By David Meade
The Williamston community was presented a preliminary strategic plan last Thursday which includes recommendations for implementing the community plan the town has been working on since May. Project Manager Tee Coker, of Arnett Muldrow & Associates in Greenville, presented a strategy board with recommended short and long term steps and goals.
The plan is part of a revitaliztion and economic development comprehensive master plan the town is formulating through the Envision Williamston program. The presentation covered four strategies: Economic Development; Design and Planning; Branding and Marketing; and Organization and Implementation.
Coker presented first steps for each of the stategies that the planning team recommends get underway as early as 2016:
For Economic Development, the goal is to help Williamston succeed “as a multiuse community with shopping and dining and increased residential units,” according to Coker. “Ideally it is what you want to accomplish as a community. This is a test of our professional recommendation of what you want to accomplish.”
The Envision Williamston Board is expected to recommend the final plan for town approval in December or January.
Economic Development – 2016
Capitalize on Williamston’s Potential
The first recommendation is to develop a retail retention and recruitment strategy, “to keep current businesses and take care of the business community we have, while at the same time expand,” Coker said.
To encourage new businsesses, he recommended a Main Street Business Challenge in which prospective businesses enter a contest to win business space in downtown and help with marketing.
Coker said the plan is also based on what he called a “Walmart Capitalization Strategy” which assumes the rumored retail development does happen in Williamston within the next year or so.
He said local businesses can thrive by offering personal service and providing items that Walmart doesn’t carry. “There is a lot Walmart isn’t going to touch,” he said.
Assuming Walmart does locate on property located at Roberts Blvd. and Hwy. 20, the expected development will create a retail draw to the area.
The plan encourages franchise type businesses on each end of town, with a more “homegrown” retail and restaurant mix in the downtown area.
Coker recommended connecting the commercial and retail areas on the outskirts of town with the downtown area through the use of banners, street signage and landscaping “to create a linear corridor into the downtown, to draw customers into the downtown shopping area the plan is designed to create.”
The plan creates a traditional downtown area with shopping, dining, library, recreation, residential, arts and culture and trails, with access to nearby school campuses. At the center of the downtown area is Mineral Spring Park.
“The park is the heart of the community,” Coker said. “With any redevelopment strategy, it needs to be a part.”
“This is the place you need to start.”
Coker said their research shows that Williamston can sustain two downtown restaurants.
Recruiting additional retail and developing the downtown area will be the next step.
Coker said their research showed 12 retail categories that could be possible business opportunities for the area , with an emphasis on recruiting homegrown local businesses.
A key to the plan is having a Downtown Farmers Market with a permanent location.
“This creates an opportunity for local folks with informal businesses and artisans, to work on their craft. Having that space is important,” he said. “You need to harness the talents you have in the community. There is opportunity there”
Coker said grassroots, small scale economic development is happening all over the country.
He mentioned a short term plan for Town Square Center that incorporates some infrastructure but could increase retail values.
Coker said the downtown revitalization would benefit from a “Destination Business.” The planning team incorporated this in earlier presentation with an example of a brewery/restaurant with an adjacent beer garden, for the old hotel property at the corner of Minor Street and West Main.
“You need some sort of draw. You are a bedroom community, but it doesn’t always have to be. People outside can come. There is a market there,” he said.
Coker said as commercial nodes on the outskirts of town begin to fill in and the town begins to flourish, “You will need additional commercial space.”
To create that the plan makes several recommendations for development driven community infrastructure improvements.
Realigning Courtney Street to create a four way signalized intersection was one of the main recommendations.
“Realigning Courtney Street will make more sense for commercial retail and make it safer,” he said. “We need to begin thinking where it needs to go and how to pay for it.”
Design and Planning – 2016
Enhance Williamston’s Quality of Life
Coker said that the perception of the town needs to be addressed beginning in 2016 with landscaping, zoning and signage ordinances.
“Perception is reality,” he said. “People coming in now have a diverse experience. You want to have consistency and overall quality,” he said. “Raise the bar so that new development meets the requirements of your community.”
The plan recommends looking into a Component facade grant with public and private funds to be used for awnings, windows, and other facade improvements.
“Then people will begin to notice where there was the same old thing, there is now some changes and effects that are in place.”
The plan recommends looking at abandoned empty buildings and the condition of those properties
Coker said that people will begin to notice community gateway signage with landscaping and improvements that says, “Wow. This is a special place.”
He recommended a feasibility study to explore whether a performing arts facility is worth pursuing. “A performing arts facility, can be extremely complex and expensive,” Coker said. “ We need to look into where to start and what to explore. We recommend some sort of community arts center is worth exploring and could happen soon.”
Steps in the recommendation for 2017-18 include expanding the trail network and the overall vision for expanded greenway and park in the center of the downtown area and to neighborhoods.
The trail connection extends from the artory to the park and downtown, ballfields, out Minor and to the schools. “This can be done incrementally,” he said.
The plan recommends relocating the library to the downtown area. “Try to bring the library to downtown. There is opportunity in a building that is about the same size with opportunity for outdoor seating.”
“The civic facilities start to create this cool place,” Coker said.
The plan also makes recommendations for the old Winn Dixie and Town Square Center area that would help create a downtown.
It recommends extending Pelzer Avenue to the back of Town Hall, and create a boulevard from Main Street to the old Winn Dixie.
“This creates two sites for potential commercial property and begins the “cultivation of a true downtown feel,” Coker said.
The plan also recommends working toward a revitalized Brookdale Park area and Caroline Center.
Coker said that Brookdale Park “is not very attractive, but the potential is amazing and could be a starting point for neighborhood revitalization.”
The plan recommends extending park connections with the trail system. “This is going to happen and is in plans already. it is just a matter of money and time.”
Branding and Marketing – 2016
Maximize Williamston’s Message
Coker said once the prior recommendations are in place, the town can begin to focus on Branding and Marketing which he said is “the fun stuff.”
“You are sending out an invitation, creating a platform to tell the Williamston story.”
The goal is to build community pride and becoming a destination choice.
He gave an example of Travelers Rest and how the Swamp Rabbit Trail and a new Walmart helped “to create a jumping off point for exploration.”
Use of banners is a quick and easy way to begin to promote the downtown. “Banners provide that visual connection and are quick and easy,” he said.
“You need to be thinking of what the Williamston story is going to be and how to get that story out.
The plan recommends using public art to cultivate a sense of place. “Use public art as a place to start to circulate,” he said.
An example is the mice in downtown Greenville. The art gets families downtown and then a mom passes by a storefront and sees something cool inside, goes in a buys it. Another example is a mural. “Create an experience,” he said
Longterm into 2019 the town may be ready to draw visitors from I-85 via a billboard. Businesses may want to extend hours, especially during the holidays.
Organization and Implementation – 2016
Getting the Job Done
Adopting the Community Plan and working with potential partners “to accomplish what we want to accomplish as a commuunity”will be the first steps for 2016.
The plan also recommends the creation of a “Go Team” comprised of a small group of people who know enough about the pieces, “to go out and sell Williamston.”
The plan recommends working with neighbors in West Pelzer and Pelzer and possibly having two Volunteer days in the area, one in spring and one in fall.
It also suggests rebranding the Greater Williamston Business Association (GWBA) as the Palmetto Business Association to encourage surrounding area businesses to be a part of it.
There is also a recommendation to continue to partner with Anderson School District One and the Career and Technology Center on projects.
It also recommends exploring a development corporation model.
“You have the ability to get things done. You are small, and have more of an ability to actually participate in the process,” Coker said. “There are a lot of things the town and an entity (Envision Williamston) can do that the town cannot accomplish on its own.”
Long Term – 2019 +
The plan recommends partnering with Pelzer and West Pelzer on regional basis, such as use of recreation fields and cultural initiatives, “to grow and expand.”
“Community plans are a living document. You can go back and figure out where you stand and where you want to go.”
Coker said the final report will have approximately 200 pages and the planning team will present some of the key recommendations and go more in depth on first steps, before presenting it for town approval sometime after Christmas.