DDA plan heading Into the stretch

The Downtown Development Authority’s effort to find ways to continue the district’s long-running economic revival is heading into the stretch. The board’s consultant will hold stakeholder workshops in the first week of November and also launch an online survey that will be open to everyone.

“There will be a consumer element to it and there will be a stakeholder element to it. If we get to 500, we will consider it successful,” said Brad Segal, president of Progressive Urban Management Associates, of the online survey.

PUMA is the Denver firm that is directing the DDA’s Downtown Framework Plan, which is expected to provide the board with investment strategies and priorities for the district’s future. To this point, the work has involved examining a number of factors related to the district’s economic health, including but not limited to urban design, sustainability and development opportunities.

Segal said 75 stakeholders have been involved in the process since it began nearly two months ago. The meetings have collected complaints about the district, examined trends in downtown, and gathered suggested improvements for the sector from those who have been interviewed.

“The Framework is intended to provide clarity and recommendations for your investments in the future,” Segal told board members recently. He said the final recommendations would go to the DDA in December, and a final report would come in January.

“We want to map things out,” he said. “We don’t want to leave you with 100 recommendations without any sequencing.”

Segal held a workshop last week for DDA members and asked them to name the trends they’ve seen since they’ve served on the board. DDA Chairwoman Kayem Dunn said the biggest one she has come across is that more people want to live downtown. Segal agreed and said there are plenty who want to reside in the district but don’t because they can’t sell their suburban homes due to the sagging housing market.

“We suspect that when homes begin to sell, you’re going to see a large demand for downtown living,” he said.

DDA Treasurer Jana Wallace said more micro-businesses are opening in the district, a trend Segal said often occurs during recessions when people lose their jobs. Board member Jane Gietzen said the district has steadily grown and the DDA boundary has expanded. DDA member Jim Talen said he has noticed that fewer African-Americans have attended events such as ArtPrize or opened businesses in the district over the past few years.

“We’ve spent quite a bit of time talking about how downtown isn’t especially welcoming to African-Americans,” he said. “And there are market opportunities.”

Dunn said that she has seen younger, talented, educated people getting involved in downtown leadership roles. Segal said keeping those in their 20s and early 30s involved is vital for the district’s immediate future. “The demographics project a worker shortage only eight years from now,” he said.

Segal also had board members list and then vote on the improvements they thought downtown most needed. Adding more downtown routes to public transit, promoting living in the district, and getting more retailers to fill storefronts tied as the top votegetters. Finishing next was doing a better job communicating with minorities.

“You guys are pretty clear with your priorities. They’re all interrelated,” said Segal.

The DDA hired PUMA in July and is paying the firm $100,000 for its work. Two local companies, Urban Design and Clark Communications, each will receive $17,500 for assisting PUMA.

PUMA specializes in creating economic strategic plans for downtowns. The firm has reportedly worked with 200 clients in 32 states, the District of Columbia and Canada.

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