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Helper Project urges community to deepen vision of what could be


The corridor in Helper is a dirt lot, .15 miles long that stretches along the train tracks from the depot past the Helper Library.

By Matt Ward – Sun Advocate Editor

HELPER—In about six weeks, results from a survey and visioning session will lead to an initial report on what could be in store for a strip of land along the railroad tracks in this artsy colony.
Along with First Friday festivities last week, Helper residents and visitors were encouraged to travel along a .15 mile long stretch of dirt along the railroad tracks that run behind the buildings on the east side of Main Street. Guests were asked to imagine what they would like to see in a pedestrian corridor, a plaza, or other space for visitors to roam.
Downtown Redevelopment, a national company that specializes in rejuvenating downtowns in communities of less than 25,000 population, managed the visioning session and a survey that accompanied it.
Ben Levenger, the company’s founder, said acquiring the community’s input was a key first step.
“What we are trying to do today is gather the community’s input. As a primary objective to any good planning project you need to have community buy-in and you have to understand what the community wants out of that space,” he said. “From there the planners in our company, what we do is we program the space to fit the community’s needs and desires.”
Levenger said Helper has a unique opportunity to capitalize on the fact that it has an Amtrak depot and trains that stop twice a day in the tiny town.
“The corridor is the truly unique opportunity. There are not very many Amtrak stops in small communities anymore,” he said. “And by having an Amtrak community, you get traffic twice a day, guaranteed.”
Levenger  was assisted last Friday by one of his principal planners, Jeff Siegler. Helper Project members were also on hand to provide directions for those in attendance.
Siegler said anything Downtown Redevelopment does will ultimately be at the direction of the public.
“Ultimately the community is the expert on these things. We are just trying to find out what people would like to see,” he said. “It seems that this town is real passionate and has an interest in continuing to become the best it can be and it (the corridor) seems like a reasonable place to look for new opportunities. It’s not much to look at now, but some people in the community really have a vision for what could happen here.”
Levenger said his company will walk residents and town leaders through every phase of planning and execution, including hosting public input meetings, creating visuals for people to weigh concepts, and then helping secure financing for whatever the end results of that planning  entail.
“Our slogan is a plan that sits on a shelf is no good,” he said. “What we do is help people through all phases.”
Anne Jespersen, who leads the Helper Project, the nonprofit that contracted with Downtown Redevelopment, has said she hopes to spur a serious effort to remake the dirt road and space along the Amtrak tracks. She said eventually she’d like to see the project extend into the train depot itself, creating yet another attraction that invites visitors and keeps them returning to enjoy the city over and over.

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