Visitors to downtown Burlington will likely see housing and more restaurants in the area soon, thanks to the input from two surveys.

One was conducted by the Burlington Downtown Corporation in fall 2013 and amassed 235 respondents. The other, a spring 2014 survey by an Elon University market research class, generated 416 responses. The results of both revealed the demographic makeup of people who come to downtown Burlington and what the public wants to see in the area.

Anne Morris, executive director of the Burlington Downtown Corporation, said the feedback has helped her organization to determine a direction for the future.

“It’s been really critical,” Morris said. “We got very specific data — for example, what sorts of restaurants people want to see here — which has focused our recruitment efforts.”

The Burlington Downtown Corporation is working to attract more businesses, especially ones that locals want to see in the area. Survey results showed that people wanted to see more artisan shops and restaurants, like breweries.

Another priority for the Burlington Downtown Corporation is to help create housing options, a desire that many indicated on the survey. The organization plans to gather more community feedback through surveys, focus groups or other strategies.

Feedback is important because some residents want to see other changes.

Robert Gebhardt, who has lived in the area for three months, said downtown Burlington needs more parking improvements. Many of the current parking spaces have two-hour time limits, which he said could discourage people from driving to the area.

“It’s a very attractive downtown area, and they keep it clean,” Gebhardt said. “But they need metered parking. I wouldn’t want to shop for two hours and get tickets. More people would spend money if they had more time.”

Respondents of the surveys represented several age groups, and the majority lived within 5 miles of downtown.

The commercial district is 5 miles from Elon’s campus. According to the Burlington Downtown Corporation’s online business directory, the area boasts more than 80 storefronts, ranging from small businesses to banks and city buildings.

Survey respondents also wanted to see changes in the appearance of downtown and the business offerings.

While the timeline for upcoming changes is still being discussed, some changes to the area have already been made.

Burlington Downtown Corporation helped to increase customer parking options, install a public art piece and improve the appearance of the area.

Another recent addition to the area is Elon University’s Downtown Center for Community Engagement. The center, dedicated in 2013, aims to connect the university to downtown Burlington.

“It serves as a bridge between campus and downtown,” said Tammy Cobb, assistant director for community partnerships at Elon’s Kernodle Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement. “The goal is to facilitate student learning.”

Classes of various disciplines, ranging from business to art history, have used the center to connect with community organizations and introduce students to downtown. The Village Project, a university reading program for children, operates out of the center.

The Kernodle Center also has two student leaders who work from the downtown space. They help to plan nearby events and promote some local businesses on campus.

“Our trend is over the last four years, Elon students are increasingly aware of what’s going on downtown,” Morris said.

Downtown events also aim to attract visitors. From April to October, the downtown farmer’s market sells local produce. There are also themed events throughout the year, including Ladies’ Night and holiday celebrations.

The depot in downtown Burlington holds concerts on the fourth Friday of every month from May to September. Morris said these events help encourage people to come back.

“In terms of the concerts, people come out to have a good time,” Morris said. “That might bring people back to the area. Business owners report that they might not make a sale on Friday, but the customer comes back on Saturday.”

Long-time Burlington resident Caroline Veno shops and goes to events downtown. She said she hopes more residents will find out about the commercial center’s offerings.

“I come down here because I support local businesses,” Veno said. “When I grew up, downtown was thriving before the malls came in. LabCorp is here, but it’s not attracting businesses.”

Jan Vass, a Graham resident and owner of the Jan’s Scarves booth at the farmer’s market, said she hopes more businesses will want to open downtown. She added that several new storefronts have opened there in recent years. 

“We like to help this area as much as we can,” Vass said. “Downtown needs the business, and they like the local consumer here.”

An upcoming change is Link Transit, Burlington’s upcoming public transit system. The system, set to start in 2016, will have a downtown hub. Downtown Burlington already has an Amtrak station and is on the Elon Biobus route.

Morris said she thinks Link Transit will influence downtown, but it will be hard to estimate the impact it will have.


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