(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