Things better downtown than story portrayed
The article regarding the “weak economy” in Sunday’s P.l. was disappointing for its negative report of our downtown economy, with no attempt to dig deeper into past statistics and the current progress in finding solutions to our problems.
Complaints about “skyrocketing rents” are valid. Complaints about parking are valid, at some parts of the day. Complaints about the noise and dirt created by through trucks and cars are valid for most of the day. Store closings are indeed happening.
However, the reporter did not contact Bill Evans, the executive director of the recently formed Downtown Development Authority, established to attack these problems downtown. City Council has made an economic commitment via the DDA and tax increment financing to foster economic restructuring downtown, to strengthen and help preserve downtown’s economic base while finding ways to expand it. City Council has made a commitment also to our history by developing design guidelines for our historic downtown, which will help to maintain our attractive image.
Had the reporter talked with Bill Evans he would have learned that a parking task force is meeting and planning workable solutions to the parking problem. It is moving fast with the necessary statistic gathering (costs of various solutions, etc.) and will be holding the first public meeting soon.
Former councilman and DDA board member Robert Zanella is updating former parking surveys (number of places current, etc.) and together with other factors, studying the number of employees in each office and business downtown. The city’s traffic demand management team has worked hard to bring people to bus transport and is planning where to place bike racks downtown. The DDA will arrange finance for those bike racks and will update the now old and ugly kiosks.
Just last week, a transportation and downtown consultant told us that our 36 percent change in retail occupation since 1996, or 6 percent annually, is not bad at all. The typical annual retail turnover is much higher, and only 20 to 25 percent annually is a reason for concern.
Restructuring and revitalizing a downtown is an incremental process. We start with improving the visual image, meaning cleanliness and adding more flowers, rebuilding the kiosks, implementing a facade improvement plan, and planning many events to lure citizens and tourists to the downtown.
At the same time, DDA is building consensus and cooperation among the many groups and organizations who have a role in the process. A subcommittee called the Retail and Restaurant Committee is now very active, and on April 26 the first roundtable for downtown business owners, professionals and property owners will be held. