Westminster gets ideas to make it more appealing to shoppers

November 07, 1994|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Sun Staff Writer

Downtown Westminster may become more pedestrian-friendly, preserve its historic atmosphere and increase its retail market share.

New signs may guide visitors to parking, retired local executives may become mentors for novice business owners, and retail stores may start staying open later to attract evening shoppers.

Those possibilities and others are contained in a market analysis and strategy to enhance the city center, done for Westminster's government by a Virginia-based consulting corporation.

The report "comes at an opportune time," said Thomas Ferguson, chairman of the board of the the Greater Westminster Development Corp. (GWDC). The corporation, a quasi-governmental economic development group, hired its first executive director last week.

"I'm sure we'll need to develop priorities and action strategies based partly on that report," Mr. Ferguson said.

Consultants Doyle G. Hyett and Dolores P. Palma advised the community to work to retain existing businesses first, then seek to recruit new ones.

Specific suggestions included providing one-on-one technical assistance for business owners and encouraging retailers to stay open at hours convenient for their customers. The report noted that the suggestion "does not necessarily require a business to be open longer hours; it means keeping smarter hours."

City Councilman Stephen R. Chapin Sr., who was instrumental in forming GWDC, latched onto the consultants' suggestion to recruit retired executives as mentors to novice entrepreneurs.

"I think it's a terrific idea, and we've got a wealth of people here," Mr. Chapin said.

He expressed concern about the future of the former Farmers Supply Co. property on Liberty Street, which he sees as a key retail district site. Mr. Chapin said he hopes the property will not be sold for a "gas and go" station. He would like to see the City Council influence its use, he said.

The consultants identified the site as an ideal location for a quality housing development or office complex.

Westminster's historic structures are an asset that should be preserved, the consultants said. They suggested a downtown historic district, though without filling in the details.

"This [recommendation] confirmed the position I fought for, that is, that we have something special in Westminster, which is the ** historic area, and history sells," said Councilwoman Rebecca A. Orenstein.

The council debated the issue extensively two years ago, but opted for a voluntary preservation program rather than a mandatory district.

Mr. Chapin said the consultants' recommendation might cause him to reassess his opposition to a historic preservation district. He opposed the idea earlier as an unfair limit on property owners' rights to change facades or tear down buildings.

Westminster's government can support the business community by adding parking signs or police foot patrols, said City Council President Kenneth A. Yowan.

He added, "I do think, however, that a large part of this will be the involvement of GWDC and the business community."

Mr. Yowan pointed out that the consultants said parking was adequate, although merchants and the public didn't perceive it that way in surveys for the HyettPalma report.

If stores offer goods and services people want, customers will come, he said.

"If we could put a branch of L. L. Bean in downtown Westminster, there'd probably be people walking from the mall parking lot," he said.

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