With the streetscape project well underway and a firm commitment to develop Depot Park, it’s clear Ardmore is investing heavily in the future of downtown. Now that the ball is rolling and gaining momentum it must be guided in the right direction to ensure the maximum benefit for the city. Here is where consultant Hilary Greenberg steps in.
Greenberg, who works with downtowns across the nation, helps communities come up with a plan that works for them, and she is now working with working with Ardmore Main Street. She visited last week and gave a presentation on Thursday regarding her initial thoughts and impressions.
She began with an overview of some facts about the city and its population.
“Your population is stable,” Greenberg said. “That’s a nice way of putting it. You could also say you’re not growing.” She then pointed out that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. She also noted that the growing Hispanic community is one of the reasons the population is not declining.
Ardmore’s diversity is also reflected in the range of “lifestyles,” or market categories, reflected in the city.
“Lifestyle trends are important because that is what fuels most of the retail growth in our country,” Greenberg said. “The fact that you go buy $4 coffee when it costs 50 cents to make is a lifestyle choice.”
“What’s interesting is most of the towns I work with tend to be homogeneous,” Greenberg said. “I’m not talking about race or ethnicity, but in terms of lifestyles they all tend to be one or two categories. Well, Ardmore is completely different. There are lots of different market segments that bubble up.”
Some notable major segments include “small town simplicity” and “traditional living,” but there are many other market segments included in the mix. While this can make marketing difficult for businesses it also allows for different types of merchants.
“The good news with this is there are lots of little niches,” Greenberg said. “This actually kind of explains the amazing eclecticness of Ardmore that otherwise I wouldn’t have expected to see.”
Greenberg went over the results of a survey she gave to some local community members. The survey outlined downtown’s perceived strengths and weakness. Some of the words used were “friendly,” “historic” and “improving.” Other words used included “old,” “tired” and “rundown.”
“The issues are pretty clear,” Greenberg said. “There’s property neglect and vacant buildings. You’ve also got some trash and litter problems. You’ve got dated facades and limited parking.”
Greenberg offered the trustees a few suggestions and things to think about.
“We need more restaurants,” Greenberg said. “Restaurants are scary because it’s a lot of investment and they do tend to have some of the highest failure rates. So what can we do to help?”
She went on to point out how downtown could be doing more with the many downtown event centers.
“The people there are visitors,” Greenberg said. “They could be coming into town or they could be locals, but maybe we could give them a flyer?” The hypothetical flyer would incentivize visitors to return downtown after their event was over. “People mentioned doing something like that with the hotels and convention center, but here you have people who are already coming downtown and you’re not even getting them.”
Greenberg closed by reminding trustees to focus on what they most wanted to do with downtown.
“You’ve got to have a game plan, a strategic plan that says here’s where we want to go” Greenberg said. “Just saying we want pretty buildings isn’t enough any more. You’ve got to dig down a little deeper.”
Greenberg has returned home to do some of that digging herself. She will be back in November or December to present more specific ideas to AMSA. Then everyone will work together to decide the game plan for Ardmore.
“You’ve got some good stuff here but how do you win,” Greenberg asked. “That’s where Ardmore is. You’ve got some good cards, you’ve just got to put them in the right order.”