January 27, 2011 |

Downtown group takes 1st steps

A half-dozen downtown business and property owners met Wednesday to reap "low-hanging fruit" identified in the Haines Borough’s downtown revitalization plan.

"A lot of times we commission a plan, and nothing happens after that. This is the ‘after that,’" said group leader Lenise Henderson-Fontenot.

The group agreed to boost efforts to promote shopping locally, to make an inventory of amenities like benches and garbage cans, and to compile a "checklist" of needed improvements on borough property.

Bookstore owner Liz Heywood spoke for an ongoing public awareness and education campaign on the benefits of local shopping. "Revitalization of the local economy is a huge part of this."

Hammer museum founder David Pahl said small repairs like straightening bent railings and repairing crumbling sidewalks add up. Cumulative decay is evident to visitors, he said. "We need to clean it up."

The group also agreed to make recommendations to the Haines Borough, including to:

· Hire maintenance personnel to "catch up" with years of deferred maintenance;

· Encourage the State of Alaska to widen Main Street sidewalks by one foot on each side of the street;

· Hang Haines Centennial banners by April 15;

· Improve the appearance of a west wall at the former elementary school exposed by demolition, and;

· Create incentives for business owners to paint exteriors and add awnings.

Henderson-Fontenot said goals on issues like boarding up windows may eventually have to become part of borough law. "At some point we’re going to have to get comfortable with governing for the aesthetic… Otherwise, people will just take the cheapest, easiest way of dealing with something."

Elements of the downtown plan sidestepped by the group include whether the effort will need government-provided staff, and the physical boundaries of a potential downtown improvement district.

"We’re just a tiny little root.We’re the beginning of the seed," Henderson-Fontenot said.

All downtown property and business owners are welcome at meetings. The group next meets 5:30 p.m. Feb. 17 at the Rusty Compass coffee shop on Main Street.