2002 Plan Initiatives
Figuratively the center of the community, the prior discussion of downtown Urbana shows that it is not perceived in that manner by the market or the community. Should we abandon downtown to the whims of the market? Should we consider it no more than one of many neighborhoods in the community? Should we reconsider its purpose, function and aim to make it more relevant to community image?
Members of the community have considered this question, and conclude that downtown is a unique place that serves a special role in defining the community. They hold a particular vision of downtown:
“Downtown Urbana is the heart of our City and a regional attraction. It is a busy and exciting place serving all – the community, the University and visitors to the region. It accommodates business, housing and government. It is a regional entertainment center that offers a host of shopping, dining and entertainment venues set within intimately scaled development and quality public spaces. It is a cohesive area, and is distinguished by its unique visual character and a walkable, pedestrian friendly environment that preserves our past and accommodates our future. It is the keeping place of community heritage and home to longstanding community traditions. Downtown Urbana is the pride of our Community.”
The key challenge to achieving this vision is to find ways to attract increased numbers of users of downtown. This requires the creation of markets that can attract people, and the creation of a place where they want to come. The ability to do this, in large part, is dependant upon the commitment of local stakeholders – the City, County, downtown ownership and businesses, and active institutions such as the Urbana Free Library and the Park District – to help develop such markets. Indeed the scope and involvement of stakeholders needs to be broadened and deepened. Local stakeholders should be encouraged to focus efforts on the coordinated improvement of downtown. After all, it can only benefit them. Further, this vision should be shared with major “non-downtown” institutions such as Carle Medical Center and the University, with the intent of impressing upon them the larger benefits of a strong downtown Urbana on the larger community.
- The Downtown Leadership Initiative – strategies designed to implement this plan and manage the development of downtown
- The Downtown Image Initiative – strategies to improve the visual quality and aesthetics of downtown, and to better organize its development pattern
- The Center Of Urbana Initiative – strategies for maintaining downtown as the center of town
- The Downtown Neighborhood Initiative - strategies to increase the amount of downtown housing
- The Niche Market Initiative – strategies developed to give downtown a particular market orientation and attract uses related to it.
- The Lincoln Square Initiative – strategies to better integrate Lincoln Square into the core of downtown.
Six key market groups should be targeted:
- Community residents. For this group, downtown Urbana represents the center of government activities in the city, and citizens from all over Urbana travel downtown to use the post office, attend City Hall meetings, and conduct other government business. In addition, downtown Urbana also draws residents from throughout the city for special events, like the Saturday Market at the Square in the summer, the Sweetcorn Festival, art fairs in Lincoln Square Mall, and other occasions. Many citizens also periodically visit downtown retailers, restaurants, and bars. A truly successful downtown revitalization will cause more community residents to come downtown more often, greatly contributing to the vitality of the area.
- University students, their parents and visitors. Students from the University of Illinois are attracted to the downtown for a number of reasons: dining and entertainment, certain kinds of specialty shops, and possible part-time employment as well. In addition, Jumer's Hotel in downtown Urbana hosts a large number of parents and families of university students throughout the year. Certain special events can draw large numbers of college students as well. Finally, the large number of students living in certain parts of west Urbana, between downtown and the campus, should not be overlooked: they represent the nearest significant pool of students for downtown dining, shopping, and entertainment venues. Once downtown Urbana begins making inroads into this local part of the student market, word-of-mouth will attract students throughout the Champaign-Urbana area.
- Local youth, such as students from Urbana High School. Many young people—particularly those under the driving age—thirst for activities they can pursue independently with their friends and venues hospitable to them. Parents want their children visiting a safe environment, which a livelier downtown could provide. Youth-friendly stores (e.g., those selling clothing, toys, music, candy, soda, etc.), restaurants, and community institutions have a potentially large pool of young consumers to serve. Community events, where young people can socialize with their peers, also can be highly popular. High school students, who tend to have greater autonomy and more resources, represent a particularly strong market for convenience stores and fast-food restaurants.
- People shopping for food and entertainment. Districts with a large number of dining spots and entertainment options have a clear advantage over isolated establishments: variety. People may decide to go out for the evening without knowing exactly what kind of food or entertainment they want.Downtown Urbana can become a stronger player in the local food/entertainment marketplace by providing exactly this kind of choice and variety. Restaurants, bars, and other entertainment venues can often benefit greatly from special events as well: when there are a lot of different things to do and see, not only at the special event but also in the environment, visitors are likely to stay longer and spend more.
- Downtown residents. A fair number of people already live within walking distance of downtown Urbana, and this plan proposes efforts to greatly increase the number of residents of the immediate downtown area. A positive cycle of change is at work: downtown residents locate there in order to be close to restaurants, stores, and community facilities; their presence makes the area more lively, attracting more visitors from outside the downtown itself, which in turn makes the area even more lively; this more vibrant downtown is then even more attractive as a place to live, and the cycle continues.
- Downtown workers, including those who work in the immediate area as well those as on the periphery, such as workers at Carle Hospital and the South Campus of the University. The people who work downtown represent a significant market for restaurants (lunch or coffee break visitors), bars (traditional destinations for many after work ends), and convenience shopping (many people prefer to run errands, such as to the drug store or bank, just before or just after work or during lunch).
The following matrix shows how the different interests of these various market groups will support different markets. The key to restoring vitality to downtown is to create a combination of uses, which provides the widest range of choices to these market groups.
|Community Residents||University Students, Parents, Visitors||Local Youth||Entertainment Shoppers||Downtown Residents||Downtown Workers||Rating|
|Food and Drink||Modest||Strong||Strong||Strong||Strong||Strong||1|
Uses which have the broadest appeal to the interested markets are specialty goods, food and drink, and special events. The interested markets that seem to support the most use categories are downtown residents followed closely by the University, local youth, entertainment shoppers and downtown employees. Last in interest, although probably not in size, are other residents of Urbana. One can conclude from this that the success of downtown is dependent upon developing a distinct image as a gathering place for various elements of the community. The notion of “place” is important here. Studies have shown that while many areas can offer similar goods and services, these areas are differentiated in the market by the attractiveness or character imparted by an area’s facilities. Facilities which offer a sense of “place” – an atmosphere of pedestrian scale, visual interest, market opportunity, and activity – tend to be the most successful, and demonstrate a longevity as they create their own identity. This is strongly reflected in current approaches to "theming" retail areas in order to engage the patron in a shopping and entertainment experience. This notion is integral to the proposals of this plan.
The plan focuses upon implementing programs and projects related to six initiatives. Figure 13, Framework Plan, illustrates many of the projects suggested in these initiatives.