By BRIAN SMITH
Ideas on how to improve the Weatherford downtown area were discussed Wednesday night during a joint meeting of the Weatherford Historic Preservation Commission and its Downtown Committee.
City staff has been working for the past several months with a number of groups to see what the public wants in a downtown area. A public meeting was conducted in February. Staff and focus group discussion, during which the downtown area was actually walked and business owners spoken with, was completed in May and June.
Another focus group was Peach Festival visitors, who took a survey during last month’s event. More than 200 visitors took the survey and overall had very positive impressions of the festival and of the downtown area. Some of the negatives included the number of vacant buildings and roadways and sidewalks in disrepair, a lack of businesses on the square and a lack of seating and restrooms.
For more than 40 percent of respondents, this was their first time at the Peach Festival. For about 25 percent, it was their first-ever visit to Weatherford.
A survey was also conducted with statements given and respondents asked to rate them. While 106 people agreed or strongly agreed the historic atmosphere is a big reason why they came to the area, another 77 said they were neutral on the subject.
In a similar question on whether historic buildings should be protected, 166 of the 209 agreed or strongly agreed.
More than two-thirds of the people agreed if a parking garage was available they would use it and that the downtown area needed more restrooms. On the question of whether the area had adequate parking, 113 agreed or strongly agreed with 66 remaining neutral.
Meeting facilitator Karen Walz, with Strategic Community Solutions LLC, said the meetings helped her and city staff develop a vision statement about the area, that being that in 2030 historic Downtown Weatherford is a vibrant destination for visitors and locals of all ages, offering shopping, dining, living and entertainment.
Using all the focus group information and ideas, a downtown Weatherford action plan has been developed and is scheduled to be unveiled at Tuesday night’s city council meeting.
Committee members say while there are still some negative perceptions at how slow progress is being made, the “we’ve heard this all before” mindset appeared to be changing in the mind of Downtown Committee Chair Kathy Wylie.
“There’s definitely a change in the attitude about downtown,” Wylie said. “The public meeting in February did quite a bit to slay the fears of things staying the same around here.”
Wylie said to keep the positive mindset, some action plan items that could be done quickly, such as further directional signage and public restrooms on the square needed to be done.
Once the council weighs in on the action plan, another large public meeting will be scheduled, Walz said. She added a key to continued growth in downtown would be groups such as the chamber, Main Street and others taking ownership of certain aspects of the plan.
The two groups agreed to meet Sept. 4 at 6 p.m. to discuss the action plan and continue talks.