What were apparently good ideas for revitalizing Colusa’s struggling downtown a decade ago are still good ideas today, according to urban strategist Michele Reeves, of Civilis Consulting.
The City of Colusa hosted the Portland, Ore.-based consultant on Thursday for the third installment of “Colusa Community Conversations,” the online public workshops the city has sponsored to engage Colusa residents during the coronavirus pandemic.
The strategist offered insights to making the downtown more successful, which largely mirrored the economic development strategy developed for the city by Chabin Concepts in 2010.
The Colusa City Council and the Colusa County Board of Supervisors contracted Chabin to create an “Economic Development Strategic Roadmap” based on the community’s assets, constraints, and opportunities, but the $60,000 blueprint for success was never implemented.
Reeves, in presenting the “Building Blocks of Great Commercial Districts,” said making the downtown more attractive to foot traffic is key to successful retail.
Colusa has long dreamed of a downtown similar to Winters, with its unique boutiques and quaint shops tucked among outdoor cafes and entertainment.
Reeves describes such mature downtown districts as destination stops, with plenty of brand identity, brightly colored facades, and attractive window and sidewalk displays.
“These districts are dense with solid foot traffic,” she said. “They support market rate construction, have steady and predictable retail patterns, and chain and national brands become more prevalent. The district becomes the destination, not the individual store.”
While Colusa never followed through with Chabin’s plan, the coronavirus pandemic may push Colusa business owners into trying something new.
Because people may no longer feel comfortable inside small intimate stores and cafes, Reeves said Colusa has the opportunity to begin transforming the downtown into an outside retail and service world.
The only problem: Market Street.
The same roadblock Colusa business encountered a decade ago, still exists today. Market Street is a state highway controlled by Caltrans, so sidewalk services and outdoor dining would require an encroachment permit from the state, said City Manager Jesse Cain. For stores and eateries along Colusa’s streets, encroachment permits to expand their services to the sidewalks can be granted by the city.
As for the government’s role in economic development, Reeves said the city’s primary function is to maintain public streets and trees, although everyone should be on the lookout for businesses that “are a good fit.”