Margaret Irwin, Principal with River Street Planning and Development does a presentation for the Westport community for the revitalization plan.
More than 70 people came out to learn the results of the town’s recently completed economic revitalization strategy.
The meeting was held at the town hall on Nov. 19 with members of River Street Planning & Development (RSPD).
“We should have done it at the school where we had more space, we didn’t know if we’d have five people or 100,” Westport Supervisor Dan Connell said.
Connell said the large crowd was exactly what the committee needed to make sure their voices were represented.
“Normally with these kind of meetings you just never know, we had seven people here for the budget meeting,” Connell said. “It’s important to hear from the people.”
Margaret Irwin, Principal with RSPD, did a presentation which highlighted the 120 page report they gave to the town committee.
“Don’t worry, I will not be reading every page,” Irwin said. “River Street Identified 10 projects, any one of those projects can be implemented immediately.”
Of the 10 projects, three were chosen as the most important for the revitalization of Westport and further explained in Irwin’s presentation.
The three included Main Street revitalization, revitalization of the fairgrounds and focusing on an arts-based economy.
Priority projects included: petition for the Heritage House as a new Westport arts hub; evaluate different uses for the fairgrounds; implement a downtown marketing program; create attractive town gateways; waterfront bike/pedestrian trails; implement plans to attract small businesses; attract a brand name hotel; expansion of the industrial park; consider new or improved housing on the golf course site; and develop year round attractions.
“Trails in regards to recreation, the arts, food, heritage, historic preservation, beginning to look at mapping out those trials and where are places that are hubs for that kind of activity,” Irwin said. “Those are the kinds of things that play on the Adirondack experience people are looking for.”
Connell said of everything identified there wasn’t one thing that had not been discussed among the local council members prior to the evaluation.
“Now the challenge is to take all the information and move forward,” Connell said. “The great thing about this is you get people talking that we otherwise might not have known they were here.”
Irwin identified some of the strengths in Westport as the Champlain waterfront, the strong school district and easy access to visitors with the train station.
Some weaknesses they identified are the low number of employers, with the number one employer for Westport, as in many rural communities, being public administration.
Irwin said there are a surprisingly low amount of accommodations and food service businesses to support tourism.
“We’re developing a marketing plan that showcases why Westport is desirable,” Irwin said.
Irwin said the project’s focus on the arts is not just about painting or photography but a whole genre of potential people coming into the community who are self-starters, small business owners and creative people who will appreciate a close-knit, functioning community.
“The focus of the revitalization was arts based because that was the grant we applied for,” Connell said.
One of the lacking components of the plan was how to bring in an industry of job growth. Irwin said the town’s high speed internet capability made it an attractive location for potential telecommuters.
In August 2013, RSPD was hired through a Local Waterfront Revitalization grant from the Department of State Division of Environmental Protection Fund. The grant is meant to help the town get assistance in preparing an Economic Revitalization Strategy to advance priority projects in the community and hamlet. The town was approved in 2011 for funding from the Department of State. It was thanks to previous work by numerous volunteer committees and the town council over the past several years to explore ways of strengthening Westport’s economic viability and its regional visibility.
The Westport Revitalization Advisory Volunteer committee will meet Thursday, Dec. 5, at 6 p.m. to take all of this information and try to decide where to go from here.
The presentation marks the end of the work by RSPD but Irwin said it is up to the community group to establish what to do with the information.
“Our role wraps up at this point and I don’t think you need us because you know how to do what needs to be done with this strategy,” Irwin said. “Now it is a question of these are the three things that you want to start with. Now it’s really up to the community to pick it up and move it forward.”
“Sometimes what comes out of this are working groups that say ‘I do like that idea count me in on that,’” Irwin said.
Printed copies of RSPD’s report are available for viewing at the Town Hall, and at libraries in Westport and Wadhams.