Group Calls for Theater and Other Changes for Downtown
The Downtown Gang, a group of local professionals, presented its recommendations to boost business in downtown Fredericksburg during Monday's EDA meeting. First, the lack of unity with city officials and downtown merchants must be repaired.
On Monday, a group of local professionals called the Fredericksburg Downtown Gang presented a list of recommendations in a white paper to the Economic Development Authority that they believe will boost downtown business and please those who come downtown to eat, shop or have fun.
The group organized the survey on a volunteer basis and presented short-term and long-term recommendations that it said the EDA should focus on in the next one to five years. To see who the members of the group are, visit this page from the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce.
One of the major recommendations is to bring a theater back to downtown to show old and hip movies, and hold performances and art exhibitions.
The group's white paper states downtown Fredericksburg needs a new brand. A 10-year strategic plan targeting what downtown Fredericksburg wants to be can help with creating a new brand, the white paper suggests.
The group also recommends a downtown gift card system that would encourage people to shop more in downtown. The EDA would pay for and issue the gift cards in increments of $5 to $50.
"The only cost would be for the cards and the administration of the program by the EDA," according to the white paper.
The Fredericksburg Downtown Gang recognizes that there will be challenges to the white paper recommendations.
"These challenges are the perceived lack of cooperation between the downtown merchants themselves and with outside entities such as city officials, the EDA and the Downtown Retail Marketing Inc.," the white paper states. "This lack of unity is a vital flaw that, if left unrepaired, will hamper any progress for downtown."
Greater challenges that the group cited are the large number of people who responded to the survey that expressed disappointment and disinterest in the variety and quality of stores and restaurants in downtown, and a majority of them commented that they wish businesses would stay open later and have more predictable hours.
The full recommendations are:
Short-term Entertainment Recommendations
In the short-term, the group recommended the EDA help develop a more effective and efficient marketing and advertising plan.
"Fifty-nine percent of respondents say that they hear about downtown events through word of mouth," stated documents the Downtown Gang gave the EDA on Monday morning. "This is not the most effective way to promote events. This must be changed in order to promote and advertise already existing entertainment options in the downtown area."
The group urged the City of Fredericksburg to finally get on social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, and to work more closely with local media by advertising and promoting story ideas. These social networking sites should be updated daily, they said. The Fredericksburg government and visitfred.com websites need a facelift and more regular updates. With the popularity of phone apps soaring, the group recommended the city create a downtown app that includes a list of events, restaurant specials, walking tour history of downtown and fun facts about the city.
The second recommendation is to use Market Square more effectively by establishing a formal relationship with the Fredericksburg Area Cultural Museum. They recommend monthly events held in the square that are in collaboration with downtown merchants and restaurants, some of which might sponsor the events.
"We believe this space would be perfect for showing movies, hosting live local music shows and festivals, serving as an outdoor art gallery and providing a stage for local acting groups such as the Christian Youth Theatre," the group's white paper states.
Closing Caroline Street at least four times a year for marquee events should be reviewed, the white paper states. Events such as "Friday After Five," "Saturdays after Seven" and "Summer Sundays" should be considered as options for merchants.
The final short-term recommendation is for the downtown merchants, the EDA and City of Fredericksburg to create and publish an all-inclusive calendar of events that is maintained on every website that has information about Fredericksburg.
Long-term Entertainment Recommendations
Within the next three to five years, downtown merchants, the City of Fredericksburg and the EDA should develop a strategy for some of the larger events held downtown.
"Seventy-four percent of the respondents to our survey rated downtown events as either 'important' or 'very important' to their desire to come to the downtown area," according to the white paper.
The group recommends that the city, EDA and downtown merchants explore the viability of a downtown multi-use theater.
"It would be beneficial to explore the Cinema Drafthouse concept," the white paper states.
Short-term Parking Recommendations
"Parking changes" was rated by 24 percent of the respondents as the second-most important potential change that should happen downtown to improve the experience. To do this, the city should reconsider the rates it charges for the parking garage, and the group cited Charlottesville's rates as being more affordable. If merchants and the city used a parking validation program, patrons who use the garage to buy something downtown would be able to park for free. A similar program is used in Leesburg.
Restaurants should consider valet parking to the downtown garage, the white paper states.
There should an effort to re-educate residents about downtown parking to change the perception that the city has a serious parking problem, when it doesn't.
Long-term Parking Recommendations
Within the next three to five years, the City government should investigate which parking lots that are outside of the Caroline Street area could be repurposed for downtown users. But to make this work, there should be a partnership with the Fredericksburg Trolley and FRED to shuttle patrons to where they want to go downtown.
"If the downtown area of Fredericksburg begins to experience a drastic and consistent increase in consumers, and is so highly trafficked that there are no other parking options, then the need for an additional parking deck should be explored," the white paper states.
Short-term Outdoor Dining Recommendations
The third most-popular request on the survey was for more outdoor dining choices. The group recommended a pilot program for a pedestrian-only zone on William and Caroline streets where the most restaurants are located. The streets will be closed once a quarter and restaurants can expand their outdoor seating or create outdoor space that they don't have. The white paper also recommends using Market Square and Hurkamp Park for outdoor dining events.
Long-term Outdoor Dining Recommendations
If the pedestrian-only street program works, it should be expanded and be more regular. The city could lease the space in the center of the streets to local restaurants.
The white paper recommends a Fredericksburg Dining Club that would offer VIP access to special events, private food specials and possibly free valet parking.
The EDA and City government should look into offering incentives for local downtown restaurants to expand with rooftop dining. The owners of Bistro Bethem are creating a burger joint called Vivify that will have rooftop seating and Castiglias is also considering rooftop dining.
Short-term Recommendations for Public Spaces For Events
The fourth most-popular addition that survey responders want is more public spaces for events. Some options to explore include adding more benches downtown and picnic tables and a playground in appropriate areas such as Hurkamp Park and the Riverfront Park.
Wi-Fi should be added to all of downtown to encourage people to work outside and inside of local businesses.
More pedestrian-friendly signs should be added downtown.
"These would include all local and historically significant locations in downtown Fredericksburg," the white paper states. "The signage should all have the same look to promote the identity and brand of downtown."
Long-term Recommendations for Public Spaces For Events
In three to five years, a plan should be developed to better use the City Dock at the end of Sophia Street, Market Square and Hurkamp Park for public events.
The Riverfront Park needs to be developed, the group recommends. The park could have a walkway, scenic gazebos and a pavilion.
"The Riverfront will be a cornerstone to selling the downtown area as a scenic waterway," the white paper states.