Cody explores new downtown streetscape possibilities

2012-01-27T00:05:00Z Cody explores new downtown streetscape possibilitiesBy MARTIN KIDSTON The Billings Gazette

CODY, Wyo. — Landscape architects joined city officials here Wednesday night to discuss a streetscape project planned for the city’s downtown strip.

Looking to increase pedestrian traffic and build a vibrant and wider downtown core, Cody officials and business backers hope to modernize the Sheridan Avenue streetscape for the first time since 1985.

Back then, the Kansas City Royals were considered the best team in baseball and Ronald Reagan was president. Times have changed, the project task force agreed, and a full range of design possibilities should be examined as the city looks to the future.

“The charm of our downtown is unique,” said James Klessens, a task force member and director of Forward Cody. “But we don’t have depth in our core. We have a strip. You walk a quarter-mile in either direction and you’re back in generic America.”

Klessens and other members of the task force told consultants from Russell-Mills Studio of Fort Collins, Colo., that whatever design emerges, it must reach beyond Sheridan Avenue and incorporate areas north and south of the strip.

Cody Mayor Nancy Brown said the design must also work for other parts of the city. She described Cody’s layout as a challenge, with four disconnected zones scattered along several miles of state highway.

“We need to look at branding the different zones of the city,” Brown said. “We’re focused on downtown right now, but I think it’s important that we note that future need in this design.”

Group members agreed that a final streetscape plan must increase and promote downtown pedestrian traffic. It also must consider more gathering spaces, or make better use of existing spaces.

Some group members suggested informational signs that note the city’s history, its natural surroundings and attractions.

“We could have a story told as you make your way downtown,” said council member Charles Cloud. “They’d be led on a path as they progressed across the city.”

Early discussions have also focused on historic preservation and public art. Ideas have included Friday night art walks and incorporating more artistic flavor in the city’s new design.

Others want to use “Buffalo” Bill Cody and Western lore when branding the city’s core. Embracing the city’s emergence as a hotbed of sophisticated Western-design furniture should also be explored, as should music.

“We’re getting a lot more bands interested in coming here,” said Parks Director Rick Manchester. “Having venues for them to play would be fantastic.”

Other small Western communities host weekly music, food and beverage events in the summer.

While the names vary from “Alive@Five” to “Out to Lunch,” the events — which include beer and wine offerings, food from local eateries, music and activities for kids — all work to build atmosphere in downtown cores.

Creating more outdoor dining opportunities should also be considered in a new downtown streetscape, some suggested. Wider sidewalks would be needed to accommodate outdoor eateries.

“I’ve watched main street evolve, mostly good and only a tiny bit bad over the past 50 years,” said Cody business owner Bob Newsome, who has restored several historic properties in the downtown district. “People are looking for things that are real and unique.”

The exploratory design process, led by Russell-Mills, will last several months. The state is contributing $40,000 toward the design process. About $10,000 will come from the city.

A final plan is expected by July.

“This is what people see when they come here,” Klessens said of the downtown district. “It’s the face of our community.”

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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