BERLIN — An enthusiastic group spent part of the beautiful autumn weekend discussing how to create a vibrant future for Berlin and started the process of putting together an action plan to get there.
In sessions Friday night and Saturday morning at the Berlin Middle High School cafeteria, a cross section of the city turned out to participate in UNH Extension’s Community Profile program.
Attendees of the “Building A Better Berlin” forum ranged from city officials, planning board members, business people, retired citizens and new residents of the city.
The program is designed to allow the community to take stock and talk about its future as Berlin gets ready to update its master plan next year.
Sue Cagle, community and economic development field specialist with UNH Extension, said participants discussed threats and challenges facing the city and what they would like to see in Berlin’s future.
She said the process is oriented toward putting together an action plan that can achieve some of the objectives identified in the group discussions. A follow-up meeting is scheduled for Oct. 23 at the Berlin Middle High School to put together an action plan.
The 30 to 40 people who participated over the two days broke into separate groups with each group assigned a topic. The topics were volunteer management and communication, downtown facade improvement, tourist management and business attraction.
While Berlin has a dedicated volunteer base, the group discussed ways to broaden that base and attract new volunteers as longtime ones step down. The group also discussed how to improve communication among various volunteer efforts with one idea to create a volunteer website. Another goal is to encourage residents to be communicators for the city.
The downtown facade group talked about identifying the key players including property owners, businesses, the chamber, ATV community, local churches and the city to focus on revitalizing the retail district. The discussion centered on the need to get something going to stimulate action there.
Looking at the city’s growing tourism sector, the group found there is a need for an unbiased list of what exists for resources and what the region needs to meet tourism demands now and in the future. One goal is to identify existing and possible organizations that help manage tourism. There was discussion of the need for a welcome center that would serve as a clearing house for tourist information.
The need for mentoring programs and incubator space to help new businesses get established was raised. The Berlin Industrial Development and Park Authority has commissioned a study on economic development that should provide some direction for the city when it is finished and released later this month.
Cagle said her team will gather all the findings from the weekend session and compile them in a report that will be handed out before the Oct. 23 meeting. But she said some groups identified some steps they want to work on immediately.
“The idea is to get started — to get something moving forward,” she said. “It all starts with one step,” she added.
City Councilor Peter Higbee, who co-chaired the Community Profile steering committee with Tiffany Hale, said he was pleased with the turnout. He said participants had a lot of energy and enthusiasm and the forum was very positively oriented.