Archive | March, 2014

TownSquared quietly picks up $5.26M to create local business communities

31 Mar

See on Scoop.itCommunity Revitalization for Districts and Downtowns

“Nextdoor gave people a way to stay informed about the happenings in their neighborhood, and TownSquared is doing the same for businesses and their communities.”

Heather Garbo‘s insight:

Employing more than half of the working population, small businesses are crucial to Colorado’s (and the entire country’s) economy. In many small towns, they function as not only the financial lifeblood of the community, but also the heart of the community: they are the restaurants, theaters, coffee shops, and other businesses that serve as community gathering places and sustain a vibrant community life. Yet small downtown businesses, especially in rural areas, continue to close as individual business owners often do not have the resources to compete with online retailers or operate differently in a changed economy. Tools that promote collaboration, like TownSquared purports, could give these small business owners an advantage by providing a way to maximize and leverage resources. It will be interesting to see if TownSquared will indeed catch on with small businesses like Nextdoor did with neighborhoods.

See on venturebeat.com

Heather Garbo is the Director of Communications and Development at Downtown Colorado, Inc.

#CrushingOnColorado Photo Contest Results in Video Love Letter

19 Mar

What does Colorado mean to you? Bike-riding, skiing, rodeos, walkable neighborhoods, sunshine, the Great Sand Dunes, pub trivia, a healthy economy, historic theaters, the blue bear, even beef jerky apparently.

On Valentine’s Day 2014, Downtown Colorado, Inc. (DCI) launched a photo contest to get Coloradans to share what they love about our state. DCI asked individuals to snap a photo of themselves “crushing” on their favorite Colorado institution. Facebook voters had one month to select the winning photo (the historic Paradise Theater in Paonia, Colorado) for a $100 cash prize.

All photos were compiled into a final video love letter to our state. Watch #crushingoncolorado love letter here!

The contest is over but you can still share your love of our state with the world through social media! #crushingoncolorado

Incidentally, the Paradise Theater, the subject of the winning photo, has been participating in DCI’s Save Our Screens campaign to identify and raise funds as well as awareness of the plight of rural, independent theatres who were being forced to close due to the high costs of mandatory conversion to digital projectors. On March 17, the Paradise Theater exceeded its crowd-funding goal and will now be able to afford digital conversion and continue to serve as a community gathering place in Paonia. Isn’t that just one more thing to love about Colorado?

Heather Garbo is DCI’s Director of Communications and Development and has worked for the organization since 2009. She has a Colorado crush on a little book and wine bar located only two blocks from her house in Denver.

Exploring the Impacts of DCI’s 2013 Youth Engagement Series

13 Mar

Throughout 2013, DCI held a series of Youth Engagement workshops designed to explore ways of integrating youth into community planning. Several workbooks that will help continue these efforts are being developed – they will be available for purchase soon. Darcy Varney Kitching, M.Ed., MURP, takes a look at the results of this series. 

DCI’s 2013 youth engagement series taught rural community leaders how to engage youth in professional development, leadership training and volunteerism to support downtown revitalization around four themed modules: management, marketing and communications, physical improvements and economic restructuring. The workshops were premised on the idea that engaging youth in community-focused opportunities is a key to maintaining a healthy economy and a skilled workforce in rural Colorado.

Several attendees took that concept to heart, reporting back that the workshops gave them the tools and confidence to expand opportunities for young people in their towns. So far, we have heard from four communities that are directly implementing the ideas in the youth-engagement workshops: Ridgway, Lake City, Brush, and Victor. In these communities, nearly 90 young people have benefitted from youth-engagement programs that were started or enhanced following the DCI youth-engagement workshops in 2013.

Towns are encouraging new ways of creating opportunities for youth. Diedra Silbert from the town of Ridgway provided an example when she responded to our recent survey on the impacts of the workshops, saying, “The DCI sessions were helpful to me personally because working to include and empower youth is extremely important to me and as a new employee of the Town, I wasn’t yet aware of the Town’s commitment to this. Discussions from the training you offered highlighted this and got my supervisor and me on the same page about the importance of including youth wherever we can make that happen.”

Ms. Silbert was inspired to help Ridgway expand their youth-engagement efforts beyond parks planning and youth-oriented activities; she hosted a high school intern in her office, providing a valuable professional development opportunity that did not exist before the DCI trainings. Wrote Ms. Silbert,

“In Ridgway last Fall, a high school junior interned with me, working on Main Street and Creative District projects. She is an amazing and talented gal who came to us and asked if she could do this because she’s potentially interested in government as a career. She was oriented to each Town department by the department head, wrote a journal of her experiences in the first part of the internship, and submitted a written and visual/oral proposal to our Town Council on her recommendations about what the Town could do to increase youth involvement at the end of her internship. She also helped me put together a survey for businesses and got the ball rolling by interviewing the first five businesses. Sadly, she couldn’t fit another semester of interning here into her schedule, but we hope she might be back next year!”

Opening local government and decision-making bodies to the idea of working with young people and giving them the tools and understanding about how to create authentic youth-adult partnerships were main objectives of the DCI youth-engagement workshops. Clearly, Ms. Silbert and her colleagues got the message and were inspired to try new ways of working with young people as a result.

Leaders in Lake City, Colorado, also implemented the ideas from the workshops, creating a whole new service learning and professional development program for young residents. Kristine Borchers, executive director of the Lake City Downtown Improvement and Revitalization Team wrote,

“We have created a Community Youth Corps that completes meaningful service projects in Town Park, works with downtown business owners and the Trails Commission to improve pathways for consumers, residents and visitors, partners with federal land management agencies with projects, and much more. This is a workforce development project and students go through a resume-writing and interview process as well.”

In Brush, Colorado, leaders engaged in the revitalization of a downtown landmark, the movie theater, were inspired by the DCI workshops to bring youth into the process in a new way. Marketing Specialist Tyler Purvis wrote,

“For a while we have had the FBLA advisor as a part of the Economic Restructuring Committee, and tried to utilize the students in different capacities, mainly for civic events. However this past fall, we wanted to bring the students in more and invited them to the meeting where they were able to express their own thoughts on matters. From this, they have taken initiative and become some of the main drivers in a local campaign to save a historic theatre from having to close because of the new digital requirements being implemented. This has created excitement and discussion among civic leaders, and we would like to further tap into a greater youth engagement effort.”

Authentic youth engagement takes time and often requires major changes in the mindset of local leaders. We planted seeds in 2013; we expect to see more great programs and opportunities growing as we continue to check in with the attendees throughout 2014. With the publication of the themed youth-engagement workbooks that present the outcomes of the workshops and provide more tools for participants, we expect our membership to offer more and more ways for young people to develop professionally, create and take advantage of local employment opportunities and stay in or return to their hometowns.

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Darcy Varney Kitching, M.Ed., MURP, is an educator and an urban planner interested in the development of child- and youth-friendly communities.

Spotlight on Technical Assistance: Wellington

13 Mar

On the evening of Monday, February 24th, a crowd of residents gathered in the cafeteria of Wellington’s acclaimed middle school to discuss their vision for the future of the community and the downtown core along Cleveland Avenue. Consultants on DCI’s technical assistance team began by asking questions—“What do you love about this community? What would you change about downtown? Do you feel connected as a community?” The meeting reignited a dialogue about what it means to be a citizen and the importance of shaping the future. As one DCI team member said, “The future will come, and this community will grow, no matter what you do. The question is, how will you shape that growth? How will you make this a community you love?”

It was the fifth such meeting conducted by Downtown Colorado, Inc. that day, during a two-day technical assistance visit to the Northern Colorado town of Wellington. Focus groups were held with the town’s elected officials; nonprofit, service and religious organizations; school administrators, teachers, students and parents; business owners; and residents. From the farmers and ranchers born in the town of Wellington 60 years ago to the young families who came during the residential boom of the last 10 years, the community rallied around the importance of shaping a vibrant downtown district.

Wellington’s Downtown Revitalization Committee, chamber of commerce and municipal leadership brought DCI’s team as a catalyst for downtown investment and reinvigoration. The DCI technical assistance team, led by DCI executive director Katherine Correll, included a community revitalization specialist from the Department of Local Affairs and consultants working in economic development, finance, planning, landscape architecture, urban design and marketing.

