The first Promise Zone Downtown Revitalization stakeholder convening of 2019 was held Tuesday, March 5th in Middlesboro, Kentucky at the newly constructed Southeast Community and Technical College Middlesboro Educational Alliance Center. The center features applied medical training facilities utilizing technology to advance the career readiness of students enrolled in a variety of health related degrees. The center’s meeting space proved to be the most technologically advanced space we have held a convening at to date with smart screens at the front and rear of the room, while the walls featured a number of flat screens – there truly wasn’t a bad seat in the house. Following previous convenings in Harlan, Barbourville, Pineville and Hazard – the Winter ‘19 convening was planned to provide a timely and impactful experience aligned with the Promise Zone Downtown Revitalization Implementation Grant RFP release.
The day began shortly after 10am as the new building proved difficult to find for many, given it’s not yet displayed on many GPS mapping services. Attendees were invited to share upcoming community events on the large calendar covering the wall just above the coffee as they registered themselves. The shared events will be aggregated and shared with Promise Zone community stakeholders. The program for the day started with the official release of the Promise Zone Downtown Revitalization Community Implementation Grant Program RPF and discussion about the grant details. The most substantial changes from the recently implemented mini grants are the size, scale, and scope of the projects, with importance placed on engaged processes and existing plans informing the proposed idea and the emphasis placed on utilizing data and indicators to document anticipated outcomes and success. Alison Davis, CEDIK Executive Director, addressed these changes while providing an applied grant writing workshop that included a review of why proposals often fail, the components of an effective proposal, utilizing logic models to evaluate proposed ideas, crafting a budget, and identifying additional funding opportunities. The workshop allowed attendees time to work with their local stakeholder teams to draft proposal ideas following a logic model as well as explore goals, activities, timelines, and responsible parties on a provided template.
Similar to previous convenings, lunch was a local treat. Local catering was provided by Jamie Jones and Southern Roots Catering. Jamie treated attendees to his popular Korean pork tacos and a large portion of a healthy sweet potato side. Jamie was invited to speak with attendees to share his recent success story – Southern Roots Food Truck catered our previous Pineville convening but in the time since June 2018 Jamie acquired a small business loan and recently opened his own brick and mortar restaurant establishment in Pineville, Kentucky.
Keeping within the tradition of hosting a lunch program, Colby Kirk of One Harlan County shared the story of their new effort to identify and market available vacant buildings in Harlan County. Colby discussed the partnership with Harlan Tourism and others to assess and map the 15 vacant buildings in the city of Harlan. These buildings represent a vacancy rate of 23%, a mere fraction of what was anecdotally assumed to be closer to 75 or 80 percent. Colby explained (see video below) how the clustering of vacancy gives the perception of mass vacancy, when in fact there are simply a few clustered vacant spaces on the same block. Colby shared the letter and short survey that was sent to each building owner (identified using PVA data). The survey suggested the recipients held the keys to Harlan’s future and asked if they have considered occupying the spaces they own or if they would entertain leasing the space to new businesses. Additionally, One Harlan County conducted an analysis of the cost of downtown commercial space as a comparative analysis in support of their marketing efforts. As a result, four previously vacant buildings are currently being marketed for new tenants in the City of Harlan. This presentation represented an engaged assessment opportunity that has already proven successful as previously unengaged building owners are now engaged in a marketing strategy to occupy their available buildings. Colby’s presentation was informative and motivational as communities informally discussed throughout the day how they could implement a similar effort in their own communities. Colby’s presentation was followed by a facilitated conversation framed around what success looks like and how we can measure those changes similar to vacancy rates in the city of Harlan.
The afternoon featured an interactive and applied engagement process training for all the attendees and resource partners in attendance. The round robin exercise infused problem solving, creativity, innovation, group consensus, and a bit of persuasive pitching. The process involved four rounds of individual exercises followed by multiple group rounds where individually proposed ideas for downtown projects that would positively impact the entire Promise Zone were revised and refined, until there were two proposals reflecting the general consensus of the room. The excitement in the room as individuals and their subsequent groups refined good ideas in to the great ideas was palatable and nearly uncontainable. The final idea developed by the room featured a regional arts program showcasing the significant creative and arts contributions being made in each downtown, coupled with a training program to support the creation of murals and other vibrant and reflective public art and expression.
Our next convening will take place in the spring of 2019 and is tentatively scheduled to take place in Williamsburg, Kentucky. Date and location to be determined.