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NLC pilot project promotes the rebirth of downtown.

"The best place to go in the county" and "a place were it's happening," are some of the ideas expressed by residents about how downtown Alvin, Tex. (pop. 20,000) should be known five years from now. Alvin is one of ten pilot communities participating in NLC's technical assistance project "Accepting the Challenge: The Rebirth of America's Downtowns."

The pilot project, a cooperative effort between the National League of Cities and the firm of Hyett Palma, Inc., was born out of the recognition that downtowns are special places.

Today local officials consider their communities' downtowns as powerful economic centers and they have always been viewed as a reflection of the community's overall qualify of life. The pilot project is designed to help communities define a shared vision for their downtown, help them assess the current state of downtown, and develop an action strategy for how to attain the community's preferred vision. Two of the pilot communities, Alvin, Tex. and Thousand Oaks, Calif., are featured here.

Alvin, Tex.

"A place where it's happening," is how one resident envisioned downtown Alvin, Texas in three to five years. This comment was one of many received from the approximately forty residents who attended the visioning assistance project in Alvin.

Alvin is a community of 20,000 located approximately 30 miles south of Houston. Once a successful economic town center, downtown Alvin has been hurt by the downturn in the oil industry and the growth of shopping malls, as evidenced by the many vacant and under-utilized properties in downtown. Both the image and climate of the downtown are greatly affected by its physical condition. In a survey of attitudes about downtown, Alvin residents and business-people agreed that they were most concerned about the overall appearance and image of downtown, and the buildings in particular.

In March of this year, the City Council took an aggressive step to 'reclaim' the economic vitality and the positive image of their downtown. The City Council voted to purchase the buildings at the downtown's 100 percent corner - the traditional four corners that make up the heart of downtown in many cities. Rather than wait for something to happen in downtown, the city decided to make something happen in downtown.

The city of Alvin, which paid $120,000 for the buildings, recognized the importance of these properties to the downtown, many of which have significant historic relevance for the community. The Council saw this as a way to stimulate economic activity in the downtown.

Just prior to the decision to purchase the buildings, city staff learned of NLC's pilot program. The city saw NLC's pilot program as an opportunity to develop a gameplan for how to approach their downtown. There were alot of potential projects in downtown and limited resources. The city wanted to use the game plan to focus its efforts and to define an implementation schedule to give a starting point and to keep their effort moving.

What was recommended? A series of recommended actions was submitted to the city following the site visit. Some of those included:

[section] Concentrate enhancement efforts in the downtown core. The Downtown core represents not only the heart of the city, but also many of the key elements for successful revitalization of downtown Alvin - including the recently acquired buildings, the city offices and facilities, the majority of the Downtown's remaining historic buildings and some of the major downtown businesses and institutions. The concentration of activity also would enable the city to focus its limited resources and to make the success achieved visible.

[section] Adopt and implement the Downtown Core Real Estate Development Plan. The city of Alvin, through its acquisition of properties within the core of downtown, has taken an aggressive posture as "owner" and developer, with the intent of renovating sizable portions of the existing buildings within downtown and attracting a range of quality additional businesses, developing new public uses, and enhancing public buildings to better serve the needs of local residents. In order to be successful, the city should adopt and implement a core real estate development plan to manage the revitalization and development of these properties. the realization of maximizing the market potential of downtown, and ultimately the return of the buildings and space to the private sector to own and operate.

[section] Upgrade the appearance of downtown. When public spaces of a downtown are in disrepair, the area is seen as not being very highly valued or valuable. In keeping with the City's intent on making the downtown area an economically viable and attractive area to investors, rehabilitation and maintenance is needed including improved streetscape, signs, and parking areas. And, the city should capitalize on the aesthetic value of the older buildings in downtown.

[section] Take full advantage of existing resources. Alvin has a great deal of positive aspects to its downtown. It should take full advantage of these and find ways to fully incorporate them into the downtown revitalization effort.

The downtown area is the hub of government activity, with the City Hall, the police station, the library and other government facilities. City Hall and other city properties have been nicely landscaped and maintained and sidewalk beautification efforts have been made by some local companies. National Oak Park, located in the heart of downtown Alvin is a wonderful natural resource and a source of pride for the community. Alvin's heritage is also a source of pride. The city has several older buildings which present great potential for rehabilitation.

