By Shane Barton, Downtown Revitalization Coordinator
The summer ‘19 Promise Zone Downtown Revitalization stakeholder convening was recently held in Williamsburg, Kentucky on Friday, July 19th, 2019, at the Whitley County Fine Arts Extension & Community Arts Center. The Fine Arts Center, located on Main Street in the heart of downtown, offered a central location to gather, share, and explore what downtown communities throughout the Promise Zone have recently accomplished. The Kentucky Extension Fine Arts Program is coordinated by the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service and the Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky with a mission to create and support opportunities in the arts for citizens that will stimulate creativity, promote participation, and recognize artists, arts educators, and arts supporters at all levels and mediums. Following previous convenings in Harlan, Barbourville, Pineville, Hazard and Middlesboro, the Summer ‘19 convening was planned to provide a timely and impactful experience focused on preparing for, and sharing, proposed efforts associated with Promise Zone Downtown Revitalization Implementation Grant investments.
Like previous convenings, the day began shortly after 10am as the location and presence of one-way streets proved to be a bit difficult for some to navigate, given that GPS was slightly confused about the physical location of the building. Upon arrival, attendees were invited to choose their own adventure for the morning, picking one of two concurrent experiences offered. One focused on utilizing intercept surveys to measure impacts, while the other offered a guided walking tour showcasing a variety of creative placemaking efforts in Williamsburg. Both sessions were developed to inform and inspire similar efforts.
The walking tour provided context to a variety of specific sites but more importantly focused on the synergy being built between local government, citizens’ groups like Why Whitley, the University of the Cumberlands, and College of Design and Landscape Architecture students from the University of Kentucky. Together they have been able to reshape the future vision for downtown Williamsburg and make strategic investments to reach their goals. The tour included stops at a previously vacant lot recently transformed into a viable community event space hosting outdoor concerts and festivals (River Fog), a newly updated boat launch on the Cumberland River attracting water enthusiasts downtown as well as a series of adjacent buildings being transformed into housing and retail in the heart of downtown by the University of the Cumberlands. While isolated each project may not appear to have much of an impact but efforts to link each in cohesive ways has helped reframe the downtown experience in Williamsburg for future generations.
While half of the group experienced Williamsburg by foot the remaining attendees participated in a training focused on utilizing intercept surveys to gain insights on the economic impacts associated with downtown investments. This training provided a foundational understanding of survey methods used to develop and deploy intercept surveys for a variety of projects with special attention given to trails, wayfinding, festivals, and infrastructure improvements. Attendees worked through a series of guided reflections to develop question sets specific to their local needs and adapted an existing survey to reflect what they could utilize in their own community. The session wrapped up as each attendee ‘intercepted’ a walking tour attendee as they rejoined the group.
Similar to all previous convenings lunch was provided by a local caterer and Handlebar Nate’s Gourmet Food Truck did not disappoint. Attendees were treated to a Tex-Mex buffet featuring both grilled chicken & ground beef with sides of Spanish rice, black beans, corn, grilled peppers and onions, spring lettuce, shredded cheese, nacho cheese, tomatoes, jalapeños, banana peppers, and black olives with a choice of Nate’s homemade sauces featuring local ingredients. While attendees filled their plates, Nate shared his story – one of service and perseverance. Nate described his rehabilitation after experiencing severe and disabling trauma while serving in an active combat zone and how he launched, and has since, used the food truck as an opportunity to feel productive again while helping transitioning veterans reenter the workforce.
Keeping within the tradition of hosting a lunch program, Ryan Sandwick, CEDIK Community Design Specialist, and student interns (Harrison Knifley, Jordan Hackworth, Lily Hutzell, and Rachel Crosslin) shared about their efforts this summer partnering with One Harlan County, Harlan Tourism and the Harlan County Cooperative Extension Office to inventory and analyze downtown Harlan. This summer the students have focused specifically on the buildings and places in downtown Harlan that give it its unique character with special attention given to how each can be capitalized to support broader revitalization efforts. Each student spoke about their particular specialty, how it intersects with the collective efforts and how their insights support the long term vision of Harlan’s downtown revitalization process. The presentation featured 3D modeling and wrapped up with an extensive, digitally-rendered, fly-over showcasing specific efforts and elements the students highlighted as catalytic projects to downtown Harlan’s revitalization.
The afternoon featured a session led by CEDIK Economic Development Extension Specialist Luke Ramsay. It was tailored to assist communities in their preparation of ‘pitches’ to potential investors. The interactive training introduced participants to the concept of a pitch book and offered examples showcasing how other communities have marketed themselves to potential Opportunity Zone funders.
Throughout the day community stakeholders from five downtowns took the stage to share presentations on their recently submitted Promise Zone Downtown Revitalization Implementation grants. Bell County Tourism director Jon Grace spoke about collaborations in Middlesboro and Pineville to invest in murals and additional wayfinding directing a passerby to their downtowns. Maggy Krieblel, director of Corbin Tourism and Aaron Sturgill, Corbin’s Downtown Manager spoke about their efforts to install additional wayfinding signage to direct potential visitors from interstate 75 to their downtown. Downtown Development and Event Director for Harlan, Laura Adkisson, and Harlan City Tourism Director, Brandon Pennington, shared about Harlan County’s efforts. One such effort involves investing in improved accessibility, focusing on sidewalks. Laura and Brandon explained that infrastructure updates taking place around the county will ultimately make each impacted community more accessible for visitors of all abilities. Manchester Downtown Proud members Christie Green and Amy Dunzweiler discussed their multi-pronged proposal that features elements touching on codes and ordinance digitization and enforcement, wayfinding, historic banners and an incentive fund to support new businesses and entrepreneurs in Manchester. Bailey Richards, Hazard’s downtown coordinator, described their recent success in acquiring funding for a substantial downtown pavilion and articulated how additional investments in public bathrooms, wayfinding and supplementary infrastructure will amplify the user experience for current residents and potential visitors.
Our next convening will take place in the fall of 2019 and is tentatively scheduled to take place in Manchester, Hyden or Whitesburg.