Council discusses downtown revitalization

Published 12:13 am Saturday, September 22, 2012

An artist’s rendering imagines what West Washington Street might look like after streetscape improvements, a new library and other investments.

City officials are looking to piggyback on the planned new city hall on West Washington Street with projects in the surrounding area, including a new library.

A larger surrounding area would be targeted for redevelopment, streetscaping projects and similar improvements, officials said. The concept could be incorporated into the ongoing Comprehensive Plan update and the upcoming capital improvements plan and budget process.

The ideas were discussed during the City Council retreat on Thursday. Several members were excited.

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“I’m ready to move forward with it,” Councilman Charles Parr said.

In addition to the new city hall, the library would help anchor the revitalized downtown space. The current Morgan Memorial Library is crowded and does not provide the ideal environment for a public gathering place, officials suggested.

“We serve a lot of people there,” Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts said. “We could be serving people in much bigger, better ways.”

A consultant, Glenn Walters of Design Workshop, presented conceptual plans to move the library slightly east of the current site, to the block between Lee and South streets. A bigger, more modern building would encourage uses such as meeting rooms, a genealogy center, a workforce center and other activities.

Parr and Mayor Linda T. Johnson seemed most excited about the proposal to partner with a higher education institution for classes at the new library.

“Libraries are becoming different than they were when we were growing up,” Walters said. “We think that the library can fill a lot of roles.”

Walters said a higher residential density and mixed-use development would be critical to the success of a new master plan.

“I think we need more people living in proximity of the retail,” he said, adding that plans should incorporate pedestrian-friendly elements such as the more-prominent crosswalks and larger sidewalks shown in his conceptual drawings.

Officials hope private owners in a larger area would be spurred to reinvest in their properties after seeing the new public buildings.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for existing businesses,” Roberts said, though he acknowledged in response to a question from a council member that some buildings would have to be demolished.

Vice Mayor Charles Brown also favored the plan.

“This is very energizing,” he said.

City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn said she would bring specifics for council’s consideration at a later date. No funding possibilities were proposed during the discussion.