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Downtown revitalization effort set for Jan. 26 kick-off


January 6, 2011

A meeting will be held Jan. 26 to begin work toward downtown revitalization. The meeting time and location are pending.

At the request of Haines Borough Manager Mark Earnest, businesswoman Lenise Henderson-Fontenot is organizing the meeting that will bring together downtown merchants with other stakeholders to start mapping out the process for the project.

"The idea is to get a feel for where the whole thing should go and to get the momentum rolling," Henderson-Fontenot said.

She said she’s been reading Haines planning documents that go back decades. "I’ve started looking through the stack for patterns and stuff that comes up more than once. It’s a fascinating history."

MRV Architects this year completed a $40,000 downtown plan, which synthesizes a year of public meetings about revitalizing the core. MRV laid out an eight-point plan for launching the project.

It says the borough should: 1) formalize a downtown improvement district and hire a half-time staffer, 2) begin talks with the state Department of Transportation on improvements in the right-of-way, 3) dedicate a local revenue source for the project, 4) upgrade signage, 5) start a grant program for improving buildings, 6) establish a buy-local campaign, 7) start a downtown assistance program, and 8) seek funding for streetscape infrastructure.

Urban planner Barb Sheinberg told borough leaders this spring that Wrangell had embarked on an $8.9 million downtown project. "This is doable for Haines. It’s just a matter if you want to do it," she said.

A major element of the plan is invigorating businesses in the core, Sheinberg said. "The idea is if the businesses are strong, the investment will follow. The most successful programs are not just about nicer sidewalks."

In related news, a borough committee is working toward improved signage around town, starting next spring. The borough has appropriated $80,000 for the project.

Debra Schnabel, who’s heading the committee, said the group will have at least two, large "contextual" signs and some smaller, directional ones in place before cruise ships start arriving.

The committee has been involved in a process called "wayfinding," she said.

"You can’t just put a sign here and a sign there or you end up with signs everywhere," she said. For example, instead of signs to individual museums, signs will direct visitors to the part of town where museums are located.

Larger signs will be placed at "ports of entry" like the cruise dock, intersection of Second Avenue and Lutak Road, and Haines Highway. The signs and smaller, directional ones will have common themes. "People have to recognize they’re working within a system," Schnabel said.

The committee currently is reviewing large sign features with graphic designers, she said.

Other committee members are Ned Rozbicki, Andy Hedden, Rob Goldberg, Greg Schlachter and Judy Clark Heinmiller.