“Strong cities have strong downtowns.” Not many people would debate this basic assertion, made by Scott Page, Principal of Interface Studio, while he was in Montgomery last summer to discuss the city’s new strategic and visionary downtown planning initiative. (Interface Studio has partnered with the City and the Chamber in the effort.)
Look at any size city anywhere, and the ones we most want to visit or live, work and play in, have a vibrant center that draws and supports prosperous commerce, which creates a thriving community. A keen understanding of this fact is why Montgomery is currently updating the roadmap it will use to see continued success in the development of downtown.
The plan has been dubbed Downtown 2.0., and the City, County and Chamber have enlisted the help of Interface Studio to guide the process; the firm has earned national recognition for its work in this arena. And getting this right is key, as the plan for future downtown progress represents one of the most critical calls to action and one of the largest opportunities outlined in the City’s Envision 2040 plan.
The original incarnation of Montgomery’s downtown plan brought us the Riverwalk, the Alleyway and more — it did a lot. But that was more than a decade ago, and according to Page, most cities update their downtown plans every 10 years. So, the time is now. And city leadership is ready. Here’s what you need to know about Downtown 2.0.
“Downtown Montgomery has so much going for it, a stock of beautiful buildings and a rich history. The stories in downtown and in the city are told by those who know it best, but they need to be told more powerfully and to a much larger audience.” – Scott Page, Principal, Interface Studios
WHAT’S DRIVING THE UPDATE?
Mayor Steven L. Reed and his team completed Montgomery’s first comprehensive plan in 50 years at the end of 2020. Envision 2040 calls for an updated downtown plan to ensure we fully capitalize on the rich potential yet to be unearthed there. According to Page, the Downtown 2.0 plan is crucial to choosing the path that will get us from where we are now to where we want to be. “Downtown plans are immensely important,” Page said. “No city that has a great downtown has one by accident; they were all planned.” A plan gives a community a vision and goals to rally around together, and it clearly identifies the needs to be met and the roles different groups and individuals can and will play to meet those needs and achieve the established goals. “It’s an empowering tool that says we want to improve downtown, and this is how we’ll do it,” Page said, “and this is who needs to be at the table.”
WHAT’S HAPPENING NOW?
Downtown 2.0 is being built on solid technical research that seeks to understand trends and conditions, but it will also rely heavily on residents’ wisdom. “We want that intuition that locals have just by living and working here,” Page said. “Downtowns succeed by welcoming everyone, so we have to have a lot of public engagement to know what Montgomerians want the future of downtown to be.” Beginning last fall and continuing through the winter, the plan’s team is working hard to get input from all who care about downtown, which according to Page, should be everyone. “We have been talking with all who have a stake in this, and that’s includes those who live in or near downtown and who own a business or property there — they know this place best — but it’s really the entire city too.”
WHY DOES DOWNTOWN 2.0 MATTER?
While downtown development has been riding on some steady momentum in the last decade, the immense changes in recent years (both here and nationwide) call for a renewed commitment to a shared vision. Downtown 2.0 is an opportunity to create and then effectively implement that vision. “There are many unique experiences downtown now,” said Page, “but how do we thread them all together for residents and visitors? We want to think about how we created a broader experience downtown.” Doing so, according to Page, drives new business growth, new activity, new housing, new investment and new tourism in downtown but beyond downtown too. “Downtowns are central to economic development in entire cities and surrounding regions,” Page said.
THOUGHTS FROM LOCAL LEADERS:
“I’m really excited about the Downtown Plan and look forward to continued work on that. It’s a big and key initiative for the city. Increasing tourism here, sharing our story with more people and providing more opportunities for our residents and our businesses all go hand-in-hand in this, and a strong plan is the way to do it.” - 2022 Chamber Chairman Cedric Campbell
“This is a blueprint to chart our course for smart, sustainable development in Montgomery. The Downtown Plan complements the Envision 2040 Comprehensive Plan and will help Montgomery capitalize on our burgeoning tourism, tech and entrepreneurial assets. By building out a vibrant city center, we can attract new opportunities for growth throughout our city, especially in west and north Montgomery.” - Montgomery Mayor Steven L. Reed
“Montgomery has been my home my entire life and has always been a great place to live. The Downtown 2.0 Plan provides an opportunity to showcase our greatness to others and to share our vision of home with people around the world. We hope that this plan will make people, businesses, and industries want to call Montgomery home like we do.” - Montgomery County Commission Chairman Elton Dean
“One of the most critical calls to action, resulting from the comprehensive 2040 Plan, was to develop a block-by-block strategy that will catalyze growth and progress for the entire city and region. Intentional development of Montgomery’s downtown can change the course of economic development and quality of place for many years to come.” - Anna B. Buckalew, President & CEO, Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce
PURPOSE OF THE PLAN
Grand Rapids, Michigan, Macon, Georgia, and Atlanta, Georgia, have successfully increased investment and development in their downtowns in recent years. The specifics vary with the city, but their efforts share a common thread, according to those who’ve led them. They all stress that they couldn’t have done their work and done it so well without a master plan.
“Our recently completed Downtown Master Plan — GR Forward — is helping to guide strategic and tactical decisions to transform Grand Rapids into a more dynamic, resilient and prosperous waterfront city for all. Most importantly, GR Forward has translated to action and results, which is the true value of completing any master planning initiative.” - Tim Kelly, President & CEO, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.
“The world’s best talent is picking a place to live before they have a job to do, and a vibrant downtown is your best asset to attract that talent. A great downtown plan will engage all your citizens to envision the best future for downtown and empower those citizens to enact the plan.” - Josh Rogers, President & CEO, New Town Macon
“For Downtown Atlanta, the plan was an essential tool to engage the community and build support for how to leverage real estate market momentum and prioritize new infrastructure investment while retaining Downtown’s authentic complexity and character. Unraveling that complexity to grow and increase Downtown’s vibrancy is challenging enough, and without the Master Plan it would be nearly impossible.” - Jennifer Ball, Vice President, Planning and Economic Development, Central Atlanta Progress (CAP), Atlanta Downtown Improvement District (ADID)