DALTON, Ga. -- City residents want a vibrant downtown with cute shops, historic charm and multiple dining options.
That's the view of nearly 500 survey respondents who took part in an online poll about what downtown Dalton needs the most.
Though specific ideas on what the downtown area needs varied, most agreed more retail, stores with better hours and a wider selection of local restaurants would be welcome additions.
Overwhelmingly, though, respondents agreed on one point: They go downtown often for work and church, but they rarely open their wallets there.
About 84 percent say they venture downtown sometimes, often or frequently, but 54 percent said they seldom or never shop there, and 32 percent said they seldom or never eat there. Most respondents said they dined and shopped in Atlanta or Chattanooga.
"For a lot of people, it seems that downtown isn't even on their radar, and that's really not good," said Jessica Marks, a Dalton State College senior who coordinated the survey.
"It seems like people are just really desperate for something downtown," she said. "Some people were really specific about what that was, but others were more like, 'If there was something there, I would be more likely to go.'"
Survey respondents varied in age. Equal numbers of participants spanned three age groups between 30 and 59 years old.
The survey, sent out in mid-November, is part of the CommunityX3 revisioning effort. The University of Georgia-led effort is seeking to revitalize Dalton in three core areas: economy, education and environment.
Thirty or so people turned out for a meeting Thursday to review the survey and talk about next steps.
"We need to take this data ... and see what is it really telling us," said William Bronson, publisher of The Dalton Daily Citizen and leader of the survey group. "What are people wanting? What are they saying they want to do? And then we need to incorporate that into our overall plan."
The survey group also plans to mesh what respondents said about downtown Dalton with sales tax data that shows what they spent money when they went outside the city.
The group sent out a separate survey over the same period to about 30 downtown business owners, asking what they would like to see changed in the city's center. More than half said downtown parking was inadequate, but 64 percent of residents found downtown to be convenient to get around, according to the survey.
"We hear, every time we talk about change, that we can't change because of the parking issue," said Melissa Lu, the UGA coordinator leading the revisioning process. "I just found it to be so interesting that consumers found there to be no parking issue at all."
Respondents also said shop owners should have hours that more closely mirror that of stores located in the mall and that shop owners and employees shouldn't park in the off-street parking spaces in front of storefronts.
But even when downtown has features consumers like, they don't always go there. Marks said several survey participants liked the now-closed Planet of the Grapes restaurant, but most said they only dined there on special occasions.