[section] Create a Downtown Partnership, a cooperative effort of the public and private sector to manage the revitalization and marketing efforts of the core downtown area and ultimately to help attain the defined vision for Downtown Alvin.

What's the latest? The City Council recently agreed to place a $10 million bond issue on the ballot in early August to finance a significant amount of the Downtown Alvin action strategy. The bond would finance the rehabilitation of some of the older buildings, the relocation of the police station within downtown, the construction of a new library and the development of a senior center in the existing library facility.

Thousand Oaks, Calif.

"Trees would shade the street; enticing shops, restaurants and art galleries would attract the eye and the paying customer, parking lots would deposit cars for the day; benches would invite people to rest; and a shuttle - maybe even a trolley - would provided transportation up and down Thousand Oaks Boulevard."

This is the vision expressed by residents of Thousand Oaks, Calif. and summed up by the local newspaper, The News Chronicle, in its story on the downtown visioning session held in Thousand Oaks as part of NLC's technical assistance project.

Thousand Oaks, a community of approximately 105,000 located approximately 40 miles north of Los Angeles, is the second of ten communities to participate in NLC's Rebirth of Downtown technical assistance pilot program.

Thousand Oaks does not have a "traditional" downtown. Instead, Thousand Oaks Boulevard, a three and one-half mile mile strip, serves as the hub of retail and commercial activity in the city.

Thousand Oaks Boulevard, or T.O. Boulevard as it is known to local residents, was defined as the focal point for NLC's technical assistance project. T.O. Boulevard is anchored on one end by two shopping malls and on the other end by an Auto Mall.

A Vision for T.O. Boulevard. A visioning session was held in a local Volkswagon Dealership at the start of the technical assistance visit. The fifty or so residents, business people, local officials, and concerned citizens in attendance shared a consensus about how Thousand Oaks Boulevard should be viewed in three to five years.

It should be known as the "center of Thousand Oaks; a place for culture, arts and entertainment; variety and quality shops; a place where you can get out of your car and walk; and a place where you can spend the entire day and not run out of things to do." There was a great deal of interest in creating a sense of place or destination - where you could walk and run into people you know.

Residents and businesspeople expressed concern about the overall physical appearance of T.O. Boulevard, the appearance of buildings along the Boulevard and parking. The business owners also were displeased with the image the boulevard now portrays of the community.

[section] There is need for a Broad-based, Shared Community Vision. It was clear from the visioning session and discussions held during the visit that there residents of Thousand Oaks hold strong feeling and opinions about the future of Thousand Oaks Boulevard. These should be fully explored and resolved in an ongoing manner.

[section] "Chunk Down" the focus area. Thousand Oaks Boulevard from east to west, is almost five miles long. Given its length, it is difficult for the "human mind, available resources, and volunteer energy" to cope with the revitalization of such a sizeable area. It was recommended that the project area be grouped into small, more manageable areas to help target and phase revitalization efforts, create an economic orientation for each of these areas, and better market the distinct qualities of each area.

[section] Community Concern for Access in the project area. Many residents expressed a desire to have more of a "village fell" to T.O. Boulevard, making it appealing to pedestrian and vehicular traffic. It was recommended that a specific access plan to commissioned to address the variety of concerns related on both pedestrian and vehicular traffic - such as cross walks, traffic flow and speed, parking and transportation alternatives.

[section] Current and Future Physical Character of the area. There was a significant amount of concern expressed about the current and future physical characteristics of T.O. Boulevard including the height, design, and color of buildings, signage and other issues. The City of Thousand Oaks and local members of the professional design community have discussed the possibility of hosting a visit from a Rural/Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT) to define and urban design plan for the area.

While the specific circumstances vary in Alvin and Thousand Oaks, the mission of local government in each community is one in the same. Downtown, or in the case of Thousand Oaks - T.O. Boulevard, can be the critical economic and social centers of these communities. The local officials in Alvin and Thousand Oaks have begun to MAKE this happen in their communities.
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Title Annotation:Special Report: Overcoming Banking Hurdles; National League of Cities
Author:Mayer, Virginia
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jul 27, 1992
Previous Article:The silent riot: attracting banks to rebuild communities.
Next Article:Community success challenged by local government/banking partnership.

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