Two boys rode their bikes across the intersection of Main and Center streets in downtown Moab on Wednesday, March 28. City officials are seeking feedback on a plan that envisions what downtown Moab could look like in the future; pedestrian and bicyclist safety on Main Street is a top concern of local residents like YummyTown co-owner Joelle Riddle. [Photo by Rudy Herndon / Moab Sun News]

The City of Moab is designing a vision for the future of downtown, and the public is invited to give its input at a community open house on Wednesday, April 4, from 5:45 to 7:45 p.m. at the city council chambers, 217 E. Center St.

There is also an online survey to collect public comments on the plan, available now at https://moabcity.org/CivicAlerts.

Moab City Planning Director Jeff Reinhart explained that the plan has been in the works for many years.

“The idea for a ‘downtown plan’ had its inception in the 2002 General Plan, and was carried over into the 2017 General Plan Update,” he said.

The General Plan applies to the overall community of Moab, and envisions a “thriving, healthy community that saves the best from the past and integrates the best of what is new and innovative.”

The downtown plan, which will become an addendum to the General Plan, is meant to incorporate the wishes of residents and business owners to make downtown Moab a commercial and pedestrian hub.

“The (downtown plan) is a standalone effort, focused on the central core of the city, that will enhance the unique historic, social and cultural character of downtown, and diversify, strengthen and promote the downtown economy,” Reinhart said. “The hope is that an appealing and safe environment will emerge, that has a welcoming and comfortable pedestrian orientation.”

The area under consideration is roughly defined by 100 East to 100 West by 300 South to 400 North – essentially, the Main Street corridor, from the Walker Drug shopping center on the south end to the Sweet Cravings bakery on the north end.

The downtown plan is separate from several other development studies and projects taking place in Moab.

There is a city-wide parking plan in the works, which will encompass an area much wider than the downtown plan. Meanwhile, the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) is widening Highway 191 north of town. Moab is also eligible for UDOT “hotspot” funding, which allocates money to high-traffic recreational areas. The city must propose specific projects which meet the criteria of hotspot funding: The project must reduce congestion, increase access to recreation and support economic development. All of these projects will affect and inform the downtown plan, but the plan itself is its own project.

The plan’s development will be guided by a hired consulting firm. A few months ago, city managers advertised a request for proposals from development firms. Seven companies submitted proposals, and after a scoring and interviewing process, a five-member committee of city employees selected a candidate to recommend to the city council. The council approved the choice of Downtown Redevelopment Services and its sub-firm, Avenue Consultants.

Downtown Redevelopment Services has offices in Ohio and Pennsylvania, as well as one in Park City. In the past, it has worked with Utah communities such as Tremonton to revitalize their downtown areas. Avenue Consultants is based in Salt Lake City and focuses on the traffic and transportation side of development projects. It often works in conjunction with UDOT, but also works directly for cities.

Ben Levinger of Downtown Redevelopment Services is the project manager for the Moab downtown plan. His side of the work will focus on downtown themes, aesthetics and businesses. Thomas McMurtry, of Avenue Consultants, is the project leader of the transportation part of the Moab downtown plan. His firm will address bike, pedestrian and car traffic, as well as parking. Both Levinger and McMurtry will be at the open house to discuss ideas with Moab residents.

The meeting will have an informal, conversational feel, rather than a presentation style. The consulting firms will have maps and invite attendees to mark things like problem areas or parking shortages. “They’ll have some hands-on activities there for people to identify their main priorities for what they would like to see downtown,” Moab City Communications and Engagement Manager Lisa Church said. “Because this really is a project that’s geared towards finding out from our local residents what they would like to see happen in their own downtown.”

Downtown serves many tourists in addition to local residents. McMurtry acknowledged that tourists have an opinion on what they’d like to experience in downtown Moab, and noted that the online survey is inclusive.

“Everyone is welcome to go the website, and everyone is welcome to fill out the survey,” he said. “And one of the first questions we ask on the survey is, ‘How long have you lived in Moab?’ And there’s an option to say that you don’t live in Moab, to say that you are just a visitor, and you’re still allowed to fill it out and tell us all your opinions. We don’t care if you live in Moab or not; we’d like to hear from you.”

Cards placed at various Main Street businesses direct people, visitors and locals alike, to the online survey.

However, city officials underline that the plan is all about what Moab citizens want.

“There is no plan at this point,” Church said. “The whole idea behind this is, it gives us an opportunity to find out what our citizens want. There hasn’t been any decision.”

McMurtry also emphasized that the plan is in its preliminary stages. So far, no specific recommendations are on the table.

“We are not proposing any projects or solutions,” he said of the open house. “All we want to do is understand what people would like to see, ultimately, downtown.”

To prepare for the community open house, the consultants have collected existing research from downtown – data such as the number of pedestrians using crosswalk signals and an inventory of parking spaces. This information will be displayed at the open house to help attendees understand the scope of the plan and to roughly quantify the factors involved – for example, to see just what percentage of downtown businesses are restaurants, or how many accidents occur on Main Street. The consultants will also analyze the data from the online survey. As they gather more information, Avenue Consultants will update the project website, http://bit.ly/MoabDowntownPlan.

The open house on April 4 is not the only chance residents will have to voice their wishes.

“There will be at least one other open house,” Church said. “There will be other opportunities for people to weigh in as the process moves forward.”

McMurtry anticipates another public meeting in June or July, when the firms will have some suggested projects prepared.

City council member Kalen Jones gave examples of issues the downtown plan might address.

Parking spaces, a balance in the types of business found in the downtown area, and a possible downtown visual aesthetic or theme could all be under discussion. The role of the city in downtown development will also be considered – should the city assist in redeveloping groups of properties together, or might the city create a downtown plaza or gathering space?

“Its a little bit open-ended at this point,” Jones said of the plan. “Downtown has evolved in a way that’s somewhat organic. Development has tended to be on a lot-by-lot basis, just depending on what individual property owners have found to be profitable and convenient … we might be able to get downtown working more productively if we look at it in a more holistic fashion.”

Joelle Riddle, co-owner of the Main Street food truck YummyTown, applauded the city for initiating the planning process. One of her first concerns for downtown is safety on busy Main Street, which large shipping trucks have to use, along with bikers, pedestrians, tourists and local residents.

“I think it’s hard for us to build a community feeling around a thoroughfare, with that going on,” Riddle said. “And I know that that’s a huge undertaking, but it just seems to me that towns that don’t do something about it, lose their downtown.”

Max Schon, the other owner of Yummy Town, has already taken the online survey, and the pair are considering the possibility of attending the open house.

The collaborators of the plan are optimistic about turnout at the meeting. The location was changed from the library to the city council chambers to accommodate more people; McMurtry said they have already received over 300 responses to the online survey.

Jones is eager to see how the project evolves.

“I think it’s exciting, the potential for proactively planning what downtown can be,” he said, “and how it could really thrive as a whole.”

Open house on vision for Moab’s central core set for April 4

Development has tended to be on a lot-by-lot basis, just depending on what individual property owners have found to be profitable and convenient … we might be able to get downtown working more productively if we look at it in a more holistic fashion.