By Deana Miller
Working with communities to help them discover and mobilize their strengths for growth and well being is my passion. So when DCI invited me to join a technical assistance team for downtown La Junta, I was just thrilled. DCI’s technical assistance program, which has served over 80 communities statewide, is geared to provide high quality, professional guidance at a low cost. After 11 years of assisting communities with strategies to strengthen their downtown, DCI has community planning and public engagement down pat.
One might ask how does DCI’s technical assistance process work? After La Junta’s application was selected, the process started with coalescing a team of experts in a variety of areas, including historic preservation, economic development, urban renewal, marketing and promotion, landscape design, architecture, land use, and my particular expertise, the creative economy and creative placemaking. The team was poised to evaluate La Junta from every angle.
We arrived in La Junta that snowy Sunday evening when snowmageddon hit Colorado; a little Colorado snow did not deter our endeavor. On Monday, we began a flurry of meetings to learn all we could in 10 hours about the charming, historic downtown. We met with City and County leaders, and we held focus groups with businesses, residents, the school district and local college staff, artists and arts groups, outdoor enthusiasts, police, fire and library staff, community organizations, the Chamber of Commerce, economic development and urban renewal; four focus groups in eight hours. We toured downtown to evaluate the look and feel of the area; all while talking to residents and business owners/employees along the way.
After burning the midnight oil to analyze our findings and brainstorm ideas, the team rested on the first day. Day two began with finalizing our recommendations, building PowerPoint slides and practicing our ideas out on the La Junta leadership team. A few final tweaks and we were ready to present our findings and recommendations to the community. The resulting public presentation was viewed by nearly 100 attendees, all eager to see what we saw in their community. They intently listened to our suggestions and strategies on how they can tap into their assets to create a vibrant, bustling downtown.
Technical assistance does not end here. DCI will continue to counsel and provide assistance to La Junta throughout the year. The goal is to help La Junta and communities statewide along their path to redevelopment and downtown investment strategies.
For more information about DCI’s technical assistance program, visit www.downtowncoloradoinc.org or call 303-282-0625.
Deana Miller is a Senior Associate with Art Management & Planning Associates, based in Denver, CO.