By Shane Barton, Downtown Revitalization Coordinator
On Tuesday, March 6th Promise Zone Downtown Revitalization partners and stakeholders came together for the Winter 2018 quarterly convening hosted in Barbourville at the Knox County Extension Office. This convening follows the previous one hosted in Harlan, KY and again provided a dedicated space and time for downtown collaboration and sharing.
The 50 attendees represented all eight Promise Zone counties and most of the 12 participating downtowns. The one substantial difference attendees noticed at this convening (when compared to previous ones), was the amount of time dedicated to learning about innovative local approaches to widespread regional issues. Also new for this convening was the release of the first community grant request for proposals.
The day started off with two six minute community spotlight presentations in rapid succession. The first featured Joel Brashear of the Leslie County Community Foundation in Hyden. Joel shared how their local foundation began and has been sustained by utilizing small events, coupled with larger community fundraising efforts. While small in terms of overall capital, the Leslie County Community Foundation has been able to make impactful investments in their local community. Inspired attendees were invited to follow up with Joel or staff from the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, who were also present.
The second spotlight presentation came from Williamsburg Mayor Roddy Harrison and Main Street Manager Nannie Hays who discussed the planned efforts to celebrate Williamsburg’s 200th birthday. Festivities will include community parties and historical depictions of the community’s past. Both mentioned how this moment provides a great opportunity to reflect not only on the past, but also on the future of Williamsburg.
The Oven Mitt, one of Barbourville’s locally owned restaurants, provided lunch. Missy Mathews and Jessica Howard of the Letcher County Tourism Commission treated guests to a wonderful lunch presentation. Like many rural communities, Letcher County has an abundance of cultural, historic and natural assets that for many years have been underutilized for a variety of reasons. Importantly, most of these assets did not have dedicated signage directing a potential visitor to them. The Letcher County Tourism Commission recently launched a volunteer-based guided tour model that allows local experts to become the tour guides of their favorite places. This innovative and replicable model provided inspiration to those in attendance: in particular, attendees whose communities lack tour guide services. Through partnerships with the county government (who provided vans for transportation) and a local business (Pine Mountain Outfitters), Letcher County Tourism has been able to create calendars of upcoming events and sell tickets to interested individuals and families.
After lunch the Pineville Main Street Manager, Jacob Roane, shared Pineville’s experience collaborating with CEDIK on a recent Business Retention and Expansion (BRE) process and what has transpired since. Jacob described how supportive and engaged local leadership underpinned the city’s success and how the BRE process was part of a larger trajectory for the city. The BRE process provided a way for the local business community to be heard. While some of their concerns represent long-term initiatives, there were others Jacob thought could be addressed in innovative ways. One concern voiced by the local business community in Pineville (and most likely other cities no matter how small or large), was parking – or the perception of available parking. Jacob described a recent parking study that the city conducted to learn more about the overall parking ecosystem in Pineville, but a recent health promotion grant opportunity from the University of Kentucky may be the best solution yet.
Partnering with CEDIK, the Bell County Health Department, and the Bell County Extension Office, Jacob developed “Pineville Walks.” This new program addresses parking and physical activity by using point-of-prompt signage throughout downtown Pineville. Jacob was notified after the convening that the city of Pineville has received these grant funds and will implement the “Pineville Walks” program later this year.
The day concluded with a general discussion about downtown buildings and the technical assistance and resources needed to restore them. Almost every community has a historic building receiving restoration attention; this will be an ongoing conversation throughout the region for some time to come. At the end of the day, attendees were able to meet as teams or with CEDIK staff to talk through prospective projects in response to the first community mini-grant opportunity. Our next convening will take place in June.