Editorial: Downtown’s Direction

By the end of its second budget markup session Monday night, the Leesburg Town Council had chopped three downtown infinitives that supporters had touted as important elements in boosting the economic viability of the historic district.

The opposition to spending money to launch a Main Street program, conduct a new parking study, and build a splash pad could be interpreted as being hostile to the needs of downtown businesses and property owners. They’re not. Instead, the votes put a brighter light on the absence of a strategic plan for the vital town core.

That plan won’t emerge from a hodgepodge of proposals aimed at quieting the council’s critics du jour. That ineffective game of whack-a-mole gets to be expensive.

As some council members noted, there is a need for a more thoughtful, comprehensive strategy to foster—and better capitalize on—the latest wave of investment in the town’s core. That plan can’t be dictated from the council chambers, but must be community-driven.

If armed with confidence that the town’s political leaders would value and implement their recommendations, there is a ready roster of downtown residents, business owners, investors and advocates who would contribute. There’s no shortage of issues to consider and they go beyond the common complaints about parking policies or sidewalk seating. They run the gamut from noise conflicts, to the merits of converting empty commercial space to residential use, to the need to spruce things up more during the holidays.

And the study effort shouldn’t be limited to building a list of what needs to be done; it also should include funding strategies that reflect the type of public-private partnership that will be needed to sustain the current economic upswing.

It is clear town leaders know that more needs to be done downtown. Their challenge is building—and trusting—the community coalition that will lead the way.

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