by TaLeiza Calloway
Parking. Signage at city entrances. Better connection to neighborhoods.
These are just some of the areas of improvement discussed during a joint city meeting to put design ideas and plans for the city’s downtown into action.
“We’re to a point where we have to be more proactive,” St. Joseph Mayor Rick Schultz said. “We’ve been talking about design (plans) for 12 years. It’s time to move forward with the plans we’ve been kicking around.”
The joint meeting June 6 included members of the St. Joseph City Council, the city’s park board, planning commission and the economic development authority. The goal of the meeting was to review what development has occurred downtown, what a future downtown will look like and steps needed for the city to get there.
The city has a comprehensive plan, transportation plan, downtown beautification plans and design guidelines. Those plans are only “paper” at this point. Officials agree in order to move forward, funding and plans for implementation are the next step.
St. Joseph EDA member Larry Hosch said the city has to start looking at the downtown in two ways: as a destination city and as a livable city.
“We’ve got to get more people living downtown,” Hosch said.
While the addition of amenities like the laundromat can be inviting, Hosch said, he also suggested the city consider multi-family housing in the city’s downtown. Another option Hosch suggested as part of rethinking downtown was the creation of a green space or common area in downtown for people to not just pass through but spend some time in the city.
While a footprint for downtown continues to take shape, one issue was a constant during the meeting: parking. Downtown parking includes on-street parking, public lots and private lots.
City council member Steve Frank and EDA member Tom Skahen also noted the city has no handicap parking stalls downtown. Skahen said this is an area the city could start with as part of the transformation of downtown.
Along with parking, another target area was marketability — letting people know what downtown has to offer. Frank conveyed the idea of adding QR codes (quick-response codes) for downtown businesses at the entrance to the Lake Wobegon Trail and other visible areas. QR codes are two-dimensional matrix bar codes that can be scanned from cell phones to retain information and identify products.
Joanne Foust, EDA consultant, said the planning process is continuous. Meetings like these help.
“I thought there was some good input,” Faust said of the meeting. “You’re never really done planning your downtown.”
The next step is for the EDA to take the information garnered from the joint session and work on a plan of action. The next meeting of the EDA is slated for 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 20 at St. Joseph City Hall.