By Alex Bridges
Strasburg officials heard from residents and business owners Monday on ways to improve downtown for the future.
Work on an economic restructuring program for downtown kicked off with a discussion on how Strasburg can improve the area around King Street, fill vacant storefronts and keep existing businesses in the district.
More than a dozen people attended the initial meeting for the work under the planning grant. Audience members included residents and owners of downtown businesses. Councilman Richard Redmon and Mayor Timothy Taylor attended the meeting and gave input on the topics during the discussion. Brandon Davis, director of community development for Shenandoah County, also attended.
Audience members generated ideas for ways to improve downtown. Suggestions included the need for an anchor store downtown to draw not only potential shoppers but also to give young adults a place to work to keep graduates in Strasburg. Others cited a study done about eight years ago aimed at improving the town in which people suggested the downtown needed a grocery store, a bakery, a theater and other businesses not offered then or currently.
Bill Foster, a member of the board of directors for the Chamber of Commerce and with the Strasburg Heritage Association, commented on the need for an anchor business. Foster said the downtown offers little reason for residents to visit and shop. People who attend events held downtown come largely from outside the town, Foster said.
As for an anchor store, Foster pointed out that the town does not need another Walmart or other "big box."
The business owners may need to change the way they operate in order to attract more people downtown, some audience members noted. Owners may need to schedule their hours of business to suit the needs of people who work during the day by staying open later in the day or on the weekends.
Town Manager Judson Rex explained to the audience that participation from downtown business and property owners and residents helps Strasburg in its efforts to receive additional grant funding for creating the program. The planning grant comes in advance of the remaining funding and includes the requirement that the town create a management team of stakeholders such as business and property owners, residents, students, town and county officials and elected leaders.
The management team holds its first meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in town hall. The meeting also is open to the public.
As part of the work under the grant, the town plans to create:
- A physical inventory survey of all open spaces and buildings in the central business district
- A business inventory survey of all current businesses in the district to assess the type, space and associated costs
- A survey of all local and regional assistance and resource providers available to small businesses in the area
- A historic consultation in which the town will reach out to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources advising the agency of the project and future contact regarding resources in the downtown
Based on what comes from the work that goes into the program, the town should make a list of needs for the implementation funding, Murray explained.
The Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission has worked with the town on the downtown plan and is assisting Strasburg in meeting goals of the grant program. Tyler Klein, community development planner with the commission, also spoke to the audience about the grant program.
Kimberly Murray, economic development and planning manager for Strasburg, said the town can then apply for grant money it would use to implement goals of the program. Implementation money could help pay for marketing the town, improvements to building façades, or to set up a loan program for businesses.
Rex noted that Strasburg has taken steps toward revitalizing downtown, including the hiring of Murray whose job includes the economic development of the town.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or email@example.com