Design firm suggests how to improve downtown Williamsburg

Williamsburg’s Economic Development Authority and other city leaders are keeping an eye on contractors hired to study how to improve commerce in downtown and the surrounding areas.

On Wednesday, the authority met with City Council and the Planning Commission to hear a presentation on the Downtown Vibrancy, Design and Marketing Study.

The discussion touched on the differences between Williamsburg area-retailers supply and projected demand; possible improvements to the downtown area that could help businesses; and what other cities are doing that could be implemented downtown.

Two design firms are working on the study: Melvin Design, of Camden, N.J. and Philadelphia-based Econsult Solutions. The city is paying the consultants a total of $60,000 for the work.

Catherine Timko, a senior advisor at Econsult Solutions, said improvement in the Williamsburg market could be helped by a growing millennial population and fair rent prices.

“Your rents are fairly well-priced when you look at what is going on around the country,” she said.

Simple improvements, such as more night lighting, could encourage people to hang around longer and perhaps spend money.

“After a certain time in the evening, it gets very quiet,” said Robert Melvin, principal of Melvin Design.

Widening sidewalks could also help spur more foot traffic.

“I know you’ve been working on it,” Timko said. “Many of the sidewalks here are too narrow.”

Mayor Paul Freiling said traveling to downtown businesses by foot is integral to encouraging people to spend money there.

“The walking experience is part of the attraction,” Freiling said. “All the activity makes people want to stay longer.”

Representatives from the same two firms plan on returning in January to present more information to the Economic Development Authority.

“We still have more research to do,” Timko said.

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