On the second evening the team unveiled their observations and recommendations in a public presentation attended by more than 50 community members. The community embraced the vision for increased communication and collaboration between stakeholders, stronger support for local business and a more beautiful, pedestrian-friendly downtown with the infrastructure for businesses to succeed.

Additional recommendations included fixing the storm water system, embarking on small scale beautification projects, increasing pedestrian and bicycle access downtown, increasing support for local businesses and creating an outreach package with real estate and other information for potential new businesses.

DCI provides low-cost technical assistance to communities of all sizes throughout Colorado. DCI has conducted more than 60 such assessments, in partnership with the Department of Local Affairs, USDA, OEDIT, and the help of leading professionals who volunteer as team members. If you’re community is interested or would like more information, please visit Technical Assistance (where an application is available) or email coordinator@downtowncoloradoinc.org.

Jamie Shapiro is a VISTA volunteer for Downtown Colorado, Inc. and has participated in 5 technical assistance visits with Colorado communities since joining our organization in mid-2013. He says his favorite part of these visits is seeing the energy and excitement of the community members as they come together to shape their community’s future.  

Durango Builds Collaborative Center and Welcomes the World

13 Mar

This July, DCI is excited be holding a Downtown Institute in Durango, “Branding, Events, and Collaborative Marketing.” Register here, and be sure to check out Durango’s beautiful new Welcome Center while we’re there! 

Durango, Colorado plays host to nearly one million visitors each year. Tourism also accounts for one-quarter of the local economy, as does Fort Lewis College. Yet, there was a disconnect between the visitors, the downtown merchants, and the college. Because Fort Lewis College is located on a hill overlooking the town, many visitors never knew there was a college.

In addition, the absence of centralized information and visitor assistance in the downtown core left each merchant to provide information to visitors, a daunting task given that Durango offers more than 200 special events in any given year. Basic visitor services such as downtown maps, public restrooms, and available drinking water were also lacking. The obvious choice was to centralize these services in the heart of downtown, but where?  How would it be funded? Who would take responsibility for management? The answer was to draw from the many public and private resources and leverage community partnerships to create a new downtown asset greater than the sum of its parts.

CREATING A HUB IN THE HEART OF DURANGO

Concentrating on marketing the idea and allocating the space; negotiations, buy-ins, contracts and continual funding prioritized the effort. Building commitments and partnerships with the Durango Business Improvement District, Fort Lewis College, Durango Area Tourism Office and the municipality developed naturally with all parties already seeking an answer to individual concerns. Each organization agreed to contribute $100,000 for the renovation of a shared facility. Noticing a small shortfall in the renovation budget, an advertising bid went out for the marketing rights to the space. With the financing and contracts secured, reconstruction could begin.

Renovations began in February 2012, stripping the interior and focusing on the adaptive re-use of the 100-year-old building. Keeping the original leaded windows, trim, and the original stamped tin ceiling was essential.  Sourcing all contractors, subcontractors and as much product locally, the green initiative continued by installing high efficiency HVAC, lighting and plumbing. Non-VOC paint, a tile floor with recycled content, low flow toilets and recycling all the materials removed during the demolition also reduced the building’s footprint.

The project was completed in May 2012. The Durango Area Tourism Office occupies the offices on the mezzanine level. High capacity restrooms are ready for use, and able to be monitored by staff. A reception area that includes high resolution televisions, wall advertising, seating, a water fountain with a bottle fill, an ATM and information/ticket counter is primed to assist tourists. The Fort Lewis College space has ticket sales and student recruitment counter with interactive iPads set for guests. Three separate display windows on the front of the building exhibit one window for Fort Lewis College, a window for Durango events, and a center window between the doors for a single event showcasing.

THE CORE OF THE CENTRAL BUSINESS DISTRICT

With over 100,000 visitors in the first year of operation, the Durango Welcome Center has established its position in the Durango market and to downtown visitors. While most welcome centers can be a financial drain, this unique collaboration effectively eliminated the problem. By successfully delivering visitor services and local resident resources, the downtown Welcome Center is a model to be duplicated.

The Durango Welcome Center is the nucleus of downtown Durango, providing the ultimate concierge service, and welcoming the world. Plan to attend the 2014 DCI Institute, July 24-25, for a tour of the Durango Welcome Center.

Wayne K. Walsh is the public information officer for the City of Durango.