By Betsy Finklea
Jason Epley of Benchmark Planning appeared at a recent Dillon City Council meeting to update the council on the downtown master plan. The city is currently awaiting to receive the final draft of the plan.
Epley said this is a three-phase process: Phase One—Downtown Assessment (Dec. 2019-Feb. 2020), Phase Two—Downtown Concepts and Vision (Feb. 2020-Aug. 2020), and Phase Three—Downtown Master Plan Development (Aug. 2020-Oct. 2020). During the downtown assessment, they held the project kick-off held meetings with the downtown coordinator and key staff, did background research, and held listening sessions with elected officials, business/property owners, and other downtown stakeholders. They talked to 60 people during the process.
He then reviewed the major areas of the recommendations.
The first was to improve the downtown design mostly involving the streetscape and building improvements. They recommend expanding the government center of the downtown that includes the area around the City-County Complex. They suggested putting the police department in the old agricultural building instead of the First Bank building as has been discussed.
They also recommend developing the festival marketplace area around the South Plaza and railroad depot.
Epley said they should pursue initiatives that are not necessarily downtown, but that help downtown. He said the city needs to solidify a downtown marketing strategy.
Another major area is downtown design initiatives to bring life to the street. This would include a new streetscape design for Main Street to improve the pedestrian environment, create an outdoor dining experience, strategically plant shade trees to frame the buildings, and reduce the travel lane width from four to three lanes so sidewalks can be widened and to create a more comfortable angle for parking. Some planting areas will be removed and high visibility crosswalks will be put in to increase pedestrian safety. The goal is to create street life and to create a place to dine, walk, and shop.
Epley discussed the streetscape on the Highway 301 Gateway. He said the streetscape should include markers and wayfinding signs and other measures to signal to visitors to turn to a unique place—downtown.
Epley noted that the DCA (Dillon Community Alliance) would be working with the city and property owners on the facade grant program and how to go through the permitting process which will help get good quality improves to downtown.
He revisited his discussion on the First Bank building. He feels this is a focal point. He said he thought the city should consider leveraging this property to generate business activity. He said he hopes they will consider the opportunity. He said it would create low-rent spaces for new businesses and entrepreneurial development.
Epley said a downtown management strategy is very important. He said they should consider to foster the relationship between the city and the Dillon Community Alliance. He said every downtown needs someone shepherding the plan, shepherding business assistance, and someone to be looking after these types of things. He said part-time and full-time staff is needed to manage volunteers, etc. and is one of the keys to success.
Epley then discussed the year one strategies for implementation. The year one strategies include solidifying the downtown management strategy between the Dillon Community Alliance and determining what each entity will be doing and the city and movement on the streetscape project including improving parking, landscaping, and sidewalk width, begin coordination with SCDOT, preliminary engineering, leveraging resources, and SCDOT resurfacing which is on the schedule for 2023 and flood improvements.
Other year one strategies include guiding the property owners through the building renovation/facade grant process in cooperation with the Dillon Community Alliance, evaluating the options for the police department move, and creating a strategy to implement the festival marketplace.
The strategies for years two through five include building the new streetscape (2022-2025—Finalizing design and construct new streetscape, incorporate flooding/drainage improvements), build the market hall/farmer’s market, new police department opens, and open the small business development center.
Other strategies including developing a marketing plan for new festivals, developing and implementing a wayfinding system, movement on pedestrian improvements, and updating the downtown master plan during year five.
The next steps are to identify priorities and crafting your story including your vision and plans and sharing the story. He said this will inspire the private sector to make improvements as well.
By Betsy Finklea