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Harlem officials seeking public input on downtown development

Posted: August 3, 2014 - 12:11am  |  Updated: August 3, 2014 - 2:45am

Harlem officials want to know what residents see for the future of the city’s downtown.

They are preparing for the city’s first Urban Redevelopment Plan, which is aimed at redeveloping, revamping and revitalizing the downtown area.

A public meeting was held in mid-July and now officials are asking for more of what residents want to see through an online survey.

“We want to know what would draw our residents downtown and residents from the surrounding area to downtown as well,” said City Manager Jason Rizner.

The short survey asks about concerns and experience in the downtown area and what residents and others would like to see there.

The survey is available on the city’s Web site at www.harlemga.org.

“We’re still in the early process right now,” Rizner said. “We haven’t nailed anything down right now.”

People also can offer their opinions at a downtown design workshop to be held Sept. 6-8. The CSRA Regional Commission will lead site visits, exercises, presentations and discussions. Each daily session also includes feedback and discussion sessions.

“The best opportunity for public input is that downtown design workshop,” Rizner said.

City officials began work on the Urban Redevelopment Plan in early May, where a steering committee of city leaders, business people and residents was formed. That committee meets regularly to decide the goals to be included in the plan.

“It’s a good opportunity,” City Community Development Coordinator Will Butler said of the plan. “There’s a lot of potential in downtown Harlem. It’s really the only downtown in Columbia County.”

Once the Regional Commission compiles the input from citizens, city officials and the steering committee, they will present a copy for revisions by the committee. Once revisions are complete, a final plan will go before the City Council for approval. Rizner said he hopes the plan will be approved before the end of the year.

In the meantime, the Regional Commission will perform a design charrette to show what the downtown area and other smaller areas adjacent to downtown would look like based on the input.

Though noting is set in stone, the renovation of the Columbia Theatre will likely be a part of the plan. It seems that the priorities of city officials are shared by residents.

“We’ve had a lot of comments about getting this (theater) back, doing something,” Butler said. “The things that we are working on currently, at least in the beginning stages, are the things that people want to see.”
The plan will not only focus on business development in the downtown area, which is important to serve and draw residents to the area and foster more businesses. It will also consider recreational wants such as parks or gatherings places like city squares.

“We’ve got areas in downtown that are in need of redevelopment, empty storefronts,” Rizner said. “There are areas in the adjacent to downtown that are really ripe for development.”

And the revitalization effort comes just in time to prepare for the growth expected to move into the city from Fort Gordon expansions.

“There’s so much potential (in downtown Harlem),” Rizner said. “We’ve heard that time and time again. With all the growth that is coming, the timing is perfect for that.”

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