Strategic plan drafts blueprint for downtown Selma

Selma City Council reviews recommendations for downtown improvements through Downtown Selma Strategic Plan

Downtown Selma looking south from the intersection of First St and High St. (Kenny Goodman)
Serena Bettis
Published July 8, 2024  • 
12:00 pm

SELMA – In its quest for economic growth and continued development, the city of Selma has neared the final stages of its latest strategic planning efforts. 

For the city to become the vibrant, lively community residents often say they desire, Selma must adapt to its demographics and create more space for people to live and play, according to preliminary recommendations in the Downtown Selma Strategic Plan. 

The Selma City Council heard this and more from consultants during a special presentation July 1 that provided a glimpse into the final plan that will be ready in the next few months. This strategic plan will help the city initiate infrastructure upgrades and beautification efforts in the downtown area by providing a clear path forward and opening the city up to grant opportunities. 

“I know that the vision is there, and I’m really excited about what’s going to happen,” Councilmember Blanca Mendoza-Navarro said. “One of the things that I’m highlighting here is that we need the data to show the needs, and … if we can get a plan together and present it, then that’s going to be very beneficial for us so that we can get those fundings, so I’m excited for this.” 

Chris Sensenig, an associate principal with lead consultant Raimi and Associates, said the plan brought together existing conditions, downtown’s strengths and city demographics to form strategies that will help the area blossom. Taking these elements into consideration, the plan identifies where Selma is at, where it wants to be and how it can use what it has to get to that place. 

The four key strategies identified in the plan include creating a strong, cohesive identity, bringing people to downtown, adding places to socialize and implementing mobility improvements and traffic calming measures. The consultant team — which also included the firms Economic and Planning Systems (EPS), Fehr and Peers and AMI Concepts — arrived at these strategies using hard data coupled with community input. 

For example, EPS Principal Amy Lapin said Selma’s population includes a large majority of Hispanic/Latino residents who are relatively young, with an average age of just over 30, and who have a high rate of participation in the workforce. 

“These characteristics highlight the need for social spaces downtown where friends and family can gather and present opportunities to celebrate the vibrant and culturally rich community,” Lapin said. 

However, the current downtown business scene does not support that need. 

Lapin said that out of the approximately 140 businesses that operate downtown, most are service-oriented businesses that occupy retail spaces. Despite more than 75% of downtown buildings being categorized as retail, businesses in downtown Selma generate less than 2% of the city’s taxable sales. Further, she said there has not been new development activity downtown in the last decade.

“These findings indicate that there is demand for more retail and restaurant space, presenting the need for a phased approach to diversifying the retail offerings, as well as the opportunity for new investment downtown,” Lapin said.

These conditions led the consultant team to one of their recommendations, which was to create social spaces and new restaurants, possibly by converting the two public parking lots in downtown into areas for outdoor dining and entertainment and infill mixed-use housing. 

During the council meeting, residents objected to these specific ideas on the basis that they do not want to see the city reduce available parking. Many residents said they cannot walk long distances and, although they would be interested in more retail and dining, they would not go to it if they could not easily access it. 

City staff and members of the consultant team clarified that these are not hard suggestions that the city must implement but rather ideas and recommendations for the city to build off and adapt to fit the community. 

Other recommendations in the plan included ways to beautify the downtown, add recreational opportunities and increase access through active transportation. The consultants agreed that Selma needs trees and decorative lighting throughout downtown; however — just as city staff have said for months — they need to put special care and planning into the installation of those features so that they can grow and thrive along with the city.

The full presentation was live streamed on the city’s YouTube page as part of the July 1 council meeting and is available for the public to watch. A public draft of the strategic plan is anticipated to be finalized in September, with the final draft being adopted in October. 

Once the final strategic plan is accepted and adopted by the city, the city can get to work implementing the suggestions if it so chooses. By completing this process and officially adopting the plan with the backing of the council, the city will have an advantage when applying for competitive grants to help fund projects outlined in the plan. 

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter