Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Value of Vision, Part 2

The Value of Vision, Part 2 - Assembling the Dream Team
(Part 2 of a 5 part series on Downtown Visioning.  Missed Part 1? Click here.)

When last we left our downtown crew, they had just embarked on a journey to create and execute a Downtown Visioning Session.  I say a journey because we really needed to look at this project as a marathon, not a sprint.  Sure, the Visioning Session could be put together quickly, but this isn't something that we do every day - it's significant, special, and deserved to be treated as such.   And we all acknowledged that the real work would begin after the Visioning Session.  Taking the information - recording, summarizing and delivering a report to all interested parties in the short term, then breaking it down and seeing where we would take it from there in the long term.  But that's getting ahead of ourselves. 

We knew that a Steering Committee needed to be established to execute this project. Instead of reinventing the wheel, I went to my favorite committee, Community Development.  A recent committee creation of mine, they are what you might describe as a think tank, specializing in "special projects".  They don't have an official budget, but they work hard and make a lot of things happen.  The committee includes members from our various Main Street Committees, DDA Board, PSD Board, a property owner, city official, college professor and business owners.  In short, they are my rock star volunteers and to have them all working together in one committee is pretty amazing.  And I knew that they would take this Visioning Session and turn it into something worthwhile.

Of course, you can't have a Visioning Session without attendees, so that's where the conversation began.  We decided on a goal of 150 participants and needed to figure out how best to get there. We could just do a random cattle call through social media, press releases and in-store promotions and that would have worked fine.  But we really wanted the key stakeholders in the room, and we began to make a list of those people. Our wish list included elected officials, city officials, boards & commission members, Main Street committee members, property owners, business owners, community leaders, local organizations and residents.

The committee also made the "controversial" decision to not only invite certain key people from the community, but to allow residents to apply online to attend the session.  Why would we put ourselves through this?  First, we knew that if there were certain people we felt strongly should be there, then we should extend a personal invitation to each of them.  But we wanted to also have voices from the greater Rochester community, as Downtown Rochester serves as the downtown for several surrounding communities as well. And speaking of voices from our community, we wanted to engage students as well, inviting students from Rochester College to participate as table scribes for the event.

So we broke it down like this:

  • 35 spots for elected/city/boards/commissions/committees
  • 50 downtown/community stakeholders (property owners, business owners, employees, community leaders & organizations) 
  • 50 residents from the greater community
  • 15 student scribes from Rochester College

For the first segment, I grabbed the email list from the City and got to work.  For the second segment, each committee member was asked to submit (3) names, and I was tasked with identifying (20) downtown stakeholders.  For the last segment, the residents, we created an online application form through Survey Monkey, where residents were invited to provide their name, city, email and to answer one question, "Why Downtown Rochester?".

So great, now we had a plan and a targeted attendee list, but we were missing one thing. We needed the thing that was going to pull it all together - a facilitator.  For anyone who has ever worked with me, they would tell you that I pretty much always have a plan when it comes to things like this.  So it came as no surprise that when the topic of selecting a facilitator came up, there was only one person I wanted - Ron Drake.

Author, downtown revitalization expert, Main Street enthusiast and pretty much the most positive person that I had ever met - I knew he was the the one for this project.  The first time I had the pleasure of meeting Ron was at the National Main Streets Conference in Detroit.  What struck me about him, beyond his notable resume, was how impressed he was with what was happening in Detroit.  He didn't see blight, he saw opportunity.  I knew then that I wanted to bring him to Rochester at some point, and nothing could have been more well-suited than our Downtown Visioning Session.  I reached out to Ron and shared what we wanted to do, and he was eager to lend his time and talents to our effort.

Now all the players were in place. Invitations were being delivered, press releases distributed, it was all coming together.  It was time for the rubber to meet the road and to make it happen.

Tune in next week for The Value of Vision - Part 3 - The Visioning Session

The Downtown Geek

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Value of Vision, Part 1

The Value of Vision, Part 1 - Why Are We Doing This?

Why are we doing this?  Yes, that's a question I ask myself almost daily.  As it is always best for any good story to start from the beginning, I should probably set the stage for this discussion.  In January, our organization, in partnership with City Council, decided to host a Downtown Visioning Session to gather input and ideas from the community at large.  Once the word got out, the same question came up over and over again - why?

Downtown Rochester, Michigan (about 40 minutes north of Detroit) with a population of about 12,000 people has been in the downtown revitalization business since 1983.  From facade grant programs and farmers' markets to lightpoles and that little light show of ours, we've done it all and everything in between in our 30+ years.  So it obviously begs the question, why hold a Downtown Visioning Session?  Great question, with many different answers. 

First, and specific to our organization, we've had a lot of challenges over the past several years.  But with new leadership, stable funding, motivated volunteers and a fresh sense of purpose everyone is looking to "right the ship" and start defining the direction for downtown. 

Second, input is always welcome. Heck, in this job, we get it whether we want it or not every time we hold an event or put up a street sign, so why not be proactive by initiating the discussion and engaging the community in the process. Any time you have an opportunity to get people involved in your organization or your efforts is a good day. 

And last, but certainly no less important is something that has been my professional mantra for years - you can always be better.  The moment you think that your downtown is the best it can be and there is nothing left to do, you're right, and it's time to step aside and let someone else take the lead.  And if you truly are at the top of your game, what better time to start to plan for the future?  Proactive trumps reactive any day of the week.

So there we were, we knew wanted to hold a Downtown Visioning Session.  Sounds cool, right? But what did that really mean?  Who was going to do this?  What was our goal?  Again, more questions in need of answers, and we found those answers, along with a few passionate volunteers and a charismatic downtown visionary to take us on the journey.

Stay tuned next week for The Value of Vision, Part 2 - Assembling the Dream Team