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Posted November 20, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Winchester set to get a new downtown manager

By Sally Voth

Along with a revitalized downtown Winchester walking mall, the city is getting a new downtown manager.

Jennifer Bell is expected to take the $68,000-a-year position on Jan. 3, one day after the pedestrian mall construction begins, City Manager Dale Iman said Monday.

"Her role will be to manage all things downtown -- or old town, if you will," Iman said.

That will include regularly meeting with merchants and property owners, and helping to plan special events designed to draw in both visitors and residents, he said.

"[A] farmers market is another thing we're very interested in attracting to the downtown area," Iman said.

He said Bell also will be expected to attract more businesses to the downtown area.

"And, not just businesses, but those that really fit properly into our character and to address needs that exist," Iman said. "We have more people living downtown, yet the shopping for food is [lacking]. A downtown grocery store is certainly one that would be on many people's list for needs for downtown."

He said Bell would work to bring more residents to the downtown area, and help to keep relations between them and visitors to the entertainment venues harmonious.

The city embarked on the renovation of the walking mall because the 100-year-old water and sewer lines beneath it are collapsing, according to Iman. He said the estimated $8 million project will include brick pavers, new street furniture, landscape work, splash pads with pop-up jets for children, public restrooms and gateways.

"[Bell] will be working from the very beginning to work with merchants and property owners to ensure that they're able to conduct business while we're doing construction," Iman said. "It's a fine line to try and keep everybody happy. We expect, usually when you do a project like this, the merchants and the property owners take advantage and do some improvements to their buildings at the same time."

It's hoped the renovation project will be done by late spring, he said.

"I'm excited," Iman said. "I think she's going to be a great fit. I think she has the enthusiasm and passion for the job. She's just going to come in here and win a lot of fans ... take our downtown district to the next level."

Bell, too, said she is excited.

"It's such an interesting time with the pedestrian mall project under way and so many great things going on with downtown," she said from Salem, Mass., where she is Main Streets director. "I think it's going to be a really exciting time to be part of Winchester. When I started here, in downtown there were a lot of vacancies."

Since then, though, 80 businesses have moved downtown, and Salem has been transformed from a seasonal tourist town into a more active, year-round one, said Bell, who is married with two small children.

"Last year, we had a festival every month in the year," she said.

About 3,400 people come to a farmer's market every weekend in summertime, according to Bell, who said she's impressed with Winchester's sense of history.

"I'm really looking forward to meeting everyone and recruiting volunteers," she said. "Up here, I work with a lot of volunteers. I think people who live in the community have the best sense of what the community needs. I'm looking forward to bringing my family there and playing a big role in Winchester's future."

Bell's position is a re-titling of another position, executive director of the Old Town Development Board, according to Joel Davis, human resources director and public information officer for the city.

Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or svoth@nvdaily.com

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