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Beckley’s Downtown Assessment report has been completed by Monica Miller & Aaron Arnett. Since November, the team has reviewed previous city plans/data and demographics/market data, conducted on-line surveys, spent three days in the community, visited with 14 focus groups, and prepared the report. The City has now received the 35-page report which includes sections that highlight the community’s strengths / opportunities and challenges, market information and demographics, market segmentation, retail leakage, survey results, recommendations, a vision, development strategies, business opportunities, and action steps.

The assessment team was impressed with the interest shown by the community noting that 889 general surveys and 141 WVU Tech student surveys were completed on-line. Meeting with focus groups enabled the team to talk with various stakeholders in the community. Notes and suggestions from the surveys and focus groups are included in the study/report.

A list of 26 strengths/opportunities included having the WVU Tech campus adjacent to downtown, a vibrant arts community, being a Home Rule community and the HIVE. A few of the 18 challenges listed included panhandling, safety perceptions, dilapidated buildings and lack of identity.

Market segmentation is based on socioeconomic indicators of age, income, education and family structure. Households share needs, interests, lifestyles and consumer characteristics. The segments most represented downtown are the Golden Ponds, Campers and Camo, and Striving Singles. Other target markets include the Hometown Retired, New Homesteaders and Metro Grads.

Retail leakage is a supply and demand study that refers to the difference between retail expenditures ofmresidents living in a geographic area and the sales produced by stores located in the same area. If residents are purchasing more than stores are selling, dollars leak outside the area. Although the team noted that the Beckley area is a hub for retail, they identified opportunities for downtown from the leakage study as a brew pub, wine shop, clothing, WVU Tech gear, hardware, coffee shop, bookstore, specialty shops and food. The demand was based on needs of a 30-minute trade area.

In the recommendations section, the vision for downtown Beckley is to be “A vibrant, safe, college town where active residents, students and visitors gather to enjoy arts, entertainment and unique businesses.” Development strategies mentioned in the report suggest that Beckley strive to be a “College Town” and a “Tourist Town.” Business opportunities that support the development strategies include bakeries, barbershop/hair salons, bicycle and other recreation shops, bookstores, cafes, coffee shops, gastropubs/taverns, gym, ice cream, take-out food, laundromat, boutique hotel, music venues, packing/shipping stores, pop-up retail, vintage clothing and unique businesses.

Action steps recommended by the team include developing a Downtown Development Master Plan, identify a brand that promotes the vision and strategies, create a communication strategy, hire a redevelopment specialist, create incentives, complete a property inventory, develop housing, implement succession plans for businesses whose owners are near retirement, visit peer communities (i.e. Charleston and Wheeling), consider a boutique hotel, implement a student purchasing card program, and measure progress. Miscellaneous suggestions also included community gardens, bike racks, parking validation, recycling bins, more police presence and a dog park.

The report is being shared with City Council members and the Downtown Assessment Steering Committee and will be placed on the City’s website this week. Mayor Robert Rappold said, “We are pleased with the study and look forward to working to accomplish many of its recommendations. Thanks to the assessment team, and to everyone who completed the survey, attended a focus group, or expressed interest in our community.”

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