KINGSBURG – Fewer offices, more retail shops, better signs, a one-screen theater, a massive new hotel/restaurant and an archway marking your arrival.
These were just some of the proposals a team of planning experts suggested to increase business in Downtown Kingsburg after a whirlwind tour of the town during the last week of April.
“This city is already doing a lot of the right things,” Planner Robert Paternoster said.
Paternoster served as the team leader of the Community Planning Assistance Team, an offshoot of the California Chapter of the American Planning Association.
The team included Paternoster, Economic Director Michael Dozier, urban Designer Tom Ford, Urban and Economics Planner Stan Hoffman, senior Graphic Designer Emily Morishita and Sustainable Land Use Planner Cynthia de la Torre.
They worked pro bono for four days hosting a workshop first on April 27, then touring the community and interviewing residents as to what needs to be done to bring more business to downtown. At the workshop, team member Dozier compiled lists of what residents feel are the city’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
“We saw all the things you’re doing right,” Paternoster said of Kingsburg’s Swedish culture. “We suggest you even try to strengthen that since you’re one of the few Swedish communities in the nation.”
Since the town has taken a slow-growth policy regarding population expansion, Paternoster said instead it needs to focus on doing a better job of capturing the business of its current residents.
“When we interviewed people and asked ‘Where do you shop?’, they said they go to Fresno or Visalia because those things aren’t available here," he said. "You’re losing a lot of your own economic activity of your own residents because they’re going elsewhere.”
While capturing day-trippers traveling on Highway 99 would help, Paternoster said it's not enough.
"That’s not sufficient to make downtown work. Any place that I can think of that was successful was first successful with the locals. The community supported it first and it was so good, it brought people in from the outside.”
Paternoster reported the following suggestions to get more customers to the downtown:
• Have more households within walking distance of downtown by offering more residences on the second floors of the buildings.
• Build a substantial hotel and restaurant at the corner of Simpson and Sierra streets.
• Attract tourists through consistent signage along the freeway. Guide them to and through downtown to direct them to parking and events.
Each of the team members presented information based on their area of expertise at an April 30 presentation to the City Council.
Ford said he could envision having Simpson Street serve as a more active entryway leading into the downtown if there were more development there.
“We were at the winery site about 9:30 p.m. [on April 28] and there was a lot of activity and people there,” Ford said. “Imagine every parcel along Simpson Street having the kind of care put into the winery site.”
Since there is already attractive landscaping in the median, the street would need additional lighting and a walkway to give pedestrians a safer means to stroll to Downtown, he said.
Ford also suggested having fewer offices and more retail and shops on the first floor of the businesses along Draper to increase foot traffic and changing the recently adopted form-based code to relax requirements in certain zones.
“Commercial is good businesses, but it may not be the kind you want to have on the ground floor of Draper Street, and this affects pedestrian activity,” he said.
Morishita provided details on a variety of signs that would help bring potential visitors off the freeway and then guide them to parking, activities and provide history of some of the landmarks throughout the area.
“What you have is what a lot of cities have. New signs have been added, but old signs remain. Really, what we’re looking at is how to refresh the look and make it look cohesive,” she said.
Morishita suggested more signs be added on Highway 99 to direct travelers to Kingsburg and a large gateway arch that would mark the entry way to the area.
City Councilwoman Laura North brought up the often-voiced concern about having more activities for children Downtown.
The team offered ideas such as more eateries, a coffee house or internet café and one-screen theater as specific ideas for businesses that would appeal specifically to youth.
The team will submit a report to the City Council in about two months and Mayor Michelle Roman said it will be made available to the public via the city website and newsletter.
Afterwards, Roman said she was excited to have these professionals look at the city with a fresh set of eyes and sees the signage issue as one of the most immediate needs that could be addressed.
“You have to get people downtown, so the freeway signage, downtown signage and how to make it to downtown is going to be so important," she said. "I love the idea of maps of where to park. It’s the small things but it will have the best impact.”
Roman said since many people do more shopping online, she thinks businesses should focus on creating experiences you just can’t get online. As an example, she knows of a spice shop in her hometown where a variety of spices and cooking classes are offered.
“When you walk in there, the smell is amazing. She probably has 25 different kinds of cinnamons,” she said.
Roman says the town should capitalize on their Swedish culture and central location in the heart of agriculture as its unique experience.
“I’d love to see all these little places we have out in the country come downtown so people can come off the 99 and have all these little experiences. That’s what I’d love to see,” she said.