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20/20 Vision

Casey Woods by Casey Woods, Executive Director | March 20, 2016
Vision 2020 Emporia Main Street: Shaping the future of  Emporia and Lyon County using re-development, rehabilitation and in-fill in the town center; making downtown a destination for dining, shopping, and entertainment; and facilitating traffic flow (pedestrian, bicycle and vehicle).
Because the Emporia Main Street vision is more than words on a page, let’s break down specifically what this new vision means for the next five years.
1.  Shaping the future.-
This new vision requires that we maintain our proactive stance.  We identify problems and solve for them.  We identify opportunities and take advantage of them.  We will do these things while holdingsteadfast to our Four Point Approach and Eight Guiding Principles, but we will not be a reactive slow moving agency.  That does create stress, and not everything we attempt will succeed, but we don’t exactly want to be identified as “comfortable”, and failures inevitably occur when you try new things.  Show me someone that never fails, and I’ll show you someone not pushing hard enough 

2.  The Future-
Blessed is the person that plants the tree whose shade they will never sit in.  Some of the things we are working on now will see positive results long after current leadership is gone.  We believe in a sustainable approach that makes things incrementally better for those that follow because we have an actionable plan 

3.  Of Emporia and Lyon County-
We understand that we need to impact the region as a whole.  We also understand that impacts are generated through proven sustainable strategies and targeted resources.  We need to understand the symbiotic relationship between the surrounding rural communities and Emporia.  We also need to understand that we simply don’t have the population to emulate the larger metropolitan areas around Emporia.  Through some of our improved resource conduits we are beginning to create a more sustainable future for the small towns around Emporia.  Because of our focus on unique offerings with local ownership, we are improving our capacity as a destination 

4.  Using redevelopment, rehabilitation and in-fill-


We are in a community of a stable population with an overabundance of commercial property and some significant gaps in housing strata coupled with alarge number of vacant residential properties.  We are also in a community that seems to abhor taxes, wants more disposable income and needs to create additional community wealth.  To accomplish those tasks we must redevelop existing areas.  Creating significantly more commercial space leads to cannibalization of existing sales, depressed rent, dilapidation and a dip in property valuation.  When we redevelop/rehabilitate existing areas, we can take advantage of pre-existing infrastructure and encourage density, which provides a much higher payback for the local tax payer.  When we radically change area uses, we often have to pay for significant upgrades to infrastructure which impact the tax base over a long term and make reinvestment in existing structures more difficult.  Through planned redevelopment activities, we can remove dilapidated housing and create quality living environments that can interact with commercial areas of the community more effectively.
5. In the town center-


Main Street believes in an “inside-out” development focus.  Dense community centers do a better job of retaining spent dollars; they make a much more efficient use of infrastructure;they encourage unique destination businesses; and they give taxpayers the best “bang for their buck”.  When communities forget this, they often create a “donut effect” with a vacant city core surrounded by new development on an exterior.  Look at any major metropolitan area that has embraced this development strategy, and you can see the disastrous results.  Main Street isn’t against other types of development, if warranted by our market gaps, development potential and commercial building capacity
.  But, filling a “want” for the sake of wanting is a sign of an immature
 and misguided development strategy with long term negative consequences for a community
6. Making downtown a destination-


In destination travel, we often times talk about the “rule of four”.  This rule essentially states that for each hour of travel, you have to give people four hours of stuff to do. We also have to invert our marketing viewpoint to look at things through the eyes of our potential consumer (and not ourselves).  If you want an example of the rule of four in action, you simply needed to be downtown this weekend.  We had a local high school sports team that convinced their bus driver to haul back items purchased because of the amount of amazing “stuff” found in Emporia.  We had people from larger metro areas on a pub crawl.  We are heading into a season when citizens from almost every U. S. state and several foreign nations will visit Emporia.  Instead of focusing on what these people want from our community, we often times fall into the trap of thinking “what does the Oak Park Mall have that we don’t?”  We run into student groups that project student needs based on a very small group of people for a business type that is obviously unsustainable (highly specialized foreign food and clothing markets, for example).  Emporia Main Street is attacking the destination opportunity by sending people to destination boot camps, facilitating groups of “like” businesses to cooperate on a variety
 of activities and continuing to build larger events.  We educate potential entrepreneurs about destination techniques and work hard to create an infrastructure of cooperation that can retain consumers from outside the market trade area once they are attracted- and this approach is working.
7. Dining, shopping and entertainment-


All business types are important.  But, when we talk about “quality of life”, these three categories consistently present themselves.  I know multiple people that arenewer to the community that visited Radius Brewing on their initial foray to Emporia and said “I could live in this town.”  With unique dining opportunities packed close together, people start gravitating towards a unique area.  With additional housing comes extended hours and more night life opportunities.  We want to enhance all business types, but we want to do so in a strategic fashion that helps us retain and attract the residents we crave in Emporia- and we want to improve statistics like our median household income.  By creating destination quality businesses in a cooperative area that emphasizes cross-traffic, we can eventually solve for some of our other issues.
8. Facilitating traffic flow (pedestrian, bicycle and vehicle).


Often times people will plan to route traffic around an area.  A decrease in exposure often leads to a decrease in commercial activity (which has obvious negative consequences).  We understand that we have to facilitate a truly integrated traffic environment where pedestrians, bikes and vehicles have equal rights and responsibilities.  We also need to ensure that our developments emphasize various modes of travel (not just cars) to access all parts of the community and that amenities are placed in centralized areas, making them accessible to all forms of travel.  Lighting, sidewalks, housing, bike accommodations and marketing are all encompassed within this focus.  We don’t make things safer by segregating
 each mode of travel.  We improve people’s ability to access their community by planning for the integration of all travel types in design decisions.  This focus is important to community health, pride, reduced crime rates and business exposure.
All of these portions of the 2020 vision have measurable outcomes.  We will be able to tell at the end of five years if we have succeeded or failed in accomplishing our vision for each and every one of these subsets of the overall vision, and we take our responsibility of bringing this vision to fruition very seriously.  But, we need your help.  Can you spot elements within the vision that you can assist with?  Do you want to volunteer?  Can you partner with us to accomplish some mutually beneficial tasks?  Emporia Main Street is a “grass roots” type organization that works with people that are willing to actually work to accomplish goals for the good of the community.  Objectives are accomplished together, as part of a team.  If you are willing to work towards the stated objectives, contact us and get involved!

About the Author

Casey Woods, Executive Director

Before accepting the director position in March of 2009, Casey worked in both retail and agricultural jobs in the family businesses. A lifelong resident of the Emporia Area, Casey was a ten year volunteer for Emporia Main Street prior to his appointment as director. During that time he served as the board president and chair of the Economic Vitality Committee.

Casey also serves as a partner in PlaceMakers, LLC, a consulting firm that routinely works with both large and small communities, and their businesses, to promote sustainable economic growth through community and economic development practices. Casey consults with businesses, organizations and communities to understand their market capacity and fill vacant spaces. He has been involved in two projects that included crowdfunding as a part of their overall business funding strategies, Radius Brewing and Twin Rivers Winery & Gourmet Shoppe.


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