By Alex Bridges
Challenges await Felicia Hart as she starts working with stakeholders in Strasburg's downtown revitalization.
Hart began working for Strasburg ON May 5 as its new downtown coordinator. Hart brings years of experience working with the Winchester Main Street Community program and as executive director of First Night Winchester.
"The town is investing so much in itself right now and that's really exciting to see in this day and age, especially in a small town like this, and the opportunities to be part of this is just amazing for me," Hart said.
As a part-time town employee, Hart will act as liaison between the local government and the downtown merchants and property owners. Hart, 53, of Stephenson, also works as the director of marketing and development at Community Foundation of the Northern Shenandoah Valley.
Hart said she plans to start meeting shop owners Monday.
"That's my first priority -- to understand where the merchants are, where the businesses are with regards to their business, with regards to their relationship with downtown and the government and how we can strengthen that to make sure if there are any weaknesses there," Hart said.
The downtown cordinator said she expects to confront naysayers and knows some may not change their attitudes toward reviving main street.
"We need to look at new opportunities," Hart said. "What can we do to make things better for downtown and for our businesses."
Hart joins the town in the middle of its streetscape improvement project. She worked for Winchester during both renovations to its downtown walking mall -- one performed about 20 years ago and then a more recent project. In her experience she worked more on the side of the merchants, serving as their collective voice and making sure proprietors were prepared when the government proposed changes that would affect their businesses.
Hart recognized the differences between Winchester's downtown and Strasburg's, as well as how they address their main streets. Hometown Strasburg is an affiliate of the national Main Street program. Hart explained that in Winchester its Main Street program falls under the city government umbrella and is managed by the Old Town Development Board. Winchester also charges an extra tax on properties in its historic district to raise money for downtown projects.
But the arrangement in Strasburg offers more give and take among the players, Hart said.
"There are plenty of towns that have it set up this way," Hart said. "It's just getting used to the relationship and who's doing what when."
"This is more of a main-street mentality," Hart added. "We do have traffic. That has to be first and foremost part of the design."
Hart plans to use tools of her trade when working with downtown merchants and property owners -- look people in the eye, shake hands, make phone calls. Hart said she asked during her interview for the job if the town would pay attention to concerns she would relay from business owners.
Proprietors may need to meet the town halfway and step up to take advantage of helpful incentives.
"We can only go so far, obviously," Hart said. "But making them aware of those opportunities, hopefully it's not a battle. Hopefully it is this is a two-way conversation."
In her experience business owners have shown an interest in such incentives.
"Again, it becomes a community-wide project," Hart said. "It's neighbor helping to help the neighbor."
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org