Thursday, 15 March 2018 16:44

Encouraging People to Come Downtown

By Todd Shimkus, President of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce | Editorials
Encouraging People to Come Downtown Photo by John Seymour.

I HAVE A CRAZY IDEA!

Let’s stop talking about parking management. Let’s erase the word paid parking from our vocabulary. Let’s forget about parking meters or parking kiosks.

Instead, let’s focus our limited resources of time, energy and money to take actions that will encourage more people to come to downtown Saratoga Springs.

This revelation, of sorts, came from a conversation I had with a couple that owns a downtown business. Their business is very popular. They’ve expanded their business. They are experienced and wise.

They were the first two people to ever say very simply to me: “We should be encouraging more people to come downtown, not finding ways to discourage them from doing so.”

Let me say this again: WE should be ENCOURAGING more people to come downtown, not finding ways to discourage them from doing so.

BRILLIANT!

We have more hotels, restaurants and bars. We have more tech firms, health and wellness businesses and more businesses in general downtown. They all need more people. They need more people both to fill open jobs and as customers.

So to keep thriving, our downtown needs more people. 

When we change the debate from just parking to encouraging more people to come downtown, we broaden the range of actions we might take. 

Don’t get me wrong. We still need the City Center’s parking structure to be built. But we also need bike lanes and to expand the bike share program. The Saratoga Greenbelt Trail is important too.

We need enhanced public transportation options along with more people who will actually use it.

We now have public wifi in Congress Park. Let’s expand this so that students and workers who can work and study remotely will do so downtown.

Perhaps we need more flexibility in our zoning to allow for slightly taller buildings where appropriate and when it would make the difference in attracting an amenity we want in our urban core.

We must save our festivals and special events. 

The nonprofits running these are being squeezed by a combination of declining sponsor dollars and costly permitting and public safety mandates. Let’s find a solution so events now moving elsewhere will come downtown and so those that remain can bring even more people here safely.

We now have an outstanding wayfinding system downtown with signage that really helps people to more easily get around. Perhaps it already needs to be expanded to other areas within walking distance so people understand the breadth of the amenities and businesses we have here and how to find them.

We need to rethink our promotions too. 

For instance, I hear Elizabeth Sobol, President of SPAC, saying to me: “We need to celebrate and promote more prominently the fact that we have an amazing and vibrant arts sector.” 

She’s right and her advocacy is elevating this discussion in a way that will help us attract more people to the City and the downtown.

What else do you think we can do to ENCOURAGE more people to come downtown? 

Crazy ideas are fine. But the simpler ones are often the best. And, they must encourage people to come downtown because that must be our mission!

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