Stakeholders Seek to Boost Downtown’s Draw

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.

11 thoughts on “Stakeholders Seek to Boost Downtown’s Draw

  • 2016-01-11 at 8:43 pm

    I attended briefly and frankly, there were not many retailers there nor the major property owners and brokers. the same things came up that have come up at prior forums — more extended hours for businesses (which is not the job of government to require), more festivals (we tried Court & Market Days and other events and they were flops), more parking (well, we have the Times Mirror property just sitting there, but the owners don’t want residential — which is where the demand is). There also were no more than 25 or 30 people present. My feeling is we need more “feet on the street” and that means more rental apartments for people. We cannot just depend on the occasional tourist. Downtown Leesburg is just not functional enough for our overall residents. But there is HUGE demand for rental housing in downtown Leesburg, and not enough of it. More residents means more feet on the street and thus, demand for various retail services, restaurants, etc. But a lot of these property owners are spooked by the town and its regulations and think it’s somehow impossible to propose residential development. In reality, they are all zoned B-1 and except for a tiny perimeter bound by Loudoun, Wirt, Cornwall and Church, they can convert their buildings to residential just by filling out a form. So, unless something happens in that regard, I think this is really just an effort to justify the town taxpayers spending money on a “subsidy” to certain businesses so the Council can claim they are helping the downtown. It also gives some of them seeking re-election face time with potential contributors to their campaigns!

  • 2016-01-12 at 7:14 am

    I am glad to see that Ken “when is that date in November when I will be running for election?” Reid has decided there is no longer any need to hide his true agenda. Ken Reid is clearly trolling to be the “best friend developers ever had” and push for more residential housing – more and more people on our roads, in our schools, and costing us all more and more in taxes. Just another item to add to an ever growing list of items to point to for the Leesburg voters to vote NO on Ken Reid, and send him packing.

  • 2016-01-12 at 10:22 am

    While I agree that foot traffic and, in particular, the flow of foot traffic is the biggest downtown issue increasing housing is like a prescription that is more toxic than the illness. As Ken Reid likely knows, additional people cost between $1.20-$1.60 for each dollar they generate in taxes. Residents are generally a losing proposition. Additional renters would be a wealth transfer from the Town to the business owners. Yes, the business owners would make more with renters but it would cost the Town more so, in effect, the taxes collected get funneled to the business owners. That is not good overall for the residents of the town. What is needed is additional foot traffic from people OUTSIDE the Town. Leesburg has a ample traffic and people passing through it. We are at a key crossroad of 7 and 15 and the Outlets are always packed. Home Depot is a nut house on Saturday, etc. What Downtown needs is to give all these people a reason to go 1/2 mile to go downtown.

  • 2016-01-12 at 10:25 am

    PS “creating a town subsidy to fill vacancies in the downtown.” Business owners can choke on that one. I’d like some free money too.

  • 2016-01-12 at 3:20 pm

    My experience in downtown Leesburg has been quite different from Chris Cooley’s out-of-towners. Have they never been to Chimole’s aesthetically pleasing Honduran tapas eatery? Or the Wine Kitchen, for goodness sakes!
    Admittedly, any historically quaint downtown is a step-up from my current residence in Watertown, South Dakota. My annual trek to lovely Leesburg is a highlight not only for the family hobnobbing but the fine wining and dining we experience together. Mom’s Apple Pie – although not downtown – would launch a flight to VA, if nothing else.
    The bookends of my life from southern California to South Dakota are broken straight up the middle with a glorious mid-year visit to Loudoun County. Downtown Leesburg is one of my favorite haunts. Speaking of which, how about the annual Halloween Haunt featured in downtown and outlying neighborhoods? The Independence Day parade is more fun than a firecracker in a barrel. And I imagine the Christmas season rolls out with a festive flash as well. Good travel weather permitting, perhaps I will try Leesburg in December sometime. The place and people never disappoint.

  • 2016-01-12 at 8:23 pm

    The cost Dave Dickenson sites is not applicable to downtown Leesburg as one cannot build single family homes and townhouses in downtown, and that’s the kind of housing stock that has more of an impact on schools, roads, public safety than rental condos because of children. Rentals also generally attract younger folks (singles, newlyweds) not many families. I can tell you from experience that it is very easy to rent to quality residential tenants and a bear to find good retail or office tenants. Should the Board of Supervisors abandon the Courts proposal and move the courts into the Harrison Street Govt. Center, and thus, move the 500 county employees to Ashburn near Metro, downtown Leesburg will go into a tailspin. But that might suit the liberals on the Town Council and town government because then there will be “calls” for more government subsidies and involvement — this is the sad history of traditional downtowns and cities that have failed to see the light.

