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Little things could add up to big changes downtown

Like the old song says, if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with.

In this case, "the one you're with" is a downtown Farmington business district with at least five vacant storefronts and business owners occasionally frustrated by a lack of pedestrian traffic. But on Monday a group of city officials and business owners heard that drawing people downtown might not take much more than a little TLC: A few signs here. A splash of color there.

The man delivering the message was Peter Bruce, a consultant who specializes in studies of foot traffic and shopper behavior. The city originally hired Bruce to help implement portions of its comprehensive plan, but Bruce volunteered to lead a tour around downtown to talk about steps city government and business owners can take to make downtown Farmington more appealing to foot traffic.

The answers were generally pretty simple. The key, Bruce said, is to add elements that draw peoples' attention and to create connections that make people want to walk from one block to the next.

"Two blocks in the mind of a pedestrian is a long way," Bruce said. "We've got to do something to get people to walk a little farther."

That might mean adding some color in the form of hanging baskets of flowers, or using projecting signs to help people realize they're in a downtown setting and not in some anonymous suburban strip mall.

"They have to be informed there's something here that's special," Bruce said.

Farmington already has a start on that. Bruce praised features such as the historic Exchange Bank building at the corner of Third and Oak streets and the city's Depot Way Art Park, with its decorative arches and fencing. But he said both should be more visible.

There isn't a lot of consensus yet about how to draw attention to downtown. Suggestions Monday included a sign hanging from the stop light at the corner of Third and Elm and modifications to the downtown business sign that currently stands at the corner of Elm and Second streets.

Farmington economic development specialist Tina Hansmeier said Tuesday she was happy with what she heard on Monday night's tour. There are no clear plans for immediate changes, but there are some simple solutions the city can consider. Things like painting or otherwise decorating vacant store windows, or giving businesses and residents an opportunity to adopt flower baskets, which are missing this spring because of city budget cuts. One suggestion was to use historic photos to fill empty storefronts.

"I think color was just a general theme," Hansmeier said. "Little things can be done to enhance the area that don't necessarily have a huge cost behind them."

There are no concrete plans yet for making significant changes downtown, but Hansmeier said she was encouraged by the discussion she heard.

"It seemed like the group that was there was very interested in working together," she said.