Moments after a Manassas Park workshop on creating a downtown ended--the chairs were still warm, people were still lingering--a few city residents began planning. To build a downtown, as the city has proposed, requires not only the insight of officials and developers but also the ideas and solutions of residents, they said.
"So, I was thinking, there should be task committees that should form," said Linda Lalande, one of about 40 city residents who attended the three-day Manassas Park Charrette. "It would be a way to keep us involved in the whole process."
The charrette, termed as such by city officials and developers, was a sort of public forum that welcomed the free flow of ideas for a proposed downtown--or a pedestrian area to lend a communal feeling to Manassas Park.
Dorothy Bello, a 20-year resident, said the charrette was an ideal way to showcase what the city is capable of doing.
"We've got all these ideas about what to do, and now the city leaders can make conclusions based on what we want and ask for," Bello said. "It's been a great experience, and we're on our way to making the city what we want."
Mayor Ernest L. Evans said the residents' participation was an important part of the process.
"It allowed them to contribute to the future planning of the city," Evans said. "That's the opposite of what usually happens."
During the three-day workshop, residents, officials and developers discussed different ways to develop the vacant land along Manassas Drive, as well as ways to renovate and beautify the older parts of the city. Several possible options were outlined, and most attendees agreed that a downtown area would fit well near City Hall.
For a city with fewer than 10,000 residents--and one that grew from a residential area that has adjoining communities that provide commercial goods--it's not unusual to not have a downtown, said City Manager David W. Reynal.
"But it's time we have one," he said.
Although a final report of the workshop won't be ready for a while, a rough draft should be available by next week's City Council meeting, Reynal said. The report will summarize details of the charrette as well as propose ideas about how to plan seriously for the downtown area.
And some of the residents are thinking beyond creating a new downtown. Lalande, a four-year resident, cited the need for revamping the Conner Center--the strip mall area on Route 28 and Manassas Drive--and replanting trees in the western part of the city.
"We were told by the planners that if we don't aggressively start planning we're going to lose the trees," she said. "And there are other beautification things we need to be concerned about, like landscaping and business development areas."
One such problem that surfaced during the charrette was the industrial park center, which is located within walking distance of the new $14.2 million high school.
"We're trying to showcase the high school, but the drive to it is atrocious," Lalande said.
Although there are no efforts yet to begin such beautification programs, there soon may be, Reynal said.
"I think we all want the same thing," he said.
David Wilcox, senior vice president of Los Angeles-based Economics Research Associates and a workshop facilitator who has conducted six such charrettes in recent years, said he sees a hunger in Manassas Park residents to make their city better.
"There's a real appetite here," he said. "And that's just so powerful for getting things done."