During their final presentation, University of Oklahoma graduate students outlined several areas of improvement for downtown Shawnee, and suggested ways to help.
Reimagine Downtown, a project put on through the Greater Shawnee Area Chamber of Commerce and the Institute for Quality Communities, worked to create a comprehensive plan for the future of downtown.
The Institute for Quality Communities is affiliated with the OU and works with communities statewide. The graduate students did the project as part of a class taught by OU faculty and Institute for Quality Communities staff.
The first recommendation included creating a centralized organization specifically for downtown. This organization would employ an executive director, and a board of directors appointed by the city and the chamber of commerce.
Suggested funding could come from fundraisers, private and corporate donors, and potentially the hotel occupancy surcharge.
The plan also suggested considering raising the surcharge slightly, as it is one of the lowest in Oklahoma City metro area. This could raise a lot of money, as well as continue to keep the surcharge below average. An added benefit the presentation pointed out is that Shawnee residents don’t pay this, tourists do.
Four things the organization would be responsible would be – volunteer management, marketing, which would include social media, decorating for holidays, and a grant or finance education program for downtown businesses.
Additionally, it is important to get people downtown. Rather than getting people from Oklahoma City to visit Shawnee, the students recommended natives visit downtown and let the word travel from there. The presentation suggested four ways to accomplish this through retail.
The first was to implement signage around downtown that can be seen by pedestrians. Students suggested using signage for places such as the Hornbeck Theatre, the library, and certain restaurants and other attractions.
Another suggestion was for local businesses to join the Keep It Local program. This gives a card to members, who then receive discounts when they use their card as participating businesses.
Posting event hours and hosting more events was a third suggestion, in relation to the success of Boo on Bell and the Christmas Parade.
The fourth suggestion was for downtown restaurants to host a dinner event to entice people to visit downtown in the evening.
Additionally, getting more people downtown will help with the perception of safety issue. The presentation concluded that the lack of safety downtown was more perception than anything, and a good way to solve this would be to have more people downtown at the same time.
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The last suggestion was to place signage on the major streets, including Kickapoo and Harrison streets, to let people know they aren’t far from downtown. Placing signs at the entrances and exits of downtown, to let people know they’re in downtown, would be helpful as well.