— By BRIAN SMITH
A more pedestrian-friendly downtown Weatherford was the item those that attended a recent meeting on downtown would like to see the most.
The city’s Historic Preservation Committee, in conjunction with the Main Street Program, hosted a meeting in the Cotten-Bratton Building last month. About 120 participants gave their opinion on what would they would like to see downtown. Strategic Community Solutions released the report of the Feb. 5 meeting last week.
About 97 percent of those who responded said making a more pedestrian-friendly area is their top short-term opportunity. Seven other issues and opportunities ranked in the 90 percentile as needed to be done in the short term. They are:
• Having new development in downtown.
• Having convenient parking for downtown businesses.
• Maintaining the traditional character or “feel” of downtown.
• Creating the right mix of incentives for new and existing businesses.
• Making the city more business-friendly.
• Building more community support for downtown.
• Creating or enhancing a downtown ‘brand’ or identity to be marketed.
Several themes were repeated by voters throughout the meeting as things they would like to see at some point concerning the area. They are:
• Tradition and authentic historical charm.
• Diversity of available experiences.
• Fun and entertaining for families and adults.
• A small town ambiance that contrasts with the larger cities in the region.
One of the last parts of the nearly three-hour meeting included opinions on what items needed to be done immediately by stakeholders in the downtown area. Those included creating a vision and action plan for the area as well as developing incentives for private investments that keep the present character of downtown, which many attending the meeting thought was a “calling card” to the area.
Both ideas can be done at the same time with help from city staff, the Weatherford Chamber of Commerce and the private sector, the report stated.
Dialogue needs to continue and steps to continue that action were suggested in the report, according to Karen Walz with Strategic Consulting Services, who provided the report and ran the Feb. 5 meeting. One included the development of people places, which many that attended said they would like to see more of. The city’s Main Street Program has developed quarterly festivals that have brought thousands into the downtown area.
Suggestions included having a mix of public parks, squares or plazas along with spaces (like dining patios, balconies or arcades) that are part of private development.
A second area for focus is on the planning, design, incentives and regulations that shape the built environment of downtown. Retaining historic assets is a part of this effort, but the input at this session suggests that historic preservation is strongly supported as part of an overall effort to also bring in new uses and investments that are compatible with the downtown’s traditional character. This input suggests that an initial focus might be on strategies to help owners preserve existing Events like the Main Street Program’s Weatherford Blooms Home
and Garden Fest attract people to downtown. Strategies to enhance the people places in downtown could build on these successes.
Future investments in downtown should be designed so they reuse existing buildings and create new structures that are compatible with downtown’s traditional character. The Planning and Development Department was encouraged to work with the Weatherford Economic Development Authority, now a city department, to investigate ways to do this.
Targeting economic development downtown was something the report stated could be done by using the WEDA and the Chamber to study market research.
Addressing truck and auto traffic around the downtown area was suggested. many participants voiced concerns about the problems created for pedestrians by the current alignment of streets in downtown, particularly around the “square.” A second major concern is the impact of large trucks and truck traffic. These detract from the experience of a person walking or biking in downtown; they also create congestion and potential safety issues. Realignment of downtown streets and the possibility of a bypass loop for some traffic were both mentioned as possible actions to address the proper role of vehicles in downtown.
Having the city manager’s office create a vision and action plan for the downtown area was the fifth area of action. Working with the mayor and council, private sector and civic organizations and the public would help bring many different ideas together. Keeping the community apprised of what is happening is also an important part to the success of the entire program, as nearly 90 percent of those that attended said they would be willing to continue to stay active in the process.
Director of Planning and Development Craig Farmer says the assignment of what needs to be done has been given. Now it’s time to do the homework.
“Several departments will be focusing on what they do ensuring that we are all heading in the same direction with the vision,” Farmer said. “The action plan is where the rubber meets the road.”