City gets look at downtown master plan
Published 10:40 am Thursday, March 23, 2017
After more than a year of planning and discussion, city officials got their first look at the new downtown master plan this week.
Tuesday evening, a summary of the plan was presented to the Winchester Board of Commissioners. The plan was developed as a way to revitalize and breathe more life into downtown Winchester.
“We are very excited when a community begins to pick up on what a downtown can be,” said Barry Alberts of CityVisions, the firm hired to develop the downtown master plan. “We all want to see downtown Winchester return to its place as a hub of Winchester and Clark County.”
One of the biggest parts of the plan is redeveloping the sidewalks and elevated area along Main Street across from the Clark County Courthouse, he said. Ideally, it could be repurposed for better pedestrian access with opportunities for outdoor seating or dining.
“It’s the balcony overlooking the courthouse and Main Street,” Alberts said.
The plan, as presented to commissioners Tuesday, listed 10 priority recommendations:
— improved code enforcement and public safety efforts
— new outdoor dining and use regulations
— establishment of a facade grant program including ground floor retail
— redevelopment of Sphar building to include tourist/local presence
— creation of a downtown investment fund
— establish a downtown tax increment financing district
— initiation of a High Side Linear Park design
— encouragement of additional market rate housing
— unified downtown streetscape design elements
— enhanced marketing of downtown.
Some of those items, like reworking the Sphar building, are already in the works, Winchester Mayor Ed Burtner said.
“I think there are things we can pick off and work on,” Winchester Mayor Ed Burtner said. “There’s a lot of effort and activity that is occurring.”
Another significant part would be encouraging investment in downtown. There are many places in downtown which could be renovated for upper floor living, but the cost of bringing the buildings up to code would make it cost prohibitive, Winchester-Clark County Industrial Development Director Todd Denham said.
Alberts suggested creating a downtown investment fund which could help developers make the necessary repairs to businesses or living spaces to make it more feasible.
“This development fund is real, real important,” Denham said. “I couldn’t be more pleased with the overall plan. I think this is something that’s much needed.”
The commissioners also took a preliminary step to begin developing a tax increment financing district in downtown, which could help finance projects. The city previously approved such a plan for Winchester Plaza. The motion by Commissioner Shannon Cox was approved unanimously.
There is no timetable to complete the recommendations, or to choose which will be completed first.
“The real work begins now,” Burtner said.