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Reviving Charles Town

January 08, 1999

Officials of Charles Town, W.Va. this week proposed an extensive downtown revitalization effort that would include building new brick sidewalks, planting trees and burying power lines. Appearance is important, but it takes more than a makeover to make a downtown successful. Town officials should also consider the following:




- Create incentives to lure business and residential redevelopment. There's nothing like a "captive audience" to support the small businesses that give a downtown character and economic vitality.

- Provide enough parking. The malls and the strip centers have created a generation of shoppers who don't want their autos more than short walk away from their destinations.

- Get merchants and businesses to work together on things like standardized hours. It can begin with something as simple as a telephone hot line which lists store hours and special events, but can be expanded once merchants realize that it's in their best interests to work together, like mall tenants do.

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- Actively discourage strip mall development that will tend to pull business away from downtown. It is tempting for city officials to look at the projections of new tax revenue from such centers and kid themselves into believing there'll be enough business for everybody. There won't be.

- Take a practical approach to historic-preservation issues. If forcing property owners to conform to preservation guidelines can produce higher property values and enhance tourism, then they're worth the effort. If there is no payback for the property owners, then they're difficult to justify.

- Don't forget that little things mean a lot. If a bottle breaks on the sidewalk, it needs to be cleaned up. If a drunk falls down in a stupor, the police need to retrieve him quickly. Visitors will remember the town with fondness (and return again) if it's clean and order is maintained. It sounds simple, but some municipalities' officials get caught up in grand designs, and forget how important the simple amenities are to those who are visiting for the first time.

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