October 11, 2017IMLAY CITY — If you were gripped with a sudden case of amnesia and found yourself walking around in the city, what would you have to say about it?
Would it be a place you'd return to by choice?
Does Imlay City offer something for recreation and fun?
Are there things missing that you'd want to see in the future?
While those of us who've been around for a while might have a difficult time answering those questions objectively, there will be an opportunity to hear what newcomers think at a 'First Impressions' Community Forum at the Ruth Hughes Library next Wednesday, Oct. 18.
The First Impressions Program is offered by Michigan State University Extension. It's aimed at offering rural communities feedback to help plan future development. Cities with a walkable downtown and a population of less than 10,000 are encouraged to take part in the program.
Downtown Development Authority Director Dana Walker applied to MSUE for participation. She assembled a 'Community Leadership Team' (CLT)—required by the program—consisting of a cross-section of the community. The CLT will be responsible for implementing program recommendations, as well as communicating and collaborating with the community as a whole.
What is your first impression of Imlay City? Find out what 'tourists' thought at a First Impressions Community Forum on Oct. 18 photo by Catherine Minolli.
Walker says the minute she learned about the First Impressions program, she was in.
"I was immediately interested. I think the perspective of someone coming into Imlay City for the first time will be very beneficial to the City and DDAs future plans," she says.
This past summer, a team of four 'tourists' visited Imlay City unannounced to asses its strengths and weaknesses when it comes to tourism.
Using a manual of established guidelines, the tourists took note of their first impressions of Imlay City. The tourists assess strengths and weaknesses in categories like transportation, hospitality, aesthetics, environment, bikeability, walkability, visitor information, community knowledge and interaction and tourism assets such as agriculture, nature, food, and water that contribute to the overall attraction of a community.
Walker says she'll learn what the tourists found at the same time everyone else does—at the forum on October 18th.
"I have no idea when they visited or what their opinions are," she says. "There is always room for improvement and I am looking forward to some fresh ways of looking at things. It is natural for humans to become 'used to' their surroundings and take things for granted. A visitor's perspective will be interesting and I think enlightening."
Walker says the only thing she does know is that the tourists began their trip by searching online for information about Imlay City and its community.
"Their suggestions might be to improve our social media presence, wayfinding signage throughout the City,
addition of more
etc.," she says.
Community members are encouraged to come to the forum to hear all about the results.
"The report won't just concentrate on our City government's responsibilities. The secret tourist also visited local businesses to see how a shopper was greeted, what services were offered, and how storefronts looked from the outside," Walker says.
Hearing an outsider's opinion may also help those who live and work in town refresh their view.
"In today's world with a typical family's schedule, only a few hours on a Saturday may be available to go on a trip," Walker says. "So although we may not think of Imlay City as a 'tourist destination' we need to rethink what 'tourist' means. A visitor to Imlay City might stay for a few hours but think of the economic impact they could have on our town, especially if they drive away happy."
Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.