FOLEY - Recently, Foley Main Street conducted several surveys for both consumers and businesses in the area to determine the next steps to be taken in the development of Downtown Foley. Year one of being a designated Main Street saw formations of boards and teams, and year two has now begun the market analysis, leading up to the branding that will be done during year three. The surveys sent out received 807 consumer responses and 61 business survey responses.
“That’s more than just a number,” said Jay Schlinsog of Downtown Professionals Network. “The insights and what has been provided to us truly does provide a foundation for potential activities and projects and actions that could grow out of this study.”
From the surveys returned, Main Street has developed 40 ideas and potential projects that are relevant to the answers returned. While some are brand-new ideas, others are things that are already in discussion or motion, or old ideas with twists. Some ideas can be implemented quickly, while others will be long-term. The ideas are merely starting points for what could be coming in the future based off consumer and business surveys.
One portion of the survey consisted of the top five positives and five negatives coming out of Downtown Foley according to consumers and business owners, which were discussed in the survey results.
The top five positives for consumers were: Special events that create vibrancy in the downtown; Downtown Foley is a good investment; clean; safe location, even at night; and positive image. For businesses the numbers were: Downtown Foley is a good investment; special events that create vibrancy; clean; safe location; and positive image.
The bottom five answers were: pedestrian-friendly; exceptional service; bicycle-friendly; Downtown Foley has diversity for all age groups; and “I tell people to shop downtown.”
As to recent trends in Downtown Foley, 58% of consumers and 66% of businesses said the area was improving or making progress; 34% of consumers and 25% of businesses said downtown was steady or holding its own; and 7% of consumers and 9% of businesses said the area was declining or losing ground. Of businesses surveyed, 64% said they had witnessed a gross sales and revenue increase from 2017 to 2018, while 69% expect to see an increase in 2019.
To gather a sense of where priorities lie among both groups, a list was provided of potential improvement efforts asking participants to rate what they feel are the highest priorities. For consumers, the results were: create incentives for new and expanding downtown businesses; staging additional festivals and special events; and improving downtown streetscape and sidewalks. Businesses said: create incentives; improve streetscapes and sidewalks; and additional festivals and events.
An open-ended question concerned things that would improve Downtown Foley, allowing responders to write anything they chose, which were then categorized in these groups: adding and recruiting business or diversifying the business mix; making building appearance enhancements; and traffic and transportation improvements.
“One question we asked was what makes downtown tick today?” said Schlinsog. “What are those things that drive activities, that help sustain businesses in the downtown area?”
Surveyors were asked for what purposes have they visited Downtown Foley within the past year, and the results were: 72% said dining; 64% came for festivals and special events; and 58% came for shopping.
For a better sense of daily traffic in the area, consumers were asked the reasons they visit Downtown Foley daily, which gave different results: 53% said they visit the area daily for errands and office purposes; 25% for eating, drinking, or entertainment; and 14% for shopping.
“Now, when we look at these results, let’s not forget that there’s a group not represented in these surveys,” said Schlinsog. “Visitors, that tourist in the marketplace that has a lot to do with what drives daily activity isn’t accounted for in these results.”
As to future potential targets for businesses, consumers voted that in the eating and drinking places category the number one thing they want to see is a bakery in downtown, with 48%. Following was breakfast/brunch restaurant at 46% and a brewery at 42%. On the retail side, bakery was again at number one, this time with 60% of consumers who would love to see one. Specialty food and wines came in at 56%, women’s clothing store at 50%, home furnishing and gifts at 37%, and arts, crafts, and hobbies at 34%.
Something Schlinsog said may surprise people was that when asked if anyone would be interested in living in Downtown Foley, 46% of consumers said yes or maybe, with their most desired housing being townhouses at 48%, lofts at 43%, and condos at 39%.
When asked about what people liked most about Downtown Foley, Main Street found multiple answers, all varying, and sometimes not even representing a tangible thing.
“People love the environment, the atmosphere, the character,” said Schlinsog. “It’s a full range of what makes for the Downtown Foley experience. Then there’s the tourist market, and how do we appeal to them? What tends to happen is that over time we see too many communities that design for the tourists and everything looks the same and it’s not even local anymore. In fact the locals kind of avoid it. But that’s not what you have here in Foley. All these things that you like about Downtown Foley, visitors want to experience that. Build this area for you, make it a place that you love, do things that you love to do and that you want to experience; the visitors will come, they’ll want a piece of that real genuine Foley experience.”
Next will be the Transformation Strategy that will take the data provided from the analysis and make sure that the plans being done make sense for the local market.
To learn more about Main Street, check out their website at www.mainstreetalabama.org/foley, and follow Foley Main Street on Facebook.