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Planning board hears pitches for downtown projects

Published 6:00am Thursday, April 18, 2013

Last week the Wetumpka Planning Board heard presentations from two firms vying to be awarded the job of creating a limited project plan for the downtown area. Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood and The Walker Collaborative were interviewed after board members whittled the list of candidates down to their top two.
“We worked with Central Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission (CARPDC) to apply for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and we got it,” said Mary Katherine Moore, a board member. “It is a $50,000 grant – specifically it is anti-blight funding.”
Over the past year or two, there has been work done toward creating a downtown and riverfront redevelopment plan for the city. Moore said the grant awarded to the planning board can be used to augment the overall vision.
“We will spend the money on breaking down that great big plan into smaller chunks,” she said. “What we asked the candidates specifically to do was look at traffic patterns and come up with some concepts for streetscapes like sidewalks, lighting and flower planters.
“The idea is to figure out the traffic circulation patterns and look at things like whether there should be a crosswalk in one place or a pedestrian island in another place. There’s a whole host of things we can do.”
Cathy Gerachis of Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood said her company’s planning work has been recognized by the American Planning Association and projects have won awards.
“It’s all about how citizens are engaged in the process,” she said. “There are a number of ways we do that – starting with a large town hall meeting and having a store front on site so people can walk in and talk to us. It’s very important to listen and use what we hear.”
Chris Carter, a planning board member, asked how a plan can successfully translate from paper to reality.
“Once we get to that point, we’ll have put together an implementation plan and put budget dollars with it. It’s very important to identify where the leaders are because they’ll be the ones helping to move this along.”
“Implementation is where we’re heading,” said Larry Watts of Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood. “The worst thing we hear from clients is ‘Why are we doing this again?’ We don’t want that. We want you to move straight to implementation.”
Phil Walker of The Walker Collaborative said he has completed projects in riverfront communities as well as cities where casinos were present. Some of his work has been done in places like Natchez, Miss., which has both.
Partnering with Walker is Lee Jones of Third Coast Design Company. Jones said he is experienced in downtown planning, mixed use and walkable urban areas. Like Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood, The Walker Collaborative has been recognized by the American Planning Association.
Walker said he strongly recommends establishing a project steering committee and meetings to obtain public input. He noted that his services would include detailed master plan prep – typically about 100 pages – along with a draft.
In answer to the same question from Carter, Walker said his projects are typically successful because of realistic plans and funding solutions. Jones noted that each element will include a way to implement the plan, as well as a “quick victory” project to the implemented.
Walker stressed the importance of including the pending casino in any planning.
“You need to manage the negative impact of gaming and leverage the positives,” he said.
Both firms were partnering with Darrell Skipper of Skipper Consulting for services that include analyzing traffic and circulation patterns and planning transitions.
Moore told the candidates the board could take as much as a month to reach a decision.
“The plan we will get from the candidate we choose will give us something concrete to accomplish,” she said.

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