Charming stone buildings, a quaint, but diverse, downtown business district and friendly retailers greet visitors to Lincoln, but Lisa Feldkamp believed there was more she could do to help her community.
A city council member who also heads up the local PRIDE program, Feldkamp had her own ideas to make her hometown shine, but was interested in learning how day-trippers see Lincoln.
Through the Lincoln PRIDE program, Feldkamp and Seirer’s Clothing owner Carly Errebo have helped see benches added downtown, led efforts to clean out the city park flower beds, received grant funding to help with improvements at Mettner Field and recognized local volunteers and residents taking pride in their yards.
That’s when Feldkamp learned about the First Impressions program.
Developed through Kansas State University Research and Extension’s Community Vitality program, First Impressions helps communities learn about existing strengths and weaknesses through visitors’ eyes. The results from a First Impressions visit can serve as the basis for community action, and document changes in a community over time.
With First Impressions, a team of volunteers from a similarly sized town makes a surprise visit to a participating community to explore its residential, retail and industrial areas, as well as schools, government and points of interest.
This is the second time that Lincoln has participated in the program.
On Sept. 6, the results of the recent visit were disclosed to a group of about 15 people during a public meeting at the Finch Theatre.
“I think the First Impressions program is a great way to let a community know what others think of our town,” Feldkamp said. “We look at the same buildings, Main Street and neighborhoods every day, and we get used to what we are looking at. We also get used to what we have, and don’t appreciate what we have until someone points out to us how lucky we are to have these businesses. First Impressions gives us a new perspective on what we have, and what we could improve on.”
Nadine Sigle, an extension associate with K-State Research and Extension, presented the results of the recent visit, which examined the community as well as what it had to offer.
Within the first five minutes of their visit, guests noted the area’s post rock as well as the community’s welcome signs and that Lincoln Avenue was full during the noon hour. However, they felt the community lacked wayfinding signs directing motorists from the highway to downtown. Visitors also noted that the housing they saw as they entered town was not maintained.
Among their suggestions, the group recommended regular updates and more photos on local websites, sidewalks for walking and an activity center, promoting the city’s slogan, property clean-up and more signage.
Asked what they would remember about Lincoln six months later, visitors said they liked the Lincoln Art Center, the Finch Theatre and the Pharmacy Museum and were impressed with the high school.
“It was a great town,” one visitor said. “We ate good food, played in the park and visited the museum and learned a lot about Lincoln.”
With a report now in-hand, officials will be able to identify areas of improvement and begin planning.
“I like going to other towns to see what they have to offer,” Feldkamp said. “It’s interesting to see the main streets, parks, housing and businesses they have. It’s also a way for me to compare Lincoln to other towns. I’ve seen things in other towns that I think we could do in Lincoln. I know we have empty businesses on Main Street, but so do other towns. We got a lot of positive feedback from the people who came to Lincoln and in return, now have some ideas on where we can improve to make Lincoln better for people visiting and living here. I’ve also found myself going off the main roads and stopping in other towns while traveling just to see what their town has to offer for businesses, recreation, parks and anything else that is unique to their town. I think we can learn from other communities.”
Below is a link to the entire report (PDF):
Lincoln – 2017 First Impressions Condensed Team Report Form
Staff Report by the Lincoln Sentinel