SHERIDAN — City residents, business owners and members of city staff met Wednesday evening to discuss potential improvements to the city’s downtown that could be implemented in conjunction with a Wyoming Department of Transportation resurfacing project on Main Street in 2023.
Generally, attendees agreed that the goal of the improvements should be to make Sheridan’s downtown more attractive and friendly to pedestrians, which would benefit local businesses and encourage more visitors to spend time downtown. The discussion focused on which improvements would best accomplish that goal.
Community development director Brian Craig presented three options for improving Grinnell Plaza.
The first would largely leave it as is, with some basic improvements like more lighting and more benches. The second option would take away some of the parking on the north end of the plaza, which Craig said the city would replace somewhere nearby, in order to extend the plaza space and create more seating and room for special events. The third option would turn Grinnell Plaza into a full-time plaza, or a seasonal full-time plaza, with no parking and much more space for events, seating and other amenities that would attract visitors.
PJ Treide, who owns Bighorn Design Studio, said making Sheridan’s downtown into a destination will be key to the future health of downtown businesses as more shoppers turn to online outlets.
“One hundred fifty thousand small-town retail jobs have been lost in the last three years; it’s not because of Walmart, it’s because of Amazon and online shopping,” Treide said. “That movement is coming to Sheridan and what can we do as a community to combat that? We have to create a reason for people to come downtown.”
Treide added that Grinnell Plaza would be an ideal location to turn into an attraction as it functions as a hub downtown.
Robby Smith, who owns Sheridan Stationery, Books and Gallery, was concerned that closing Grinnell Plaza would hurt the businesses located in the plaza because shoppers would no longer be able to park directly in front of them.
Treide, though, argued that too much is made about the proximity of parking to stores. He pointed out that shoppers who park in the Walmart parking lot, or who need to buy something in the back of Walmart, sometimes have to walk as far or farther than they would walk if they parked a block away from a downtown store.
“I think once it’s done and people see what could potentially be a pretty cool thing, the [parking concerns] will be forgotten pretty quickly,” Treide said.
City administrator Mark Collins proposed the city conduct a more comprehensive analysis of the options for Grinnell Plaza that would consult specialists, communities who have made similar changes and the businesses that surround Grinnell Plaza. Though no decision was made Wednesday, Craig and several of the attendees said a deeper dive would be beneficial.
Craig said the city is also exploring the possibility of using parklets, which are portable sidewalk extensions placed in parking stalls that temporarily provide more space and amenities like seating, to improve the visitor experience downtown. He said the city is planning on testing using parklets downtown and hopes to have a prototype available to display during September’s Third Thursday event.
Main Street lane configurations
The city has declared the “two-lane option,” which would condense Main Street down to one lane for traffic in each direction with center turn-lanes in order to expand the width of downtown sidewalks, is no longer being considered. Craig said the city decided to take that option off the table because it was proving to be divisive and it did not want the community discussions about improving downtown to get drowned about by a debate over Main Street’s lane configuration. But Sandy Baird, who sits on the Downtown Sheridan Association’s design and economic vitality committees, who stressed he was speaking for himself and not the DSA, urged the city to reconsider exploring reducing the lanes on Main Street.
“At the Downtown Sheridan Association, we brag about having the best downtown main street in the west,” Baird said. “Well, no; we have the best storefronts. But our pedestrian traffic is very, very pedestrian unfriendly.”
Baird argued that a lane-reduction on Main Street could solve that issue, and in turn help downtown businesses, and dismissing the idea out of hand was a mistake. He also said traffic flows downtown are already low and the concerns about traffic jams on Main Street are likely being overstated.
“Increasing the pedestrian-friendliness of downtown Sheridan is the greatest thing that we can do for this city,” Baird said.
However, Baird said he was not suggesting the city advocate for reducing traffic lanes. He was asking it to conduct studies to determine if the plan was feasible. He noted that WYDOT would not permit the city to proceed with the plan unless it produced studies that demonstrate reducing the lanes on Main Street would not create traffic clogs on Main Street or the city’s side streets.
Craig said he did not want to dismiss considering lane-reduction further, but also that he was hesitant to revisit the issue considering the negative perception the community has of the plan and the fact that the city has already declared that the two-lane option was off the table. Collins said the proposal would have a better chance of being considered if an entity outside of the city championed it.