Page 37 - Salem Magazine Spring 2016
P. 37

  What is the Downtown Plan trying to accomplish?
We must take control of the story of our downtown and the story of our community. We must increase demand for the space and make it more desirable both as a business location, and as a regional destination. People always tell me how they really like Downtown Salem and that they really care about it. But, they also realize that it needs improvement to stay relevant, and to lead us forward as a city. The Downtown Plan is a road map about how to do that.
You have tried to include the public in this process from the start. What kind of citizen input has there been?
As with any good plan, this one was designed to be a democratic and inclusive process from the ground up. We created a website to promote public interest in the planning effort,, where information about upcoming meetings and planning documents could be posted for public view. We also created the Downtown Retail Survey, which was mailed to every utility address in Salem, receiving 1,152 responses. Notice of meetings was mailed to every business and household in the study area. Flyers were posted throughout downtown. A list of stakeholder groups was created, and meetings held with representatives to make certain that their voices were heard. In total, over 3,400 comments were received about Downtown Salem, the most of any plan the city has ever done.
That would seem to indicate a high level of interest as well as participation. What did the citizens tell you?
The public has been very clear about what kind of downtown they believe Salem deserves. It should be historic and respectful of the past, but also modern and relevant. It should be filled greenery and landscaping to make it lusher than it is currently. People also want it to be filled with attractive lighting and activities. They want a livelier downtown than currently exists, especially with more nightlife.
Cover Story
They also believe it should be better integrated with Roanoke College. Most importantly, it must find its voice in the region. It has to fit a distinctive spot within the valley’s consciousness. It has to answer the question “What is Downtown Salem all about?”
You mention lighting and greenery. What can you say about the streetscaping at this stage?
We really listened to citizen comments, and we’ll be completely replacing the streetscape that is currently downtown for a more historic, upscale look. Sidewalks will be replaced with brick pavers. Additional landscaping will be added, along with new areas for outdoor dining. All the traffic and streetlights will be replaced with historic-style fixtures. We will also be hanging strand lighting overhead across the street to create a more attractive look, and to make the district more desirable to shoppers and as a business location.
The city has been working out of the recession since 2008. Will we be able to acquire grant money to cover the costs for some of this?
We’ve been very successful at acquiring grants to pay for all this, and we’ll continue to pursue them as we move forward. The Commonwealth of Virginia has many small cities like Salem, and they encourage this type of mixed use, walkable development. It’s good for small business, good for the tax base and good for the citizens that live in these communities, so we’ve enjoyed support from Court Rosen and William Fralin, our local members on the Commonwealth Transportation Board, as well as the staff at the Virginia Department of Transportation. So far, funding has been tentatively allocated to begin the streetscape work on College Avenue and on Main Street starting at Broad Street and working east. These two projects will anchor the work on each end of downtown. These streets contribute the most to the character of Downtown Salem.
Roanoke College has made improvements by updating building facades and adding new awnings. College Avenue will also have additional parking and new sidewalks.
  Street lights like this one will be found in downtown Salem when construction begins. | SPRING 2016

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