Focus group ideas to guide DREAM

Thursday, May 5, 2011

DREAM Initiative focus groups held at the Cassville City Hall last week allowed area citizens and business owners to give input on future revitalization plans and efforts. Around 30 individuals attended the focus groups, which were held on April 28 and 29.

"Members of our community who attended the focus groups felt it was a good place to voice their views, as well as their support," said Carolyn Bishop, Downtown Cassville Partnership president, who sat in on two of the discussions.

"Everybody who was there was there because they love Cassville," said Bishop. "A lot of people said they would help in whatever way they were needed. That meant a lot to me."

Andy Struckhoff, PGAV (Peckham Guyton Albers and Viets, Inc.) senior project manager, and Andrew Murray, PGAV assistant project manager, asked focus group participants several questions during each hour and a half session. Information compiled from the focus group meetings will be used to guide the DREAM planning process.

"We want you to tell us about Cassville," said Struckhoff. "We're here to listen and learn. We want to get your ideas so we can build a foundation for the DREAM planning initiative."

Bishop and Lynette Dilbeck, Cassville economic development director, agreed that the focus groups identified similar needs for the downtown Cassville area.

"We had a wide representation of individuals from the community," said Dilbeck. "There was a broad range of ages, and different types of people, including business owners, workers and citizens.

"A lot of the input was very different, but the ideas were also very much the same," said Dilbeck. "Just like during the master planning process, there was strong support for sidewalks and revitalization plans that reflect on the city's historic past."

Community members who participated in the focus groups and those who returned community surveys last year expressed strong support for ensuring the downtown area remains healthy, both in appearance and economically, said Dilbeck.

"The people in the focus groups agreed that the downtown area needed sprucing up," said Bishop. "They said that it was tired and needed improvement in overall appearance. That was one of their main focuses."

Community members indicated that they would like to see improved sidewalks, landscaping and street lighting. They expressed a desire for a cohesive, welcoming theme for the downtown area.

"They also said that we needed something to draw people to the square," said Bishop. "They indicated that they were interested in playing off of the events that the community is already offering."

Focus groups identified the following strengths of Cassville: spirit of the people; the Cassville Senior Center; the Cassville R-4 School District; and the large number of people who visit the city through industry and tourism.

"The input from the focus groups is very beneficial in terms of giving DREAM added direction for the planning process," said Bishop. "Andrew and Andy said the discussions were very beneficial in telling them where to gear efforts for what we want from the DREAM Initiative."

Struckhoff and Murray will compile the information from the focus groups into a report, which will be used in future DREAM Initiative planning.

In addition to the community focus groups, DREAM will conduct surveys, retail market and residential demand analyses and financial assistance reviews. Marketing plans, building and streetscape design guidelines and communications will also be used to create a downtown strategic plan that will provide vision for implementing improvement ideas.

"The DREAM Initiative, along with Main Street and other efforts directed by the master plan, are essential for Cassville's future development," said Dilbeck. "We need input from the businesses and citizens for these efforts to be a success.

"We know we can only do as much and go as fast as the community wants to go," said Dilbeck. "Even though these efforts are city coordinated, they are citizen driven. We must keep the citizens' and business community's ideas up front in order to be successful."

DREAM, which began in 2006, gives Missouri communities access to planning and technical expertise. There are 40 DREAM communities in the state, including Cassville and Monett.

The goal of the initiative is to refocus downtown as the core of communities. The program is sponsored by the Missouri Development Finance Board, the Missouri Department of Economic Development and the Missouri Housing Development Commission.

"This is a three-year planning process," said Kim Martin, Missouri Development Finance Board community development manager, who attended last week's DREAM gathering. "When a community graduates, it means the planning in completed.

"We don't want you to wait to do something for three years," said Martin. "We want to help you make it happen now. We want to establish a relationship with you. It's as much about building a relationship between the community and the state as it is about getting the plans."

The DREAM Initiative will focus on a downtown area that is located between 11th Street and First Street and Townsend and the Cassville City Park. Funds have been added to the initial contract to help pay for stormwater management studies, which will assess Cassville's flooding issues.

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