“We’ve been working hard as you all know,” Bivins said. “We’re not done yet. Some of these are bigger than the DDA. It’s going to have to be a city project.”
Bivins told the DDA board that there are a number of things that can be accomplished in the first year and that other items may need to be put into five- or 10-year priorities.
The primary vision for the downtown area includes an extension of the downtown Streetscape, improving the gateways to downtown (Second Avenue, Turner McCall and Fifth Avenue), increasing the number of businesses, and increasing the number of upper-story loft-type residences, as well as creating visions for the Fifth Avenue and West Third Street corridors.
The study essentially divides the downtown study area into six districts: the Cotton Block; middle Broad from Second Avenue to Sixth Avenue; Broad from Sixth Avenue to Turner McCall; the Turner McCall entrance (essentially from the Turner McCall bridge to the hilltop where Riverside Toyota was once located); the West Third Street corridor; and finally the Fifth Avenue corridor.
Bivins’ design team at Fanning is recommending a continuation of plantings in narrow medians that could be developed both in the Cotton Block and the upper Broad district from Sixth to Turner McCall.
He told the authority board that coming from the South Broad Street bridge, Broad Street doesn’t take on a specific look until Second Avenue. Similarly, Bivins said that when he first came to Rome about six years ago he missed the Broad Street turn to come downtown.
The Fanning Institute team also suggested additional tree plantings at various locations to continue the “look” of the downtown Streetscape.
“We’re not saying that this would happen overnight,” Bivins said.
He stressed that much of the preliminary recommendations would involve extending public-private partnerships with businesses and the city.
DDA Board Chairman Steven McDowell said that capitalizing on public-private partnerships, such as what is happening
at the old Top Hat location at the corner of Third and Broad, would help share the work (and financial) load.
Bivins said that the Fifth Avenue corridor from Broad Street out to Turner McCall Boulevard would become even more important once the new Charles Hight Square shopping center, anchored by a 54,000-square-foot Publix, is completed.
“This place will be transformed at some place and time,” Bivins said. “It’s one of the greatest areas for potential growth for your downtown.”
The urban design professional from Athens also spoke with the authority board about the importance of maintaining projects once they are completed.
“The only thing worse than not having this is having it and not maintaining it,” said board member Jay Shell.
Bivins said the West Third Street district is still very much a work in progress because his design team heard consistently from Romans that they wanted to extend downtown across the river. Bivins said the planning document, “if we listened right, then this document reflects your ideas.”
From ideas to projects
Bivins offered up a series of first-year strategies that could be developed and implemented in 2013.
At the top of the list was doing something about vacant storefronts. He suggested consistent signage to reflect vacancies and then said that things like historical posters or photographs could be used as art in empty buildings.
A second priority would involve a thorough review of historic preservation guidelines.
“Ninety percent of the people we interviewed felt preservation guidelines were hurting development,” Bivins said. “But virtually everyone wants to protect the character and architecture. That tells me communication is an issue.”
Upper-story residential development, business development and business recruitment rounded out the list of first-year strategies that the planning process has identified.
In order to facilitate business development efforts, Bivins is suggesting that the DDA leadership meet frequently with developers and real estate officials to help make them aware of the services and types of financial assistance that the Rome DDA is able to assist with.
DDA Director Ann Arnold also indicated that the DDA and Business Improvement District leadership have contracted with the UGA Small Business Development Center in Rome to develop a market analysis report to help determine the types of businesses that need to be recruited to the downtown district. That report should be completed at about the same time as the Fanning Institute’s master plan.