Forum, Survey Generate Ideas for Making Downtown More Appealing to Students

photo of Mayor Barnes at forum

Eastern Kentucky University students would like to spend more of their time, and money, in downtown Richmond and have some ideas about how to make it happen.

A recent campus forum conducted by Richmond Mayor Jim Barnes brought EKU students together with city and campus officials in a spirit of collaboration and, together with a recent student survey, has sparked a renewed interest in that part of the city only a short walk from campus. The forum stems from a new town-gown initiative entitled the Downtown Richmond/EKU Engagement Project and designed to benefit both the city and the University.

“Richmond is blessed to have Eastern Kentucky University,” Barnes said. “EKU helps define our city as a fine college town. But both Eastern and the City of Richmond can do better. That’s why it was important for us to conduct this forum. I wanted to hear firsthand from Eastern’s students on ways we can help make Downtown Richmond more attractive for them in terms of retail, dining and entertainment.

“As mayor it is vital for me to engage the city and university communities as we seek to develop creative ways that will enhance the quality of life for our citizens, including the nearly 16,000 students who call Richmond ‘home’ for nearly 10 months of the year,” the mayor added. “Our downtown is a jewel and we can make it even better when we involve EKU’s students, faculty and staff.  At the same time, these efforts must directly benefit the cash registers of our downtown merchants and future retail entrepreneurs.”

While students say they appreciate the historic vibe downtown, many bemoan the scarcity of retail, entertainment and dining options geared to college students, as well as the lack of easy parking. But they are quick to add that a revitalized downtown would result in more students wanting to attend EKU and remain in town on weekends.

Following are some of the ideas stemming from a brainstorming session at the forum and the survey on how to make downtown Richmond more appealing and welcoming to students:

·         more EKU banners and other manifestations of school spirit

·         discounts for Eastern students

·         more festivals

·         live music

·         outdoor music venues

·         special college nights

·         farmer’s markets

·         more 5K and bicycle races

·         more greenspace and better landscaping

·         improved lighting

·         more local shops with Kentucky items

·         more venues for underage (under 21) students

·         more cafes with outdoor seating

·         more variety in restaurants

·         a dance venue

·         a shuttle between campus and downtown for easier transportation

·         more advertising on campus by downtown businesses

·         more loft apartments

·         a general clean-up, including renovations, painting, lighting, flowers, etc.

Specific types of businesses students mentioned included arcades, billiards, a single-screen theater and healthier dining establishments.

Students also asked for continued opportunities to lend their own knowledge and talents to the process of enhancing downtown.

“I applaud the work of the Downtown Richmond/EKU Enhancement Project and assistance they have received from other college towns that are members of the International Town and Gown Association,” Barnes said. “Some ideas can be achieved fairly soon. Many others will take much more time, planning and discussion. The bottom line is that momentum is occurring between the City and President Mike Benson’s team at Eastern as we indeed are ‘partners for progress.’”

Published on February 27, 2014