There’s the phrase “too many irons in the fire” and then there’s the workload Leesburg Economic Development Director Russell Seymour finds himself juggling.
Just last week, Seymour led a public input session on redevelopment options for the town’s Liberty Street parking lot. It’s an underused part of the downtown historic district that has been of interest to several developers in recent years, and has been the subject of at least one unsolicited proposal to the town this year.
Seymour said the 40 to 50 residents in attendance at the Oct. 7 meeting had lots of questions about potential for the land’s redevelopment, and also voiced some concerns on the possibility of adding more residential to the area. However, there was lots of support for facets of a plan submitted by local attorney Peter Burnett. His proposal envisions a conference center, theater, restaurant, parking structure, and more than 100 units of age-restricted senior housing.
Seymour said he has already begun inputting feedback from the meeting and from comments received via theleesburgva.gov/liberty-lotwebpage, which he expects will remain open for at least another week or so, into a spreadsheet to hand off to the Town Council.
“I think there was a real focus on bringing people to downtown and keeping people downtown.
I think people were starting to see when you have more of that how that benefits other businesses,” Seymour said of feedback.
Seymour’s charges for the next year are focused on the entire town, not just the downtown. In a recent work session discussion with the Town Council, Seymour went over a litany of projects he is embarking on, not the least of which is further exploring whether Leesburg should consider becoming a Main Street community. With the council recently voicing support to move into Tier 2 exploration phase of the Main Street program, which does not yet commit the town to any financial investment, but gives opportunity to further scrutinize whether the program is a good fit for the town, Seymour was planning to put that application in the mail this week.
An economic development strategic plan is expected to be a major time commitment for Seymour this year. He told the council at its Sept. 27 work session that the town has amassed or engaged in a fair amount of studies over the years that deal with facets of economic development, from the nighttime economy to performing arts center feasibility to how to help the retail market and more.
“I really see a lot of bits and pieces studied but not a comprehensive approach in all of this,” Seymour told the council.
His vision for an economic development strategic plan for the town would focus on Leesburg as a destination for business, consumers and visitors.
“The plan would identify goals, needs and how to accomplish them,” he said. “The plan must be flexible, adaptable to change, and utilize input acquired from local businesses.”
In addition to the local business community, Seymour said he also would work closely with the Economic Development Commission and town departments. He expects to have a draft plan ready for presentation to the council within 12 months and, at present time, does not believe he will need to utilize an outside consultant to see it from start to finish.
An important component of the document will be a tourism plan, he added, and that leads to another goal for Seymour, of establishing a tourism zone in Leesburg. Having both a tourism plan—which would be accomplished within the economic development strategic plan—and a tourism zone opens the town up to grant opportunities from the state, and could serve as a recruitment tool for new businesses, or offer incentives for current businesses to expand.
Seymour said he has not yet narrowed down what area could encompass a tourism zone in Leesburg, but said it could cover a specific area or even an entire locality.
“Typically what you don’t want to do with any type of incentive, you don’t want to incentivize an area that businesses can’t go into. We’re looking very closely at zoning; these are really good opportunities not only to incentivize businesses but direct them and build up areas again,” he said.Seymour said he expects to offer his recommendations on a tourism zone for Leesburg following completion of the economic development strategic plan.