In the run up for the last city commissioner election, I was very interested in hearing from the candidates at a forum where they were asked about their plan for downtown. I was very disappointed that most of the ideas consisted of “get businesses” and “get grants.” If anyone had concrete ideas, they weren’t shared at the meeting.
Even a candidate whose family had previously run a downtown businesses didn’t have anything to share about what would have kept them from moving. I’m not trying to criticize anyone, but just point out that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of ideas (at least that I’m aware of) designed to benefit the downtown area and get more foot traffic to those shops.
So to get the conversation started, here are five ideas of mine. I’m not saying that they are all great ideas, but even starting with a bad idea can help get people thinking and eventually produce some winners.
Be sure to leave your comments at the bottom. Which of these ideas sound worthwhile? Which sound stupid? What other ideas can you think of?
1. Put In a Play Scape
At Wall and Main there is a large grassy area where a building burned down. This space is owned by the city and contains a concrete pad where the Christmas tree is attached around the holidays.
My family eats down town nearly every week with some friends. After dinner we will usually head over to this grassy area so the kids can run around, maybe kick a soccer ball a bit and the adults can talk.
This area could be turned into a very nice small park to help draw people into downtown. A school grade plastic and metal play scape that can accomodate about 22 children would cost around $11,000 for the hardware. A larger unit that can accomodate 50 children would probably be in the $30,000 range. Wooden systems may be considerably less expensive and it might even be possible to get used equipment from schools that close down, etc.
One of the nice things about this idea, is that if there is ever a desire to put a building back there, it wouldn’t be ridiculous to think about moving a play scape to one of the other city parks.
2. Giveaways & Contests
My dad grew up in Arcadia back when it was a thriving little town. To help get people downtown, they would choose one night when all the stores would stay open late and they would do drawings to give away cash and prizes sponsored by the downtown merchants. This produced quite a draw and the only way to fit everyone in was to double park up and down the street.
Could something similar work in downtown Fort Scott? Maybe or maybe not, but it might be worth considering.
3. Downtown Movie Night
Would people come downtown to watch a city sponsored movie on the side of one of the buildings? The downtown concerts are great, but perhaps showing Toy Story 3, would pull in a slightly different demographic. It might mainly help the two restaurants downtown because most of the other shops are usually closed in the evening. I’m not sure what the cost would be to show a movie like that, but I imagine it wouldn’t be outrageous.
4. Use Empty Shop Windows
One thing that is plentiful downtown are shop windows and unfortunately many of them are empty. I’ve seen some efforts to put up displays in some of these windows, but none of them were things that you’d make a specific trip to go see. Would people come downtown to view local art work? What if high-school & middle school art projects were displayed downtown–perhaps a contest where people could vote for the winner from their cell phones?
5. Free Wireless Internet
Pretty much any downtown business is going to need to pay for Internet. This will probably cost $50 to $150 per month depending on what options are available at a particular location. Offering free wireless can help free up those dollars for businesses that are willing to invest in our downtown and if done correctly, the cost should be fairly inexpensive.
A mesh based solution like Meraki would make it easy to cover the downtown area and add on access points to get to the back of buildings or other places where reception didn’t have good signal from the main antennas. The actual hardware to get started would probably cost somewhere in the $2,500 to $4,000 range and businesses who wanted better coverage could buy an extender for around $200. Monthly costs would probably be in the $50 to $150 range–or virtually nothing if it could be run over the city’s existing connection.
In addition to helping the businesses, it would benefit visitors who need to get to the internet from their phone or laptop. Obviously offering free wifi isn’t going to produce a flood of 100s of visitors each day, but it is a little thing that can make for a more pleasant visit for the people who want or need access.
So there are five ideas. If you’ve read all of them, I bet you have some opinions about what might work and what wouldn’t and chances are you have some other ideas that are much better than what I’ve come up with. Please take a few minutes to share your ideas and thoughts in the comments where everyone can benefit from your perspective.