By Cathriona Fey
BAPA Community Outreach & Improvement
After hitting the pause button almost eight months ago due to COVID-19, local volunteer organizations, residents and business owners are regrouping to continue the work needed to advance planning and design initiatives focused on improving economic vitality and accessibility along Western Avenue.
This community-led initiative is part of National Main Street Center’s UrbanMain program. UrbanMain offers technical assistance and support for community-driven economic development plans in under-resourced, older and historic neighborhood commercial districts in order to restore economic vitality and promote quality of life. The project is led locally by the Morgan Park Beverly Hills Business Association (MPBHBA). Halted by a global pandemic, MPBHBA and committee volunteers returning to the project are now tasked with adjusting previously developed strategies to take into account the current economic situation as a result of the pandemic.
In September, the MPBHBA was presented with the National Main Street’s Transformation Strategy Report for Western Avenue. Informed by a site visit covering Western Avenue (99th Street to 111th Street), over 900 community survey responses, current market and demographic data, and workshops with committee volunteers, the report identifies the need for a safer, more family-friendly and commercially diverse Western Avenue. Newly added to the report, is a COVID-19 Impacts and Trends section, highlighting how events like the pandemic force shifts in the economy.
Our community has seen some of Main Street’s recommendations implemented at businesses not only along Western Avenue, but throughout Beverly/Morgan Park. Our business community was forced to pivot, exploring news ways to do business, new products to sell, and new experiences to keep customers engaged. For example, Open Outcry’s carry-out storefront, Belle Up Boutique’s weekly Instagram lives, Two Mile Coffee’s mobile ordering system, Treadfit’s virtual fitness classes, and Horse Thief Hollow’s colorful new outdoor patio area all prove how local businesses have adjusted to the recent economic changes and restrictions.
With individual businesses doing their best to evolve with current conditions, there is now a need to focus on overall place management and the experience residents and visitors have when on the community’s “Main Street.”
The National Main Street’s Transformation Strategy Report states, “Place management will rely much more on telling our story in order to fully recover… While consumers are likely to continue to focus on essentials rather than wants in the near term, long term commerce cannot serve as a replacement for what humans need and crave: connection to people, place, and products that speak to their individualistic nature.” Creating a place people want to come to, feel safe, spend money and support local businesses is essential to the long-term viability of a commercial district. The UrbanMain Western Avenue Revitalization project provides the opportunity to create such a place. As the UrbanMain committee volunteers reconvene this month, place management and adjusting previously developed strategies to meet the needs of a changed economy and new business climate will be high priority.
“We don’t know what those new strategies will be, but I feel confident that the smart, engaged people on the various committees will have some great ideas,” said Caroline Connors, Executive Director of the Morgan Park Beverly Hills Business Association. With most all of the original committee volunteers returning, Connors said there is always interest to bring on additional volunteers.
The Western Avenue Revitalization Project is funded through an UrbanMain grant that was awarded to the Morgan Park Beverly Hills Business Association in 2019. If you are interested in volunteering or have additional questions regarding the Project, contact Caroline Connors, email@example.com.