Knoxville officials advised to aim for niche businesses – Galesburg Register

City officials were advised Monday that targeting niche businesses and hiring an economic development officer could re-energize the downtown area.

University of Illinois student Elli Cosky delivered her final presentation to Knoxville City Council about revitalizing the city’s downtown and discussed the types of businesses that would thrive. She said eight out of the nine top employers in the area are located in Galesburg so it is important that Knoxville create a different feel to entice businesses to set up shop there.

“Knoxville has a great asset and that is Galesburg. But in some ways, Knoxville needs to distinguish themselves from Galesburg,” she said.

She said locally-based businesses will work best in Knoxville, specifically niche or service-oriented stores. Those include restaurants, delis, antique stores, gift shops, ice creameries and businesses that offer locally produced items.  

To ensure that this type of feel is created in the downtown, Cosky suggested creating a position for a person to focus on development and infrastructure.

“It’s a little daunting to think about how to implement them. It may be appropriate to have someone to help make sure all of these pieces come together, like an economic development officer,” she added.

Cosky also provided a sample historical walking tour pamphlet to council members. One side of the 8.5-by-11-inch paper showed 11 historical locations individuals could visit, while the other side displayed pictures of the places and their descriptions.

Cosky has been working with residents to learn how they envision their downtown. In November 2011 she hosted a design meeting where residents said they were interested in landscaping along the sidewalks, more street lighting and providing street furniture like benches in the downtown.
To financially strength the downtown, Cosky created a TIF redevelopment plan, which revolved around investing in infrastructure. That way the city has a greater chance of securing private funding and having programs in place for them when development occurs.

The city could govern the district by creating a committee with individuals who understand economic development and can make recommendations to the council. This will increase accountability and determine which measures work best.

Cosky started the revitalization project last year through the Community Matters Program, which promoted community planning between the University of Illinois and University of Illinois Extension. She created a three-phase project that will help spruce up the downtown and attract businesses.
“You have more of this technical side, which is luring these types of businesses in. You also have this softer side which is more of that historical design feeling,” she said. “If you can couple all of these different things together you are really going to produce something of great value.”

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