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Posted: March 14, 2009 11:59 p.m.

Revitalization study underway

Courtesy of Urban Collage/

This map highlights the focus areas of the downtown revitalization study.

The downtown revitalization project steering committee kicked off its first meeting by listening to professional planners’ assessment for Social Circle’s downtown area and adding a few ideas of their own.

The steering committee, made up of about 20 people from the community, including business people, politicians and educators, filled the meeting room at City Hall during their Feb. 23 meeting to hear from Urban Collage, the company hired by the city last year to do a study on how to pump life back into Social Circle’s downtown area.

The opportunities Urban Collage focused on included the Blue Willow Inn and civic anchors such as the new city hall and the city’s historic buildings. Steering committee members added that the Social Circle Ace Hardware store should be considered an under-utilized opportunity, as well as local events such as those planned by the Better Hometown program.

The current use of space in downtown was viewed as a large challenge. The retail buildings are too large for many small businesses and have high maintenance costs. The 30 percent vacancy in the downtown retail area and the area’s distance from Interstate 20 and the lack of easy connectivity to the Blue Willow Inn also negatively affect its appeal to visitors, planners said.

Lakey Boyd, a certified planner with Market & Main, said, “The issue is perception. People don’t think of Social Circle. They think of the Blue Willow Inn.”

Committee members added that parking space could be a challenge, along with the lack of public bathrooms, lack of places to eat and general “housekeeping” of outdoor areas.

The reason Urban Collage wanted to assemble the steering committee was to ensure input from the community, said Eric Bosman, an associate principal and certified planner with Urban Collage.

“We can’t go off and draw a design that doesn’t honor all of these things you’re talking about,” he said.

The next step in the planning process is coming up with ideas that address some of the challenges and use the existing opportunities, such as improving links between retail areas by improving sidewalks, diversifying the business mix, leveraging the Better Hometown program, increasing community programming and incorporating community open spaces.

Urban Collage will present their conceptual alternatives at the steering committee’s next meeting Monday, March 16, at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall. The meeting is open to the public.

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