are imposing monoliths, without storefronts or entryways to break up the brick canvas. This dramatically affects walkability and sense of place between retail businesses. We’re in talks with property owners about adding usable storefronts and better utilizing available space.
  5. Identify an appropriate organizational structure and a sustainable funding model for future downtown efforts. Establishing a properly funded organization that assumes many of the public realm responsibilities from private and public stakeholders will allow for better strategic planning and a continuation of similar, intentional projects going forward indefinitely. This, in turn, will instill confidence among business owners and developers that their investment in downtown will be protected.

Achieving everything on the list will take tremendous public and private support, both in terms of resources and approvals. But, like the business owner who gave me a new perspective to consider, I believe enough in Downtown Abilene to know we can accomplish anything when we set our collective minds to a goal!

Sidebar: The 2019 Leadership Abilene and Young Leadership Abilene classes, along with Councilwoman Donna Albus, have scheduled a Downtown Cleanup for Saturday, April 27. Look for more details on how you can join us soon.

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