On a recent afternoon on Circuit avenue, shoppers saturated the sidewalks and cars moved at a snail’s pace searching for an available parking space.
It’s not a scene that immediately casts doubt on the health of the historic resort community.
But an effort is underway to identify parts of the downtown area that can be improved.
The so-called streetscape master plan design project went to bid in January with the goal of revitalizing the downtown and improving public infrastructure.
“The basic slogan of the project is to make a great place greater,” said Brian Packish, a landscaper and chairman of the town planning board who has spearheaded the effort to solicit public comment and participation.
The project has cost the town $80,000 and is being financed through leftover funds in the Community Development Block grant program income fund.
It consists of a broad effort to study the downtown area and identify ways to encourage further business development, through discussions with stakeholders.
The town is asking the public to express their opinions of Oak Bluffs in an online survey before August 22.
“We are really just hoping to bring everybody to the table and see what works with people and what doesn’t work,” Mr. Packish said.
The streetscape project is part of a larger revitalization initiative which began last fall.
The conversation started largely in response to the deterioration of two prominent downtown movie theatres, as well other persistent vacancies in business district buildings. The Island and the Strand theatres have not shown films for nearly two years.
In an inventory of buildings taken last winter, 49 per cent of the 93 buildings in the town received an overall rating of fair to poor, meeting the criteria for slums and blight.
But Mr. Packish says the effort will be successful if a culture of revitalization inspires change at the individual level.
“We can’t put all of our energies and focus into two buildings that we don’t have the ability to change,” he said. “As other things improve, I am confident that the theatres come along with them.”
Now that a widespread discussion has begun, he has observed a contagion effect. “I really feel like there is a buzz in town of revitalization and I think it’s happening,” he said. The Strand has reopened as a temporary T-shirt shop and the Lampost, a bar at the base of Circuit avenue, received a dramatic makeover this spring.
Town consultants, Cape Cod’s Horsley Witten Group, have made a concerted effort to use social media as a means of outreach and have seen some success. More than 1,000 people have joined a Facebook page dedicated to the project, exceeding expectations.
So far areas of concern have included trash pickup and lack of parking in the business district.
Ultimately, the town hopes to qualify for funding to improve the public infrastructure.
“The programs that fund these are extraordinarily rigorous, and you need to have a well-documented planning process,” said town administrator Robert L. Whritenour.
Many Oak Bluffs people have embraced the project as an opportunity to contribute their suggestions and delare their love for the town.
Still, one challenge has been assuring some stakeholders that their opinions are valuable to the town. In many ways, it’s an unprecedented outreach effort for Oak Bluffs, Mr. Packish said.
“One of the hardest things to sell is that we are actually listening,” Mr. Packish said.
Some people have refused the survey, saying they are happy with the way things are. But Mr. Packish hopes those people will still participate.
“Even if you feel like nothing should change in Oak Bluffs, that is an opinion and a perspective,” he said.
Mr. Packish says for the most part, he’s in that camp too. When the conversation began about what some called blight and slum conditions, he didn’t identify those terms with his hometown.
“I became involved because I wanted to make sure there was a voice discussing all the positive aspects of Oak Bluffs, rather than the one or two deficiencies,” he said. “What brought me to the table is my love for Oak Bluffs and my belief that the people of Oak Bluffs need to be the ones who decide what Oak Bluffs will be.”
Surveys can be found at obdowntown.com. Updates are posted to the OB Downtown Facebook page.
This story has been corrected from an earlier version that carried the wrong date of the deadline for submitting surveys. The deadline is August 22, not Sept. 12.