For weeks, more than 80 residents and business owners withdrew from most of December's festivities and instead, discussed ways to improve Cornelius.
The volunteers released their findings last week on five key areas in Cornelius: place-making and town services, community services, economic development, mobility and leisure and commerce.
It's all a part of Navigate Cornelius, a multi-phase town project in which residents and town officials develop a strategic long-term plan for Cornelius over the next several decades.
"We're very excited at the level of involvement by the citizens," said senior planner Jason Abernathy. "They took time out to work on a plan that's going to make our community better."
A couple of months after kicking off Navigate Cornelius last January, town staff talked with Cornelius resident focus groups. From those discussions, the town developed five themes they wanted to explore further, and then assigned volunteers to research strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities in those areas.
The five committees made similar conclusions at last week's meeting at town hall:
The lack of a signature event in Cornelius, such as a fireworks show or Christmas celebration, is a detriment to the town.
Creating a central gathering place in the middle of town or along the lake is important. "We don't want a honky-tonk or an arcade to go there. But we do want a nice, classy waterfront area where people can go," said Hilary Broadway of the mobility committee.
The town needs to improve communication between residents, town staff and officials.
The physical east-west divide within Cornelius, created by I-77, hurts town unity. Melinda Knorr of the community services committee said, "We have very strong HOAs. It seems like we are all little islands of HOAs but we're not talking together."
Cornelius would benefit from a multi-modal approach to transportation that incorporated pathways for pedestrians, bikers, motorists and others.
Cornelius needs to brand itself in a way that would attract businesses and restaurants and differentiate itself from other area municipalities. Said Chris Micolucci of the community services committee: "We need to have some sort of mechanism to say Cornelius is on the map. We're here, we care, we want to be involved."
It's important to maintain and educate newcomers on the history of Cornelius while still embracing future developments. Or as Hardy McConnell of the placemaking and town services committee said, "We'd like to save the cows."
Each group also picked cities that they would like Cornelius to mimic in some aspect. Greenville, S.C., Fort Collins, Colo., Peachtree City, Ga., and Coral Gables, Fl., were all cities that appeared on several committee lists.
"What they've done is reconfirmed what we heard from focus groups and expanded on a lot of those things," said Abernathy.
Abernathy said phase 4 will end in February with the committees handing off their conclusions to a steering committee, which will then make recommendations to the town board on how to implement the plan.
Residents can expect to see changes around town based upon these long-term discussions as early as the second half of 2011, he said. Some town plans are already in motion, such as creating new signage with a Cornelius brand, and appear to be in concert with the goals of Navigate Cornelius.
"We are just on the edge of so many wonderful things here. All they have to be is tapped to step forward," said McConnell. "We're going to make Cornelius a destination."