The Downtown Cheyenne DDA/Main Street recently hired Vicki Dugger as the organization's new executive director. The Wyoming Business Council sat down with Dugger to discover her vision for the capital city's downtown district.
How did you end up in your chosen career? What is your background?
When I was finishing up my Master's Degree in Regional and City Planning at the University of Oklahoma, I decided that I wanted to work in non-profit community development. I took a job as the Director of the Checotah Main Street Program and later moved to the Purcell Main Street Program in Oklahoma. I then took a grant-funded job in rural Oregon using the Main Street approach on eight Cascade communities along Hwy. 22 and the North Santiam River corridor. I worked to not only improve the communities, but also help them learn to work together and collaborate on events and community activities such as annual clean-ups.
When that grant expired, I found a job as the Executive Director of the Albany Downtown Association, and then as the Executive Director of the Oregon Downtown Development Association, the statewide Main Street Program. At that time, the state legislature reallocated funding and my organization began to focus on delivering downtown services to rural, under-served communities that would probably never be able to have their own Main Street Programs. Our organization developed a framework and began delivering targeted downtown redevelopment services where I led on-site teams that included an architect, landscape architect, and business development specialist. My role was to manage the team and process, coordinate with the community throughout the public process, serve as the organization/next steps resource and compile the final plan for the community. After our team held public meetings and performed their "on the ground" tasks, we delivered our recommendations in a public meeting, then provided the community with their downtown plan within a month of the visit. We found that there was a real demand for this type of targeted downtown planning services and our organization eventually began providing them to communities to Washington, northern California, Idaho and Montana, in addition to the work we did in Oregon.
What are some of the things that Cheyenne's downtown has going for it right now?
Downtown Cheyenne has so much going for it right now! This downtown is at a very exciting juncture. After I started the job and really dug in, I could easily see that downtown is at that all-important tipping point in terms of revitalization and that it won't take much to get us "there."
Great things that are going on include a recent DDA/Main Street downtown housing tour where we had 720 visits to five properties on a single afternoon; the Reed Avenue Corridor Plan for the West End and their commitment to next-steps detailed planning; the investment into property redevelopment that includes the new West Edge Collective building at the west gateway to downtown; the proposed new Municipal Court on 17th; and the redevelopment of the Lincoln Theater into a live music venue.
DDA/Main Street is collaborating with the city to create a Developers' Toolbox for downtown. We're also supporting the creation a wonderful public amenity on the plaza -- the splash pad -- and creating new events and opportunities to bring more visitors downtown to shop during Frontier Days. There's a lot going on with all aspects of downtown right now!
What do you see/hope for the future of downtown Cheyenne?
I want downtown to live up to its potential as a great "heart and soul" of this community; a downtown that is active, inviting and successful.
During the "Forward Cheyenne" project, downtown was highlighted in the community survey as one of the most important aspects of Cheyenne. Our goal at DDA/Main Street is to help move downtown forward to meet its tremendous potential. It's got a lot going for it now and things are really changing in a positive way. I'm excited to think about the additional positive changes that are around the corner.
What are some of the projects you are currently working on?
Current projects include events like the "Downtown Hoedown" during Frontier Days. We're also working on the Developers' Toolkit, and I'm spearheading a coordinated beautification effort to rid downtown of graffiti, organize cleanup projects and get flowers put into 186 planters.
We're in the beginning stages of re-branding the organization and downtown as a whole, and that's exciting! Our design committee has just announced four projects that will receive a total of $130,000 in facade matching grants, and the promotions committee will be working on a variety of initiatives to increase awareness about the great opportunities in downtown.
The DDA is partnering with the City of Cheyenne on the Hynds/Hole project. The DDA will take transferable options and combine the two long-neglected properties into one development package, then recruit and qualify the right developer to take on this project. The City Council postponed the vote in its last meeting, but we should know whether this project can move forward in the coming weeks. It's critical that we have the city's participation on it.
Also, our economic vitality committee is putting together details for an upcoming pop-up retail initiative.
Finally, once the 2018-19 budget is approved, we'll be looking to create a single strategic Master Plan for public improvements that ties everything together, then create implementation priorities based on the plan.
What are the biggest challenges you are facing in this role, and how are you taking them on?
One of the biggest challenges we deal with is a community and downtown inferiority complex. Often, I hear someone say, "why can't we be like Fort Collins?" or really down-talk Cheyenne. In truth, Cheyenne has an extremely high quality of life and a lot to offer for a city its size. People forget Fort Collins has more than 165,000 people, and it's really an unfair comparison when Cheyenne's population is 60,000. At DDA/Main Street we will be working on helping flip the conversation and peoples' mindsets about Cheyenne as a whole and downtown, in particular.
Other challenges we face include vacant upper floors and the need for downtown housing. Luckily, these two issues are not mutually exclusive and can be tackled simultaneously.
What do you most enjoy about your work?
I really love working with all types of people associated with downtown and I love to see the positive changes taking place.