Warsaw holds second strategic planning session for downtown

February 3rd, 2016

News Coverage:

February 2, 2016

Warsaw holds second strategic planning session for downtown

David Slone, Times-Union Staff Writer

In its second strategic planning session Monday, the Warsaw Common Council focused on marketing the city, what the downtown should look like and how social media could help promote the municipality.

The first session was Jan. 13. A third strategic planning session is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Feb. 16 in the upstairs conference room of the city hall. That session will focus on neighborhood revitalization.

The strategic plan was first put together in 2012 with American Structurepoint. For the 2016 update to the plan, discussion is being led by City Planner Jeremy Skinner and Assistant City Planner Tim Dombrosky.

Skinner started the two-hour conversation off with the goal of “business retention and expansion,” noting he didn’t think they finished with that at the Jan. 13 meeting. There are six goals: growth management; business retention and expansion; business attraction; supporting a vibrant and stable downtown; communications and processes; and neighborhood revitalization.

During the last strategic planning session, while discussing business retention and expansion, Skinner noted they talked about recognizing businesses more; better programming; collaboration versus city initiatives; businesses not downtown; and coordination between the city and agencies like the Chamber of Commerce and Warsaw Community Development Corp. to avoid overlap.

“I think one thing that maybe would be nice, and I don’t see this as something we as a city would have to do, but maybe working through KEDCo and the area realtors, is to have an index or master list of properties that are available if someone wants to come into town,” Councilwoman and WCDC Board of Directors member Cindy Dobbins said.

Skinner said Kosciusko Economic Development Corp. does a property list but it’s more focused on investment properties with limited commercial and won’t be a comprehensive list.

Mayor Joe Thallemer said that brought up a good point: Does a prospective business come from the Indiana Economic Development Corp., on their own, referred by someone else, through a realtor or who?

“We have found, at least from an industrial standpoint, that we get all types of different leads and you have to be able to coordinate those leads with your real estate people, with your incentive people, with your government people,” he said. He also noted collaborations are very important but sometimes the city needs to lead the direction and get all the parties to the table, and said the city might need to explore Dobbins’ idea a bit.

Councilman Mike Klondaris asked Dobbins if the WCDC had any programs in place that actively try to seek and bring new businesses to the town. She said not yet, but the WCDC was “trying to come up with an economic restructuring for downtown, some of the things that we can do to bring businesses in. And I don’t think we’ve been really pro-active enough about that, but it is in the works.”

Klondaris asked if maybe the city should be involved with that. Thallemer told him the city is involved with the WCDC, with a council representative and himself sitting on the board. It also funds or partially funds the Revolving Loan and the facade programs.

“I’ve been thinking about this,” Thallemer continued. “The downtown, you can get to the business attraction, you can get to the parking and the amenities and that type of thing, but then you also have to try and foster downtown growth and development potentially through residential growth, which is a big part of what cities are doing to bring people back to the urban core.”

Dobbins said the city is doing its part, but the WCDC just needs to find a better way to market information and properties that are available.

Councilwoman Diane Quance brought up “smaller, local businesses and what we could do to help retain them.” She said the city lacks things to offer the “local, homegrown person.”

Under the old model, cities would attract industry, which would then attract commercial and then residential, Skinner later noted. Today it’s the opposite, with the younger generation looking for a great place to live first, so they’re looking at commercial, quality of life and amenities and then they’ll find a job.

“I don’t know if one is greater than the other, but I do know they’re all very important,” he said.

Quance asked about what the city was doing to market its developments or was it relying on organizations like KEDCo and realtors to market them. Skinner said  right now it’s been mostly working with KEDCo and the developer.

Dobbins mentioned maybe the city needed to brand and market itself. Clerk-Treasurer Lynne Christiansen suggested a slogan or catch phrase. Thallemer said there were tourism and development angles to catch phrases depending on what they were and how they were used.

Klondaris later said the city is doing a lot right, but what the city is lacking is marketing, and Skinner eventually said the city needs a better focus on marketing.

The discussion then led to specifics in downtown Warsaw like parking and the streetscape. Dobbins indicated the brick pavers on the sidewalks were hard to shovel, while Quance indicated she wasn’t a big fan of the trees downtown but would like to see more garden elements. 

Thallemer said there are different types of streetscapes available, including different types of trees. Skinner said without trees downtown there would be no lights at Christmas, and Thallemer said trees provide shade during the summer. Christiansen said maybe the planters should be less wide and more oblong to provide more space on either side.

On parking, Klondaris said there’s a lot of parking lots downtown and his concern was that all the parking lots were taken away from possible business locations. He asked if maybe the city should consider a policy of discouraging more parking lots. 

While discussing the next goal, Communications and Processes, Thallemer mentioned the city’s app, Go Warsaw, which is an extension of its website. He said research showed that more people get information off their phones and the city’s website wasn’t phone-friendly so the app was created. 
The group discussed the different media to market Warsaw and its offerings, including using social media more. The possibility of making videos or airing the city’s meetings on YouTube or its website. was dicussed. 

Thallemer said having a social media presence is how people get the word out about what they have to offer, but the city currently doesn’t have a social media strategy. 

Before adjourning, the board set the next strategic planning session for Feb. 16 to discuss neighborhood revitalization.