Placemaking expert makes some suggestions for Hailey

One of the keynote speakers for last week’s annual Idaho Conference on Recreation and Tourism (ICORT) was a fella named Roger Brooks. Roger is a well-respected expert on tourism and creating thriving downtowns.  He has helped communities all over the globe become better places to work, live and visit.

During his talk at the Sun Valley Inn, Roger mentioned that he and his wife passed through Hailey on their way to the conference and thought it was a cute town. But it wasn’t cute or appealing enough to inspire them to pull over or even to return to later. When his presentation ended, I asked if he had any suggestions for Hailey.

“Narrow the highway, widen the sidewalks and put parking areas at both ends of Main Street,” he said.

Roger wondered aloud why towns like Hailey have taken two-lane highways and turned them into four lanes through town. It’s like we’re asking people to rush on through, he said.

“The highway in Hailey is the ‘Great Wall of China,’” Roger said, “Congestion is tourism’s best friend.”

The rest of Roger’s talk filled in the other keys to creating communities that are attractive to visitors, are good places to live and are good investments.  The most important step is to cater to locals, especially when planning for downtown.

“If you don’t hang out in your town, neither will visitors,” Roger said.

While Roger and his team at Destination Development Association have learned a lot from their work helping communities from Caldwell to Hilton Head, South Carolina, they also tap into studies to find out what people really want. And people want culture, good food and fun things to do after 6pm. In fact, 70% of spending done in resort communities happens after 7pm, which is also now the hour most American’s enjoy dinner.

To help make staying open later more profitable, Roger recommends that the downtown core offers plenty of programming, with activities of some sort happening as many 250 days a year and most weekends.

Since the highway is such a challenge, Roger recommends creating more action on side streets and said more retailers should offer nice places for people to sit or rest.

One of the most interesting things Roger said involved parking. People, he said, expect to have to walk to shop or eat. For example, the average Walmart shopper parks 200 feet from the storefront, and then walks through the cavernous store. There’s a misconception that people won’t walk distances in small towns like Hailey. Roger said if we can make the walking paths safe and appealing, people will be happy to walk to shop or eat.

While all this seems like a lot of work, Roger said towns like Hailey can truly thrive. He said the path to success is to: “create a vision, not an executive summary or strategic plan,” to find a group of “doers and not directors,” and to never give in to the “Cavers,” or “Citizens Against Virtually Every Thing.”

To find out more about how The Chamber is supporting our community and can help you, please email Info@ValleyChamber.org or call 208-788-3484.

By Mike McKenna

This story originally appeared in the Weekly Sun.

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