McHenry’s appeal at heart of workshops in Modesto area

04/01/2014 5:41 PM

04/01/2014 10:32 PM

Branding lower McHenry?

The concept of businesses on Modesto’s lower McHenry Avenue uniting in a joint marketing strategy is the focus of an early morning meeting Wednesday, one in a series of “fast-paced, nontraditional” workshops aimed at boosting commercial draws in specific spots along Highway 108.

The road links Modesto to Riverbank and Oakdale, where the other workshops are being held. A public notice says the effort is “not part of the North County Corridor,” an expressway planned from Modesto to Oakdale, but the workshops will help those cities and Riverbank prepare for the day when state leaders turn Highway 108 over to local control, once the North County Corridor is built.

That could come in as little as eight years, although the recent decision to abandon an important funding source – a half-cent sales tax increase for transportation projects – could delay or further downsize the future expressway.

This week’s “Marketing and Branding Workshop Series” began Tuesday in Riverbank and continues Wednesday in Modesto and Thursday in Oakdale. All are led by urban strategist Michele Reeves, who helps commercial districts “leverage their strengths, accomplish economic development goals and craft their unique stories to create compelling brands,” notices say.

For instance, promotional literature in Modesto says Wednesday’s workshop is “guaranteed to make you see the lower McHenry corridor district in a whole new light.” Goals include “capturing lower McHenry’s story” and deciding which parts to trumpet and which need changing to “create a districtwide experience that will provide a unique customer connection and relationship to the area,” a notice says.

Reeves founded Civilis Consultants, a Portland firm whose website offers to “teach the building blocks of revitalization” to cities and commercial districts. The workshops are organized by the nonprofit Local Government Commission and sponsored by each city and the Stanislaus Council of Governments.

“We know investment from the private sector will most likely come from those already invested along the corridor – existing businesses and property owners,” said Laura Podolsky of the Local Government Commission in an email. Sponsors hope also to engage regular people and civic leaders, she added, in hopes of brainstorming storefront improvements, streetscape concepts and incentives.

Oakdale is taking it a step further, bringing tourism expert Roger Brooks to a longer workshop May 29, when he will address “The Art of Branding a Community” and “The Seven Deadly Sins of Community Marketing.”

Leaders of any community wanting ideas to strengthen suburban strips have been invited to Reeves’ “Suburban Placemaking” workshop Friday in Modesto, although that program is not accepting more registrations.

The workshops are funded by a state Sustainable Communities Planning Grant and will inform the State Route 108 Relinquishment and Reinvestment Plan, a document being developed by the cities in anticipation of someday absorbing the highway.

A final path for the 18-mile North County Corridor is expected to be chosen in 2016, with construction from 2020-22.

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