By Sue Moore
Members of the Vicksburg Downtown Development Authority (DDA) have established a tight timeline to begin activities that will resonate with the public, according to Kathy Hoyle, executive director of the DDA.
To fit the pieces of the puzzle together, the first visible session on the downtown design plan saw over 24 residents meet to hear McKenna and Associates’ ideas on what makes a quality place to live. This firm, out of Ann Arbor, was chosen by DDA’s Board of Directors to present design options for downtown by early August.
Becki Harvey, an expert in what she called “place-making concepts,” teaches at Western Michigan University’s school of public policy, said that Vicksburg already has many of the pieces required to create a quality place where people want to live, work, play and achieve prosperity.
The community needs to attract talented workers between the ages of 24-35, people who are mobile enough to decide where they want to live. “This population seeks entertainment, recreation, and social interaction,” Hoyle said. Southwest Michigan has the structure, i.e., the bones or skeleton, to make this happen. In the 1960s, half the households in the U.S. had kids in the family. That figure is now about 35 percent and experts expect this to drop as low as 25 percent. This new crowd demands such amenities as parks, outdoor activities, sports, greenways, and waterways. It is not necessary to have it all, just easy access to it, Harvey emphasized.
For economic activity to take root, a “sense of place” is necessary to attract and retain talent, Harvey said. This connects people to the place and if that is managed, they will come back again and again. The old planning committee standards of writing ordinances and codes for the village, doesn’t foster this creativity, she said, particularly if we begin to do business differently. This, she suggests, is where economic prosperity lies.
The McKenna team leader, John Jackson, said the scope of McKenna’s project was to define the character of Vicksburg today and project it ten years out. He is looking at ways the DDA can do target marketing to achieve these results. He asked, what local trends might attract the various groups Harvey characterized in her presentation?
The audience was asked to list what they liked best about Vicksburg, and together, they came up with more than 16 positives. Downtown parking, lodging, inter-connectivity among the assets, and weekday activities, were listed on the debit side.
Guests were asked to rank some of the visual elements prepared by McKenna staff for the downtown featuring fencing, alley reconstruction, and possibly one-way traffic on South Main Street. Once the drawings are finalized with this input, Hoyle will be able to prepare grant applications to several agencies and foundations that might have an interest in helping to fund Vicksburg’s redevelopment.