MATTHEWS – In order to continue seeing success in Matthews’ downtown, town leaders hope to soon move forward on forming a group of residents, office and business owners who will collaborate and plan future expansion and growth for the downtown core.
Downtown Matthews has been revitalized and developed in recent years with new restaurants, shops and residential space, but town leaders don’t want the progress to stop. That’s why they’ve reached out to the community for help. Town staff hosted a downtown discussion Dec. 4 and about 32 residents, young and old, and business owners weighed in. Other people still have a chance to weigh in, and can take an online survey until Jan. 1. The link is available under Economic Development on the town’s website, www.mat thewsnc.gov.
Discussions on downtown improvements includes the downtown overlay district, which covers the town’s historic urban core; the North End District; John Street to Charlotte; and out Trade Street, said Jamie Justice, Matthews assistant manager. Discussion about future growth, which has been under way for months, has been centered around the goals of the town’s master plan, which includes topics like expanding downtown connectivity, additional housing opportunities, promoting infill development and the formation of a downtown organization.
“The downtown organization concept was probably the biggest (topic of discussion),” Justice said. “There’s definitely some interest there.”
The organization would be made up of a diverse group of people who have a stake in the success of downtown Matthews and would vary from groups in other municipalities, such as downtown merchant associations, as the group also would include residents. The organization would report to a steering committee under the Economic Development Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations to the Matthews Board of Commissioners.
“We don’t want to confuse this with a merchant organization because it should include office, business owners and residents of downtown. We want them all to work together,” former Matthews Commissioner John Urban, who is heavily involved in downtown development, said. “If you focus just on retailers alone, you alienate folks. Our goal is to talk to everyone.”
The town is acting as a catalyst for downtown development, Urban added, to help the process along. Officials have been working with the North Carolina Main Street program, researching and reviewing initiatives and processes other municipalities in the state have taken, all while trying to figure out how to relate the ideas to Matthews. Four key points of the Main Street program, Urban said, include design, promotion, economics and organization – factors the town uses to help guide the planning process. That can include branding initiatives, and organization factors that make the town a more welcoming community, with additions like pocket parks and sidewalks.
In addition to forming a downtown organization to conduct more research, Justice said it’s clear from the discussion that many residents hope to see more downtown development that would appeal to a younger demographic, with more shops and restaurants, and possibly housing that would appeal to a younger, vibrant community.
But town leaders are still looking for feedback and more specific ideas.
Justice said only about 30 to 40 people have taken the online survey so far – a good start, but leaders would like to see more involvement and participation.
Feedback from the meeting and results from the survey will be taken back to the advisory committee, which will then dissect the information and make a recommendation to commissioners in January or February 2014.
“This initiative is just so residents can have a say in the future of their downtown and just what they want to see happening,” Justice said. “This is a grassroots effort and everyone needs to work together to come up with a solution.”
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