(Part 3 of a 5 part series on Downtown Visioning. Check out Part 1 & Part 2)
When last we left our Steering Committee, they were highly motivated and working hard to get the right people in the room. Through personal invitations, social media pleas and some serious working of the local media, we were able to attract 140 attendees to participate in our Visioning Session. Members of City Council, Planning Commission, the Downtown Development Authority, Principal Shopping District, property owners, business owners, community leaders, residents of Rochester and the surrounding communities and students from Rochester College. Each table had ten people, including a moderator to keep the conversation on track and a student "scribe" to take notes on each discussion topic. Now it was time for our moderator and downtown revitalization rock star, Ron Drake, to make it happen.
From the moment he took the mic, you could feel the positive energy radiating throughout the room. People were genuinely excited to be a part of this Visioning Session, and they were ready to get down to business. Of course, we wanted to set some ground rules to ensure and maintain the positive atmosphere throughout the event. Ron told the group to think big, and believe every idea was a great one. He asked them not to try and solve problems, but to come up with ideas and vision. To keep the group productive and on track, we had three questions for the tables to work on, with 30 minutes spent on each.
The minute we revealed the first question, people went to work. I think they were so excited to be there, that they started throwing out every idea they have ever had for Downtown Rochester. And, human nature being what it is, there was quite a bit of "That won't work" or "We already tried that" and a fair share of people trying to solve problems. The table moderators worked hard to get people on track and Ron encouraged people to just record the ideas and move on, stop trying to figure out how to do it, just do it!
Question 2: What would you like to see downtown?
The second round is when things really started to take shape. The crowd was getting a better feel for what we were trying to accomplish, and they could see some congruence with ideas from the first round. They started acting more like a community, one in which they all share. Ideas ranged from new business and event ideas to creating more gathering places and simply brainstorming more reasons to come downtown. Ron circulated around to all the tables during discussions, participating in discussions and helping to develop thoughts and ideas that he heard. And he decided on the fly that there was still more we could get out of this group, but we needed to change the third question!
During the first two questions, people created laundry lists of things they would like to see happen downtown, so we needed to flip the script and ask a pointed question - What is the asset that makes a downtown great and vibrant? Ron asked people to think of other downtowns they had visited and enjoyed. And he also acknowledged that Rochester might already have some of the assets, and there were many others that it didn't. It was a fascinating discussion and really made people think of the big picture.
By the end of the night, people were more excited about Downtown Rochester than they had been in some time, and many were impressed at how well so many of the community leaders interacted with each other. While each table had people from all different backgrounds and ages, there was a camaraderie that developed that night. Some said if only one or two projects come from the Visioning Session, the unity that the event created will do far more than the projects will for the future of Rochester. And most importantly, they wanted to be a part of writing this new chapter for downtown.
Tune in next time for The Value of Vision, Part 4 - The Results
The Downtown Geek