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Downtown Vision

A deeper look at Solon’s downtown

SOLON– A pedestrian mall and a bed and breakfast district could be part of the future for downtown Solon.
Both were presented conceptually Dec. 20 as Solon City Council members mulled the findings of a downtown visioning project recently completed by MSA Professional Services, the same consulting firm which assisted with the city’s comprehensive plan update in 2015.
Council members did not extensively discuss the results, but were expected to prepare comments prior to accepting the document at a future meeting.
MSA was hired in February to take a more focused look at the Main Street area, with an eye toward the creation of specific guidelines for future development.
Developing a master plan for the Main Street area was one of the actions called for in the city’s 2015 comprehensive plan, and council members have referenced the need for such a plan as they’ve dealt with new commercial and residential proposals downtown.
“The comprehensive plan is really looking at the city as a whole from a 30,000-foot view, and then this downtown vision really kind of drills that down and takes some of the ideas that came from that, and then some public input and input from the committee,” MSA Project Manager Shawn O’Shea explained to council members.
MSA focused on the 32 blocks extending from Racine Avenue on the west to Cedar Street on the east, and from Elm Street on the north to Sovers Street to the south.
Public comments received through a downtown walkabout, a public open house June 8 and a web-based, interactive community map were combined with an inventory of existing conditions to create some general recommendations for the downtown area, as well as conceptual images of possible future amenities.
But it also unearthed some interesting information– a review of current parking spaces and a retail market analysis of the local economy.
The parking inventory found the downtown area has “ample” parking, with a total of 640 existing or nearly complete spaces available.
One strategy to address perceived parking issues could be to create restricted parking in prime storefront space, the report noted. Way-finding signage to direct users to available parking was also suggested.
A more in-depth study of peak utilization could be done if desired by the city, O’Shea said.
The retail market analysis showed a retail gap of $94 million per year spent outside of the community by residents within a 15-minute drive.
“It’s really just a quick snapshot in time of what the potential is for Solon,” O’Shea said. “Where are some of the opportunities that we could potentially capture more of that money and bring that into Solon instead of somebody driving to Iowa City because we don’t have whatever it might be that they’re looking for?”
The objectives of the downtown visioning process were to identify the existing character and condition of downtown Solon, pinpoint things missing from the area and create scenarios of how the community can “fully establish itself as a unique and desirable downtown for residents and visitors alike,” the document noted.
“This important process can unite a community towards the overall goal of improving and maintaining a high quality of life for all residents,” the plan stated. “This is accomplished through a thriving downtown that consists of pedestrian amenities, consumer locations that provide basic necessities and areas of interest that give residents and visitors alike a reason to linger and stay.”
The plan recommended more pedestrian-friendly amenities to help brand the downtown– way-finding signs and the implementation of more street benches and bicycle racks.
“Especially as this bike trail effort comes to fruition,” O’Shea said. “You’ve got people on bikes that have never been in town. They’re on foot or on their bike. They want to be able to get through the community and see where they want to go quickly.”
He also suggested more downtown events like Beef Days.
Hosting smaller events will help keep the community active, as well as bring more people to town, he said.
“Do it in the downtown– this is the heart of your community,” O’Shea added.
Continued streetscape improvements should adopt best practices based on safety, mobility and comfort, he added, and guidelines should encourage development consistent with the existing character.
“Which are all things Solon had done a good job with to this point, and that’s what this plan kind of reinforces,” O’Shea concluded.
The visioning document also painted some scenarios for future possible public and private projects, including a pedestrian mall on North Iowa Street, a community marketplace and a remodeling of Sam’s Main Street Market.
“The comprehensive plan was kind of the first stab at this idea to have maybe some kind of community campus and have a pedestrian area that’s really just for pedestrians,” he said. “So when you do more festivals, it gives people a reason to be outside and you don’t have to be just on the sidewalk, you can congregate in a larger area.”
Solon could do something similar to Iowa City on a smaller scale but still unique, he said.
“As you have people coming in from out of town, they see people outside that are enjoying the outside,” he said. “It’s going to have them stop and get out of their car and want to be here.”

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Downtown Vision Draft 12152017 small.pdf10.15 MB