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Vision for Williams' downtown takes shape
Many of the same people who took a walk Monday through the rain-soaked downtown, strolled through a slideshow vision of what a redesigned downtown could look like on Thursday.
At the end of the nearly two-hour presentation, the consultants working on the Williams Downtown Revitalization and Mobility Plan peaked the interest of the crowd with idealistic visions of new storefronts, new commercial construction, outdoor eating and park areas, building murals and much, much more.
They even showed how a 40-unit senior complex and smaller residential projects could fit into the region's layout to enhance the overall area.
But the Kool-Aid was being served through a looking glass.
The city still has major challenges, not the least of which that many of the primary buildings in the downtown area are in desperate need of repairs, and rehabilitating some may cost more than just knocking them down and starting over.
The nuts and bolts of the project — and the core of the presentation — was really about how to improve the streetscape of the downtown area and along the length of E Street.
Some elements, such as adding bike lane striping and crosswalks, could be completed in the short-term. Others, like improved curbing, sidewalks and drainage enhancements might come a bit further down the road.
Moreover, John Miki, with Opticos Design, said many of those projects could be paid for through school safety funds available through the state.
Anything to heighten the safety of the schoolchildren walking and riding their bikes was well received by the group.
That was especially true when crossing the E Street overpass above Interstate 5, which has no crosswalks or any indicators to motorists that pedestrians are in the area.
Another key component was to improve the signage and gateways into Williams from all directions — in short, making them more attractive and directing motorists to the city's core area.
While generally well-received, there were some concerns about what the proposed changes would mean for truck and farm equipment traffic dependent on some of those entrances, particularly at the south end of town.
The consultants did not think the redesigns would be an issue, but some of those in the audience told the consultants they obviously do not drive big rigs.
It is an issue that will be revisited.
Further down the road, officials conceded, are larger makeover projects dealing directly with the Seventh Street downtown area.
Many of the enhancements are dependent on attracting new investors to rehabilitate the old buildings and opening up the vacant storefronts.
But not all.
Changing the parking to 45-degree spaces and adding trees and other enhancements to make it more pedestrian-friendly are within reach of the city's grasp.
But by doing part of the infrastructure work, Josh Meyer, with the nonprofit Local Government Commission, said the city could help encourage some of that entrepreneurship.
It leaves the city with the age-old dilemma of finding money to pay for projects to generate more revenue with the hope of bringing life back to the downtown.
Although it was not discussed as part of this plan, many officials believe the way the city will pay for the downtown enhancements is by developing the business park on the east side of the interstate.
But part of the focus of the revitalization plan is to drive highway traffic and others to the downtown area on the west of the interstate.
Meyer started the presentation with an overview of the input the consultants had gathered from focus groups, city staff and the public workshops.
They included the need to keep the historical flavor and existing character of the downtown, and to utilize the strengths of the area such as the business anchors.
A completed plan is expected to be to the city in February.