ELKO — If you want to redesign your hometown, the first step is to go to an expert.
Michele Reeves of Civilis Consultants visits cities and helps businesses redesign their stores and buildings. Reeves spoke to a group of about 50 people Monday at Great Basin College. Northeastern Nevada Regional Development Authority invited Reeves to Elko.
Toward the beginning of her presentation, Reeves said she likes to focus on short-term goals instead of 20-year plans. In many of the examples she gave, the property owners made small changes over the course of six to nine months.
It’s important to make the downtown corridor into a destination, a place people will go to on purpose and spend time hanging out in. Foot traffic generates money, Reeves said. Activity on sidewalks will gather people and give them a multi-sensory experience and an emotional connection to the store.
“The retail experience happens before you walk in the store,” Reeves said. “... You want to reflect your community in your downtown, and you want to see that on the sidewalk all the time.”
She suggested placing seating areas, plants and other items that catch people’s attention and encouraged them to spend time near the store.
Just like the popular writing tip, Reeves encouraged the audience members to “show, not tell,” the story of their businesses.
“You are telling a story 24 hours a day, whether you’re open or closed,” she said.
Lighting is a very important factor in whether a business will do well. If your store is closed, well-lit and interesting displays will encourage people to come back when it’s open and go inside, Reeves said.
Reeves also provided a list of Redevelopment 101 lessons: encourage color (and not white, Reeves said, because it’s bland), provide natural lighting and large windows, create exterior lighting, and expose interior finishes.
She doesn’t like awnings, unless there is some kind of seating or gathering place underneath them, because they prevent people going by from connecting with the business.
Reeves said doctors’ offices and law offices are not the best for ground floor businesses in a corridor. On the other hand, restaurants play an important role in making downtown a destination, because they give the area character and people a place to linger.
“Generally, food is a linchpin for revitalizing areas,” she said.
Some important keys to a successful downtown revitalization, Reeves said, are partnerships between public and private sectors. That can be accomplished through a stable government that does not have strict design rules and a downtown business association.
“I want to see lots of examples of small things (regarding public improvement),” Reeves said.
Several people in the audience said Reeves gave them a lot of good ideas. Paula Tomera of Battle Mountain said she wished Reeves could come to her town and give the city input.
“She knows it. You can tell she lives and breathes it,” said Jan Morrison, also of Battle Mountain.
Heather Robertson is a member of Elko’s Arts and Culture board, and she attended the presentation to see what Reeves would say about the importance of public art.
“I think we definitely needed her,” Robertson said. “She’s been a really great attribute.”
NNRDA Executive Director Pam Borda said she’s gotten tons of ideas thanks to Reeves’ input. Reeves’ expertise has helped Borda to recognize small things Elko is doing wrong and, more importantly, how to fix them at a low cost, Borda said.
“I think Michele is going to be able to give us some great advice,” Borda said.
Reeves will visit Wells and West Wendover Tuesday. On Wednesday, she will meet individuals to walk through their buildings and give advice on how to improve the space. During lunch on Wednesday, she will also meet with people to talk about the pros and cons of downtown Elko and what to do to change things.
Elko has a lot of good things going for it, Reeves said. The downtown corridor has great buildings, the city has a good economy, it’s in a beautiful natural setting, and it is a regional hub.
“You have all the building blocks,” she said. “You just need to put them together.”