Harrisonburg Downtown 2040 Draft Master Plan presented to community

Published: Nov. 19, 2021 at 9:39 PM EST
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - What do people who live in the Friendly City want downtown to be like in 2040? After months of community engagement, people in the Friendly City finally got to hear ideas on how to help downtown Harrisonburg grow and flourish economically with the Harrisonburg Downtown 2040 Draft Master Plan.

In May, hundreds of responses were gathered through an interactive map where people could identify special places, ideas and problems in downtown Harrisonburg.

Anonymous people who live, work and socialize in Harrisonburg pointed out their favorite spots to eat, shop, and socialize. They also plotted points on the map, pointing out “eyesores” or their ideas for busy intersections, parking lots, and vacant buildings.

Then in July, #DreamDowntown pop-up events were hosted around downtown. Those events included interactive maps asking people about their favorite downtown spots, and others that ask you to give a thumbs up or thumbs down to things you see or want to see downtown, like artwork, parking lots, parks and green space.

Interface Studio is a city planning and urban design group that helps communities, large and small, think about where they are now, what they would like to become, and which steps are needed to get there. It took the responses and feedback from the community to give recommendations on how to move forward.

“As we analyze the data, key themes start to emerge and that is really helpful for us in terms of identifying what are the topics that this plan needs to address head-on use as our organizing framework,” Mindy Watts, with Interface Studio, told WHSV in July.

Overall, more than 450 people contributed their ideas and feedback to the master plan.

Friday night, those ideas were displayed and presented under the Turner Pavilion.

Some of those recommendations included filling in the gap in downtown Harrisonburg with new development and parks. A presentation from Interface Studio pointed out that parking makes up one-third of the parcel area downtown, creating an uneven experience for pedestrians where some blocks are more interesting to walk along than others.

Two-thirds of the frontage in downtown Harrisonburg is currently “inactive” according to Interface Studio, which means empty storefronts, parking lots, blank walls, or empty lots.

Other recommendations included restoring Blacks Run to make it a community space and providing a “sense of arrival” in downtown Harrisonburg by adding more artwork, green spaces and landscaping.

Another idea is transforming Main Street and Liberty Street to create more room for pedestrians and cyclists.

When these ideas were presented, people in attendance were then asked for feedback one more time, like what ideas they thought should be prioritized. Plans may be modified before the next step, which is bringing those ideas to Harrisonburg City Council.

“[City council] will get to see the final plan of what Harrisonburg Downtown 2040 is all about,” said Brian Shull, the Director of Economic Development in Harrisonburg. “Then the council will take it from there as far as what priorities they would like to see moving forward... What kind of timeline... What kind of money we can put towards it.”

Shull said they will make adjustments and bring those ideas to present to Harrisonburg City Council at its December meeting.

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