  • 2016-01-13 at 8:24 am

    So, when it is pointed out that Ken Reid is advocating more houses and people in the downtown of Leesburg, which means more cars on our roads, more kids in our schools, and our taxes going up, up, up, he pulls the tired old game of calling those who point out the truth, as “liberals.” So, when Ken “you can trust me NOT” Reid starts the name calling, you know he knows he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

  • 2016-01-13 at 9:28 am

    Ken, people bring cost. The more dense the population, the higher the taxes. Just look around American and you’ll see that in every location. Higher density rental condos will clog roads much, much more than a single family house and thus increase the need for infrastructure solutions. They may be less likely to have kids, but they will have kids and pack more kids into the area than a SFH. If you add ANY kids then you’ve increased the cost to the Town. Any time you add residents you increase the cost to the locality without exception. Thus, my statement, that the Town needs to draw out-of-towners. Those folks spend and don’t add to the Town’s costs. But, developers don’t make any money off that.

  • 2016-01-13 at 9:14 pm

    I respect your view Dave, but there is no “draw” for out of towners to come to downtown regularly. They will come now and then, but making downtown more functional for local residents is really the way to go and you’re not going to do that with tourists. The growth in night life and restaurants has been a Godsend, but the council completely avoided adopting a better noise ordinance, which means the prospect for downtown becoming a destination for performing arts is diminished. The town government and Council have spent 20 years of government spending on bureaucrats (We once had a :downtown business coordinator), parking studies, failed festivals like Court & Market Days, paying for ads in local papers for downtown businesses and now wider brick sidewalks. What good has it done? Rents and commercial values in downtown leesburg are in the basement. Meanwhile, there is incredible demand for rental housing for young professionals who cannot afford to buy condos and townhomes. Ask anyone who rents apartments there and they will tell you they never have to cut their rents and they are never vacant. So, it would be good for someone in the business community or government to show some leadership and see where we can get some infill residential development. Finally, there is no room in the downtown area for hundreds of new units like there is on large tracts in Eastern Loudoun. So the impact on schools, roads, services is not going to be great., even if these singles marry and have kids and stay in Loudoun.

  • 2016-01-14 at 8:33 am

    I guess one could give Ken “if my lips are moving – you guessed it” Reid a nod for doubling down on his “claims.” He is, if nothing else, persistent. But, isn’t it interesting that, Ken “fill in the blank, it all applies to me” Reid laments the lack of a “downtown coordinator,” when he, every budget cycle, while on the Leesburg Town Council, called for firing every town employee linked to economic development. But, I guess Ken “who knew people had long memories” Reid seemed to have forgotten that we residents of Leesburg remember his ranting and ravings while on the Leesburg Town Council. And so, we are back to the same ol’ Ken “I just love developers” Reid’s efforts to cram more and more residences on top of us, and the fallout of more and more cars on our roads, more and more kids in our schools, and our taxes going up, up, and up. Leesburg voters need to send a very simple message to Ken “I will see you on the ballot this November” Reid: Just Go Away.

  • 2016-01-14 at 12:12 pm

    Downtown needs two things:
    1. A weekday crowd
    2. A weekend crowd

    The weekday crowd is the business crowd. The best thing for downtown is the County expansion. Council seems to be trying everything it can to screw that up and needs to do everything it can to retain it. Once secured, a second significant downtown employer is needed. Right now, Leesburg is a company town (and the County is the company).

    The weekend crowd is the out of town crowd. People don’t have to come from far away. They can be 3 miles away and be out of town. I live in Leesburg, but outside the town limits. I’m an out of towner. Give me a reason to go downtown. And there are a lot of people in Leesburg (say, at the outlets) that are very close by and never bother to go downtown. I suggest focusing on people who live near Leesburg to find out what would draw them downtown. Tourism is nice but, honestly, there is really no tourist draw to go downtown more than once. The shop owners can bloviate all they want, but they aren’t the ones you want spending the money. Business 101: What does the customer want?

    This is the same struggle many old areas have. I lived off Lake Anne in Reston before, attended re-development discussions, and they dealt with the exact same issues. In 15 years, they still haven’t gotten any better.

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