Article Contributed by
Associate Director of the Gebbie Foundation
Excitement is beginning to build for the projected opening of the National Comedy Center in 2017. What does this mean for the city? The county? The region? What do we need to do to prepare? What real estate and business opportunities are available as a result?
To answer these questions and many more, the Gebbie Foundation engaged AECOM, an international firm that has worked in over 150 countries all over the world on myriad development projects including major attractions. Figuring significantly in its selection was the fact that AECOM was already familiar with Jamestown. It was the firm that performed a financial analysis of the economic impact of the Comedy Center.
Working on this strategic report was AECOM economist, Linda Cheu and AECOM architect and urban planner, Vaughan Davies. Cheu, experienced in working with well-known attractions such as Disney, looked at the economic side of strategic planning and Davies, skilled in urban infrastructure tied in his analysis of the existing physical attributes of the city within the area surrounding the Comedy Center. As a result, they produced a 68-page Downtown Jamestown Economic Development Strategy that can be found on the web at www.jamestownupclose.com.
Over the course of two days, the AECOM professionals offered three presentations on their findings, geared toward different audiences at three different sites with at total of over 300 people in attendance. There are many people excited about the possibilities for Jamestown.
Reason for Excitement
Linda Cheu and Vaughan Davies explained how unique and unusually effective Jamestown is as a community. In their travels all over the world, they do not see the same level of cooperation between government, the private sector, foundations and the community. They do not see cities of Jamestown’s size with over 10 philanthropic foundations. To top it off, Jamestown has three local attractions with a national (international) brand: The Lucille Ball – Desi Arnaz Center for Comedy, Robert H. Jackson Center and the Roger Tory Peterson Institute.
There are challenges. A question posed to a panel made up of the two AECOM representatives, Greg Lindquist of the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation and Vince DeJoy of the City of Jamestown Department of Development during the Q&A period was: “What do you see as the primary challenge Jamestown faces?”
Greg Lindquist fielded the question and responded, “Ourselves. We have to believe we can do it.” Another question that was frequently raised was the issue of parking. Urban designer, Davies, stressed that surface parking lots are not a sign of a thriving city. Eventually, as development occurs, those lots should become opportunities for development. There needs to be parking, but it should be in ramps that have retail opportunities on the first floor.
Economist Cheu identified three market “buckets”: Residents, Employees, and Tourists. She pointed out that some localities make the mistake of targeting their development efforts to appeal to only one of the buckets, whereas the design should be to appeal to all three. While residents are a “captive audience” they are a considerably smaller market with more modest incomes than the visitor market.
Drawing greater numbers of visitors is important, but a powerful economic tool is putting mechanisms in place that encourage the many repeat visitors we already have to stay longer. Better way-finding and improved connections between our many attractions should be a priority. According to visitor surveys, they enjoy dining, shopping, going to attractions and visiting waterways. Cheu expressed her confidence that Jamestown has what it takes to be a regional draw and to get development projects completed.
Building on Success
In recent years Jamestown has successfully undertaken challenging development projects. For example, the $21 million Jamestown Savings Bank Arena that draws 400,000 turnstile visits a year; the $12 million restoration of the historic train station that will be part of the future home of the National Comedy Center; and the renovation and redevelopment of the Wellman Building Project that repurposed two buildings into retail space, offices, and 44 market-rate apartments.
AECOM concludes that Jamestown has resources to get future projects done here. The community already has talented and creative private-sector developers involved and have been successful in securing private and public funding to complete developments. For example, the National Comedy Center was awarded $1.5 million from New York State for construction purposes. On December 10, Tom Benson and Journey Gunderson will travel to Albany as they have been invited by the Governor’s office to attend a ceremony for 2016 funding announcements and are anticipating further NYS investment in the world-class attraction.
An observation that AECOM made about downtowns in which they have worked is that they often are supported by government employees. That is not the case in Jamestown. Cheu offered that regionally there is a good mix of industries and future job growth projected for western New York.
“Whenever there is regional growth, there is an opportunity to capture some of that”, Cheu said. She continued to say, “There needs to be a strategic approach to assemble a critical mass of complimentary activities that draws resident, employee and tourist spending in the region into the downtown.” The key is to take what we already have, such as the quality restaurants and attractions and locate them in a concentrated area. When they are located just outside the city limits, make sure there are connections to them or that they provide programming in the downtown.
Davies shared his belief that the area surrounding the Chadakoin is key. Efforts should be made to connect the city to the river. Future development could include a family-oriented hotel there, riverside restaurants and water activities. Communities fortunate enough to have a waterway are taking advantage of this amenity and realizing the economic impact of well-planned development by waterfronts.
The urban designer shared many thoughts regarding the buildings and infrastructure nearby the Comedy Center. He suggested calming traffic along Washington Street with measures that could include widening sidewalks and installing crosswalks. He observed, “There’s currently no sense that you’ve arrived in Jamestown.” Davies stressed that rather than zipping through the city, traffic should be slowed to give the driver an opportunity to look around and be conscious of pedestrians.
“We really like Jamestown and we feel it has great bones,” Cheu said. “It’s a very charming town with its historic buildings. People actually look for that in a destination. There is a nice riverfront and that is an amenity that you cannot recreate in a community.”
Jamestown is different – in a good way. We need to believe it is so.