Retreat addresses revitalization plan for the city’s core
Posted: February 8, 2013
The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — Stakeholders spent more than four hours Thursday establishing plans to continue the revitalization of the city’s downtown core.
Members of the Old Town Development Board (OTDB) and its subcommittees held a retreat at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley to develop priorities for each panel and begin creating plans to achieve their goals.
“A lot of people now have picture and sound on how much work needs to be done,” Lauri Bridgeforth, the board’s chairwoman, said following the planning session. “I think we have a very good skeleton. We’re now attaching some muscle to that skeleton.”
The day’s primary focus was establishing lists of issues facing downtown that the OTDB can help address and beginning planning to implement the improvements. Much of the work was done in committee groups.
Among the tasks committee members designated for action were:
Creating livable, workable and cultural space. Providing Wi-Fi was one of the recommended actions.
Evaluating the Loudoun Street Mall’s redesign after the ongoing construction project is finished.
Consolidating a calendar of events and cross-promoting those events.
Establishing a place where visitors can get information during hours when the downtown welcome center — set to open this summer — is closed.
Increasing efforts to help recruit and retain businesses.
Identifying the types of people desired to provide volunteer help for downtown-focused efforts.
The Economic Restructuring Committee set the lofty goal of recruiting the national Main Street Program to move its headquarters to Winchester from Washington. The program is part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Winchester has had a Main Street program longer than any other Virginia city.
One task that drew considerable discussion was re-evaluating and potentially expanding the primary and secondary taxing districts from which the OTDB gets funding. Property owners in those districts — bound by Piccadilly, Cameron, Cork and Braddock streets — pay additional real estate taxes to be used to promote the Old Town area.
Board members noted that some neighboring businesses and properties benefit from efforts to promote the district without paying the additional tax.
City Manager Dale Iman said talk about expanding the district also might be prudent financially. About $165,000 is generated annually from the special tax assessment, but the city is spending about $245,000 on efforts directly targeting downtown.
Some items, such as trash pickup and maintenance handled by city departments, are not paid from the OTDB’s budget, he said. New amenities such as the public restrooms and splash pad fountain being installed as part of the pedestrian mall project will cost the city about $39,000 to maintain.
“That’s not sustainable,” Iman said. “We need new revenues.”
The city manager also said during the retreat that mobile-device apps need to be developed to lure visitors downtown.
— Contact Vic Bradshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org