(By Jamie Henneman/Chewelah Independent)
Speaker visits town, gives feedback…
While rural communities throughout the United States are trying to come up with new ways to revitalize their Main Streets, community members in the City of Kettle Falls recently brought in a consultant who says he knows how to get it done.
Ron Drake is the author of the book Flip This Town—a how-to guide of revitalizing small towns through smart municipal planning, community efforts and enthusiasm. Drake, a contractor who was remodeling and “flipping” or re-selling homes on the real estate market, became involved in revitalizing his small town of Siloam Springs, AR. At a community meeting in Kettle Falls on Nov. 9, Drake shared his experience with attendees.
“My town is now listed as number 14 in the top small towns in America,” he said. “We used to have around 30 percent occupancy on our Main Street with blighted buildings and now we are at 100 percent. We have revitalized 15 buildings in downtown Siloam Springs.”
Drake was brought to Kettle Falls by 24 local sponsors, including the Kettle Falls School District and the City of Kettle Falls. Drake was asked to assess Kettle Falls and share his thoughts on what kind of planning or changes could help bring new life to the town. Drake’s feedback for the town of 1,604 was positive.
“You have way more going on here than you think you do,” Drake said.
Among his list of recommendations, which will be formalized into a report for the community in the near future, Drake said he felt the story of Kettle Falls, a town that was moved from the shores of the Columbia River when the Grand Coulee Dam was built, isn’t being told.
“You need to do a better job telling that story to draw people in. Maybe develop maps or other tools to let people know the unique story of your town,” Drake said.
Drake also visited a number of local businesses and praised restaurants like Backyard BBQ, Uphaus Bakery and Northern Ales. He pointed out there are a number of things for visitors to do while they are in town, including visiting the local theatre, taking a leathergoods class at Boulder Creek Saddle Shop or having coffee at the new Steam Engine coffeeshop in the Old Apple Warehouse.
He did encourage the community to consider what they want their town to be.
“What is your brand? What do you want the signs to be?” he asked, noting there are three different signs with different styles directing visitors within Kettle Falls. “You have to decide who you want to be.”
Drake also provided practical suggestions regarding the layout of town, including potentially putting the city on a “road diet.”
“Do you need four lanes coming through town? Your city needs to be more walkable, maybe by adding bike lanes, outdoor cafes or doing things to make the town more attractive,” he said.
While in town, Drake asked community members what they wanted to see happen in town including asking some students at Kettle Falls schools. Students said they wanted developments like bike lanes, bringing back the pool, additional developments to the skate park and a youth center.
During the meeting, Drake also heard from business owners who were concerned about challenges to their business, including the railroad that passes through town twice a day. One business owner noted if you get “stuck” at the train crossing, the wait could be up to 15 minutes.
“There are some things that can’t be changed right away or perhaps not at all. But you can change how you approach them. For businesses, try playing into it like offering 20 percent off appetizers if people get stuck trying to leave town and have to come back,” he said. “Try making it into a point of interest, just one of the quirks about your town.”
The presentation was a welcome message for a town that just elected a new mayor, John Ridlington, last week.
Ridlington won the Mayor of Kettle Falls election with 75 percent of the vote.
“If you don’t have a goal for the future, you aren’t going to get there,” Ridlington commented at the meeting.
Kettle Falls School Superintendent Thaynan Knowlton also expressed optimism.
“We are just getting started,” Knowlton said. “We are going to be one of the top 10 small towns in Washington.”