Friday, January 12, 2024
Dr. Abhinav Alakshendra‘s Economic Development Planning course (URP6541) at the University of Florida developed a proposal for downtown Newberry, suggesting street and landscaping upgrades, a central plaza, and a railway park to revitalize the area amidst its recent population growth.
This project was initialized by informal conversations at the Florida APA conference in Jacksonville September 2023 between Dr. Alakshendra and City of Newberry Planning staff. The goal would be to leverage the class to put together an economic development proposal for downtown Newberry, given its opportunity with recent population growth, while giving students an opportunity to work on a real context planning problem. The group of students put together three site proposals with key features and recommendations for coordinating transportation and land use to respond to the City of Newberry’s economic development goals.
Over a period of less than two months, the class followed a process of compiling and analyzing existing conditions, comparing relevant case studies, and creating design concepts that take advantage of opportunities identified in the existing conditions analysis. The resulting three proposal sites were intended to work together to connect downtown Newberry as a district, offering amenities and experiences for all members of the public. This proposal focused on built environment improvements, adding community amenities in underutilized space to provide for recreation, commerce, and civic uses.
The combination of diverse uses is expected to strengthen Downtown Newberry by creating central destinations and increasing pedestrian footfall, while improving access for traffic on Newberry Road. The impetus for additional resources and infrastructure is the present and projected population growth in Newberry; intentional planning is the mechanism by which Downtown Newberry may become a destination with sufficient resources to justify a lasting investment in new downtown amenities. The projects and ideas proposed work to promote a downtown community complete with all essential services, recreation, and business support.
The culmination of the economic development proposal was the presentation to the Newberry City Commission. The proposal was presented to the Newberry City Commission in December 2023, as the first agenda item. After being introduced by the City of Newberry Planning Director Bryan S. Thomas, and then Dr. Alakshendra, one member of the class presented the proposal in its entirety.
The 20-minute presentation proposed new street and landscaping improvements, a central plaza community space, and a railway park, to improve downtown activity and pedestrian footfall. Proposing new amenities to support a diverse range of land uses and activities strengthens Downtown as Newberry as a destination. The proposal was well received by the commission with commissioners and audience members applauding upon the presentation’s conclusion, but also some commissioners verbally confirming to the presenter and audience of their excitement to explore further details.
While questions and answers were not given at that time, Commissioners expressed their eagerness to evaluate the proposal’s feasibility with some commissioners bluntly stating they’ll look at the cost and funding signaling their consideration of the proposal. Hopefully conversation around the contents of the proposal will continue and some recommendations will be pursued. After the presentation the Newberry Planning director explained that the city would like to pursue the Downtown Plaza concept and will continue exploring ways to improve Downtown Newberry economic development.
Click here to watch a recording of the presentation. (12:55 – 33:20)