Dozens of downtown business and property owners, stakeholders and government representatives flocked to the lower level conference room of Ida Lee Recreation Center Monday morning to discuss a familiar subject—how to add to downtown Leesburg’s vibrancy.
The forum was organized by the Leesburg Economic Development Department at the request of Town Manager Kaj Dentler as he prepares for fiscal year 2017 budget deliberations. Run by the town’s Economic Development Commission members, the group broke into three breakout sessions to solicit feedback from attendees on their ideas to create positive change in the downtown area.
“We’re asking for ideas that the town can invest in to improve the experience for those coming downtown,” EDC Chairman Jim Sisley said to the crowd.
Each group came up with five ideas to contribute to the forum and then attendees placed a sticker on the ideas they most preferred.
Some of the prevailing ideas for change in the downtown area were: creating a town subsidy to fill vacancies in the downtown; creating a “map and app” for use by visitors and residents; increasing signage for downtown parking; improving branding; improving the quality of retail in the downtown; and adding to the arts presence.
Former Washington Redskins tight end Chris Cooley, who owns The Cooley Gallery in downtown, was among the attendees. He said he has heard from out-of-town visitors to his gallery that, other than patronizing his shop, there is no reason to visit downtown Leesburg.
“Building up a quality of shops or restaurants in that area I think is really important,” he said, “to give people a reason to say ‘wow this is a great area with a lot of things to do.’”
Cooley said he supported the idea of creating more frequent events downtown—even a Third Friday to go along with First Friday—as he said the streets are “packed” during these times.
EDC member Gwen Pangle noted that the Leesburg Downtown Business Association has already created an app for those visiting the downtown where participating businesses can even send push notifications about special events or promotions. But many in the room said they didn’t know the app even existed, so better promotion of it was urged.
“Right now downtown merchants don’t leverage as much as we have available,” Pangle agreed.
Prior to the forum concluding, there seemed to be a general consensus that more meetings of the like should be held to continue to solicit the public’s opinion on how the downtown could be improved.