MANSFIELD - Inspiring. Engaging. Productive. Exciting.
These were just a few of the words buzzing around the Renaissance Theatre on Thursday during a public forum hosted by the #SXSW419 team. The night was just the beginning of a spark to continue revitalizing the city of Mansfield.
"If you aren't confident about the future of downtown Mansfield, you should be, because of the energy and ideas these 15 people have brought from South by Southwest," said Cody Albert, who moderated the forum.
Richland Source President Jay Allred and Richland Area Chamber of Commerce President Jodie Perry approached the Richland County Foundation last summer with the idea to send a local group of people to the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, with the goal to bring back the best ideas for the city.
"I'm blown away," Allred said after Thursday's forum. "The energy and attitude of the people that came tonight really verifies what so many of us have thought for some time now: Mansfield is ready, willing and able to reinvent itself. Now's the time."
At Thursday's forum, the group of 15 participants gave an overview of what they learned during the March trip to SXSW, gave an update on the planning process and invited the public to ask questions.
"Those in attendance mentioned that they not only loved hearing our experience but appreciated being asked to talk about their individual ideas and feedback," said Jotika Shetty, executive director of the Richland County Regional Planning Commission.
Many topics of discussion centered around the #SXSW419 blogs written by team members on each day of their trip. Some were specific, mentioning the value of a community pool or the implementation of a chief digital officer. Other topics were more broad, talking of the importance of inclusion and encouraging the millennial generation to take ownership of their city.
"I loved the statements about how the revitalization project will be inclusive of all people no matter what their age, race or economic status," said Kathy Goodwin, coordinator at Element of Art. "Everyone will have a voice if they want to be heard."
More than 100 attendees also had the chance to participate in breakout sessions with smaller groups, focusing on three areas of Mansfield: business, gathering and living.
The team used what they learned during a design thinking workshop to collect ideas involving how people experience downtown Mansfield, the best and worst parts of the city, and the current business climate. Activities included everything from Post-It notes to emoji stickers.
The breakout sessions inspired many who attended Thursday's forum. Attendees mentioned the importance of recognizing the good already happening in Mansfield, while also looking forward.
"Walking out of the event, I am optimistic," said Mansfield resident Rob Gibson. "I am also encouraged by the steps to solicit community feedback. We need ongoing dialogue from a variety of perspectives."
Gibson also noted the need to focus on areas outside of the immediate downtown area. Other attendees also suggested an expansion of what "downtown" means to include uptown areas like the Butterfly House.
"Hopefully folks at the event tonight and others in the community are inspired to step up and both be heard as well as to take action to improve our city," Gibson said.
Throughout the rest of 2018, the #SXSW419 team will work with 28 advisers to sort through the ideas presented and create an action plan to be implemented.
"I thought it was a very positive vibe, and it was great to see so many people who care deeply about downtown," said Jodie Perry. "I am leaving feeling even more excited by this project. We have a real unique opportunity to engage a large group of people and multiply the work."