Prior to its main meeting on Tuesday night, the Newton City Commission conducted a public work session to discuss the Retail Development Task Force's recommendations.
Over the course of several meetings, the task force has independently formulated a recommendation comprised of seven portions, which it ordered intentionally.
As a priority, the task force has stated the community needs a "strong, versatile, genuine, action-oriented brand, one also tied to community's history as a railroad town. A popular phrase regarding an intended brand has been "All Aboard."
The task force also suggested the brand should contain specific colors or images that suggest a mixture of modern living and vintage charm unique to the Newton community.
To achieve a unified community brand, the task force has recommended forming an additional group to address the formation of such a brand and report findings back to the task force.
The task force also suggests adding or updating several forms of signage, including gateway signage along highway I-135 and highway 50, wayfinding signage along highways and at exits, downtown historic district markers, use of billboards, both close to and further from the city, and virtual signage in smartphone applications, websites, etc.
Regarding adding or updating signage, the task force has recommended that the community's brand be established first. That way, all signage can coordinate in brand, theme and colors. Various funding options for signs could also be considered, including public and private alternatives.
Stating that retention and expansion are higher priorities than new development, the task force has also suggested expanding on existing services and economic development that focus available resources on Newton's existing businesses.
Such efforts could include providing valuable information to business owners on current market gaps and opportunities, as well as emphasizing that Newtonians consider local shopping options before choosing to shop elsewhere.
According to the task force, another great need within the business community is for both basic and advanced data – from demographics to mobile data analysis.
For the purpose of obtaining that data, the task force has recommended the city spend a maximum of $10,000 to obtain the data and a request for proposals to obtain a data vendor.
The task force has also recommended a single access point, landing page or "one-stop-shop" for existing or prospective retailers to locate assistance and resources.
Assuming a specific website is selected for the resources to live, the landing page could be implemented more immediately.
Stating that many existing and prospective retailers need training and mentoring resources, the task force has recommended that existing and prospective retailers be offered an opportunity to thrive through periodic workshops, training resources, online resources and similar opportunities.
In closing, the task force also recommends requiring a Return on Investment (ROI) or Cost Benefit Analysis (overseen by a third party) for every project or development requesting public assistance, funding or investment from the city.
Despite initially voiced concerns from some of the commissioners regarding how items of the recommendation could be funded, the task force has suggested that the recommendation can serve as an opportunity to find resolve, as well as an agreed-upon set of objectives that can remain in the forefront of long term conversations related to retail development in Newton.
In other business, the commission:
• received bids and awarded a contract to Tri-City Seal Company for the Airport Runway 8-26 project, subject to FAA approval and approval of Task Order 3 with HNTB. The city's contribution to the project will be $22,764.
• received plans and specifications for Centennial Park sewers and set a date to receive bids for the project, which has an estimated price tag of approximately $330,000 and would be payed in cash out of the sewer capital reserve fund.
• recognized Newton High School welding students for their work in creating the snowflake decorations to be used in the downtown planters during the winter months.
Newton Director of Public Works Suzanne Loomis, who noted the flakes were finished ahead of schedule, NHS Welding Technology instructor Mike McConnell and NHS Administrator Melinda Rangle introduced the commission to the students, outlining their team effort and welding expertise.
• recognized members of the Newton Nitros swim team for winning the Small Team Title at the Missouri Valley Short Course Championships in Topeka. The team was introduced by Newton Nitros head coach Clint Bailey.
• accepted a proclamation from Newton Chief of Police Eric Murphy, declaring the week of May 14 to May 20 as National Police Week and May 14 as Peace Officers' Memorial Day.
• accepted a proclamation from Newton Park Horticulturalist Jackie Krehbiel, declaring April 28 as Arbor Day in Newton.
• accepted a proclamation from Eileen Kloster, declaring May 7 to May 14 as Music Week.
• approved the mayor's appointment of Duane Miles to the Harvey County Planning Commission, for a term ending on April 30, 2020, as well as Jamie Rose and Melody Spurney to the Warkentin Board, with terms also ending on April 30, 2020.