Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News
Provo's RDA is holding workshops to find out what residents would like to see done to revitalize the downtown area, like this stretch of East Center Street.

PROVO — In front of Ottavio's during the summer, it's not unusual to see an accordion player strolling around the granite-topped tables performing for guests dining outside among plants. A handful of regulars occasionally bring dogs, which sit complacently on the sidewalk as their owners relish favorite dishes.

The Italian eatery was the first in the downtown district to take its cuisine outside — and others have followed. "We're in the old part of historic Provo and most (of) the time it is beautiful to sit outside and be there," says one of Ottavio's co-owners, John Belvedere. "You're able to enjoy the ambiance of downtown Provo."

Many neighboring business are making similar improvements and hope to attract residents and visitors to the historic streets of the city's center. Last weekend they came one step closer with the city's help.

Saturday morning, the Provo City Redevelopment Agency invited business owners, residents and Brigham Young University students to meet with a consulting team from Salt Lake in the first of four workshops at the Provo City Library at Academy Square to create a strategy to revitalize downtown.

"There are two things that we're trying to do with this project," Paul Glauser, the director of Provo's Redevelopment Agency, said in a statement. "We're trying to achieve a common community vision of what downtown Provo should be and to come up with a specific step-by-step action plan to accomplish that."

In Saturday's discussion led by consultants Laura Hanson and Soren Simonsen of Cooper Roberts Simonsen Associates, more than 55 people worked on creating that community vision and discussing the assets and weaknesses of the area.

Feeling unsafe may keep some homeowners away, said Bob Allen, an activist in the Franklin neighborhood, south of Center Street. "I've had people tell me they'd rather not walk along Center because it's so dark. There are a lot of dark, empty storefronts."

Allen said he and his wife had a difficult time walking in the downtown area last week because there was so much snow on the sidewalks.

"It's about creating a will and a desire to walk in the downtown area," he said. "If there was something to attract (residents) to downtown, then they would come."

One of the challenges some business owners face is that they have to rent their building space.

"I think the business owners, not necessarily the building owners, are all kind of on the same page," said Beccy Neely, who rents space for her and her husband's clothing boutique, Mode, 45 N. University Ave. "I think you see a lot of out-of-state building owners that don't really know what's going on."

While Neely hasn't had a problem renting her building, others have. Many of the buildings with historic architecture are used as storage units and at night there is no lighting.

Neely and her husband, Ryan, directors of the downtown Gallery Stroll, are part of a group of Provo art lovers who expressed a desire to see an explosion of art throughout the region. Many envision the ideal downtown with sculptures lining the streets and an abundance of art programs in place for the community.

Trent Robertson, a junior at BYU, felt an art-only approach would alienate students with different interests. "I think the big problem is they think to much about art galleries," Robertson said. "Arts are great and all, but they are going to want to have a variety of venues."

During the three-hour workshop, residents, business owners and city officials spoke of their desire to see better landscaping, pedestrian accessibility, transportation and parking. It took the city four years before it could sponsor the workshops due to a number of studies officials needed to help them have an empirical basis for the changes.

"We didn't think it would take us this long, but now we're here and we're happy to be here, putting into place a strategic plan," Glauser said.

City officials estimate that the next workshop will be held in three weeks at the Provo library, 550 N. University Ave., but recommend that residents and business owners check the Web site www.provo.org or call the Redevelopment Agency at 852-6160.

E-mail: [email protected]