Consultants addressed residents with possible improvements that could be made to revitalize the Union Street area Tuesday evening. Around 35 residents showed up at the Aiken City Visitor's Center and Train Museum to listen and offer feedback to landscape architect Laura Dukes of Allees and planner Aaron Arnett of Arnett Muldrow & Associates as they presented the concept plan. The study area is around 32 acres, bounded by the southern railroad line, the west side of Fairfield Street, the north side of Richland Avenue and the east side of Kershaw Street. Arnett said that their job is to offer the City a plan that includes potential land uses and possible improvements to Gyles Park and other public entities in the area, and to find ways to encourage or ensure that the plan meets goals of the Old Aiken Overlay District. Arnett said that the new Visitor's Center and Train Museum is the acting catalyst of the revitalization effort in the Union Street District. Feedback was received by the consultants from the public including business owners and residents in the affected area at a meeting Oct. 25 when they began working on the master plan. That feedback included that the Union Street District should add unique character to downtown, establish affordable residential units for young professionals and families, and have improved infrastructure, pedestrian amenities and connectivity. Residents also want to see the area become a sort of central gathering place for Aiken, having spaces for music gatherings and themed activities. Some suggested the area become more "hip" and "modern." Lastly, residents asked that the revitalization effort needs to be sensitive to the surrounding community and neighborhoods. Arnett and Dukes presented the master plan that includes the possibility of a small community center on Kershaw Street, passive changes in Gyles Park and several prospective areas that could hold new housing and commercial buildings. The suggested changes in Gyles Park included adding a water feature such as a fountain and sitting areas like benches or possibly porch-like swings. The housing that is suggested by the consultants are three-story developments to add "density" and "affordable housing" to the area. Duplexes and quad- units were also included. Renovations to surrounding buildings were also suggested to make the area more attractive. "I really think you have the opportunity to develop something that is not only an anchor for the neighborhood but also an anchor for the community," Arnett said. According to Arnett, though they have not worked out all the details, he believes this will be a mid- to long-term plan that could spread out over 10 to 15 years. Arnett added that this master plan is conceptual in nature and it is not a requirement for private land owners, that consultants were not suggesting eminent domain but rather discussions and partnerships with private sectors. Once the consultants revise the plan based on the public's feedback, they will present the final product to the Planning Commission. Aiken City Planning Director Ed Evans said he doesn't expect it to appear on their agenda until April at the earliest. Contact Amy Banton at abanton@aikenstandard.com.