WARSAW — Extensive discussion was held on a proposal to revitalize underutilized alleys in the city Monday, June 20, at the Warsaw Common Council meeting. The presentation was given by Jeremy Skinner, city planner, and David Gustafson, owner of Urban Retrend. No action was taken.
“It is an opportunity for improvements to the downtown, increase business, the number of people and the atmosphere that draws people,” said Skinner. Additionally, he stated it is an opportunity the council talked about to improve the downtown underutilized spaces — namely improve and capture while creating new draws. Alleys are one area to be looked at to create spaces people want to visit: a space for people to come eat lunch, hang out, be in the downtown area.
Gustafson’s proposal focused on the east-west alley directly south of the Warsaw City Hall, referred to as the SoBu Alleyway. “One of the goals is to close the alley way seasonally and create a pedestrian way for activities: community events, art fairs, live music, street food festivals, farmers’ market events, outdoor film festivals and outdoor cafe seating.”
An additional goal would be the greening of an urban space with planters and potentially vertical gardens. Planters, tables and chairs used in this space would be removable. Removable barricades could also be installed to stop vehicular traffic.
It was stressed the request was not to vacate the alley at this time, but in the long term, there may be a request.
Gustafson stated this proposal would create an encroachment agreement for use of the alleyway by neighboring businesses; form an urban culture committee to oversee the use of SoBu Alleyway for community events and festivals; and serve as a pilot project to analyze and measure future potential urban space revitalization proposals. Notation was made of the Warsaw Community Development Commission’s facade and alley grant program playing a part.
Discussion among a few council members included the placement of trash cans currently utilizing that area; the effect of noise and lights to downtown residents; if guidelines would be set; and if there was an overall plan/scheme. “We can’t close all the alleys,” stated Councilwoman Cindy Dobbins. She expressed concern over the noise issue as she currently has “a concert in my apartment every Friday and Saturday” from situations.
Concern was expressed on rerouting of vehicle traffic and the inconvenience. Several residents also expressed concerns: not enough parking, noise and that Center Street is blocked off enough now so why increase it.
Skinner and Gustafson responded to the concerns. Both stated the SoBu Alley is primarily used by pedestrians and it is in an ideal location as a pilot project due to the location of the city plaza and parking lot. Skinner also stated he has done numerous surveys over five years, and at any time of the day, there are 150 parking spaces available downtown. “The issue we have is people don’t want to walk. It’s a walking issue.” Additionally, Skinner stated not all alleys would work for this type of program.
It was also stressed this would not be a city project, but one undertaken by the businesses wishing to participate.
It was suggested a committee be formed through the WCDC and the Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce.