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Downtown design in full swing - Gillette News Record: News

Downtown design in full swing

How do you feel about space for public activities downtown?

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Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 2:19 pm, Tue Nov 5, 2013.

A public space for activities and events downtown is one of the ideas for the future of Gillette Avenue.

Since last month, the city of Gillette has been exploring these ideas in partnership with RDG Planning and Design as part of the downtown neighborhood revitalization plan.

The city wants to redesign the avenue to revitalize downtown and bring more investment to it, along with replacing the two existing water mains along either side of Gillette Avenue in 2014.

The design process for downtown is expected to end in April.

Representatives from the firm and the city hosted a public design studio on Wednesday. As the designers worked on the project, residents who stopped by shared their ideas.

“It seems like they are considering parking and greenery and making the sidewalks wider. I think they are considering a lot of good ideas,” said Gillette resident Joan Sowada.

“I think it’s such an unusual downtown because it’s so tiny and I think it’s critical to be sure that it stays as nice and beautiful a place as we can make it,” said her husband Felix Sowada. “It’s such a small downtown. It has really special needs. I think it’s a challenge to figure out how best to have the downtown serve Gillette.”

Here are some of the ideas that came out of the firm’s conversations with locals:

A space for activities: That could be possibly at Gillette Avenue and Third Street. Whether that place would be temporary or permanent is not known yet, said Cory L. Scott with RDG Planning and Design.

Some unifying concept: “The words that we’ve been hearing is energy and powerful. So the streetscape needs to be powerful. It needs to have some energy,” Scott said.

“We’ve got the railroad, so it’s the formation (of the city) and up on the hill we’ve got the school. So it’s the formation of the community and the future of the community,” Scott said. “How do we pull that into the story? So we are doing that with some physical design, with some public spaces and the whole point is to attract customers.”

Artwork: The possibility of some older images that illustrate Gillette’s history and energy industry. The company already has archived some images from the Rockpile Museum.

One-way street: As for the idea of making it a one-way street, it is not advisable that the business district goes from a two-way street to a one-way street, Scott said.

“In fact, we are seeing a lot of communities that have gone to one-way return back to two-way. It provides a lot more visibility for the businesses and activity,” he said.

Neighborhood revitalization

A redesign of Gillette Avenue is unique work for the city of Gillette in the sense that it is a neighborhood revitalization plan. The city also is working on another neighborhood revitalization plan for the Stocktrail neighborhood, an area that is emerging as a medical and senior citizens neighborhood.

Neighborhood plans call for investment and are not regulatory in nature, said Michael Surface, senior planner with the city. Their purpose is to consider existing conditions of a neighborhood and identify opportunities for investment ultimately for the purpose of improving the quality of life.

“Part of the beauty is we’ve never done this,” Surface said. “It’s like driving on the same road every day. We tend to not see the detail that’s there. The neighborhood system is focusing on the opportunity and then just tries to put together the ideas that create those private investments and these private public partnerships that can make the neighborhood a better place. What it does is helps bring out the potential for an area and that’s the reason we are doing these things — to create jobs, quality of life, investment.”

RDG Planning and Design and the city kicked off the plan for the neighborhood in September in partnership with Campbell County Memorial Hospital, Campbell County School District and Campbell County Senior Center.

Several public meetings have been rewarding in the amount of input the firm received from the partners for the project and residents, Scott said.

“Rather than have the neighborhood be designed by default, we wanted it to be designed by design. And we are looking at several different opportunity sites where we could leverage public investments for private market reaction.”

Opportunities for private and public partnerships in that area include possible new housing on the Westwood School’s location after the school relocates in 2014 and possibly new medical offices in the Medical Arts Court.

RDG has submitted a partial draft for the neighborhood to the steering committee for the project. The committee includes representatives from the senior center, the school district and the hospital. More information will be added to the draft in a couple of weeks and people will have more opportunities to comment.

How soon changes in the neighborhood will be made is hard to predict, Scott said.

“Sometimes we are really surprised. Things happen immediately or before we are even done with the process. Some things may take five years and some 15 to 20 years and beyond,” he said.

“I think the momentum and success of this one will ensure that there will be more neighborhood planning for the entire city,” he said.

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