Can suburban communities create vibrant downtowns?
Absolutely, said Freeporter Lois Howes, who was a panelist at a forum on downtown development at the 2013 Smart Growth Conference last month. Ms. Howes, spoke about Freeport’s efforts to revitalize many of the village’s downtown areas. Ms. Howes, representing the Freeport Chamber of Commerce, along with chamber members from the villages of Huntington and Northport, provided attendees with ways to create downtowns that are multi-use centers that host a variety of activities and serve a range of populations and interests.
Artie Burke, representing Northport, spoke about his village’s quaint old world waterfront atmosphere and the chamber’s efforts to create “bed and breakfasts in the village to attract tourism,” he said. Furthermore, he said they were trying to use “social media to reach out to those under 40,” to inform them about development in the village and to reach “millennials who are very entrepreneurial and have begun to open small businesses in town. We also need to provide apartments above these small business spaces.”
Jim Kelly, representing Huntington, spoke about how a downtown needs to have “an anchor, something to attract people. In Huntington we have a theatre and lots of restaurants,” he said. “That brings people downtown but then we need to keep them here. We try to create a feeling of community with lots of local events. A wow effect that keeps people coming back to our town.”
Lois Howes said Freeport has been working to create more than one downtown destination – to create a walkable downtown near the Long Island Railroad, a business mall in the Industrial Park and a hotel for tourists as well as bringing tourists down to the Nautical Mile.
Instead of bed and breakfasts, “Freeport is hoping to attract a hotel along it’s Sunrise Highway corridor,” said Ms. Howes. “We also have a new cluster of restaurants there. In the spring we are exploring a trolley service from our Recreation Center down to the Nautical Mile.”
Additionally, “at our Industrial Park we are looking to redevelop that area into a mall for businesses and in the center of Freeport, we built lofts for artists about 6 or 7 years ago. That space is full, except for a 1st floor area that is being considered for a gallery space,” she said.
Finally in Freeport, “we have a catering hall and possibly a convention center at the very end of the Nautical Mile that is in development,” she said.
All in all, Ms. Howes said “Freeport’s aim is to create more than one downtown destination. We want more types of apartments. We are also trying to landmark some of our important buildings and bring back a summer theatre. We want this to remain Freeport, but more modern.”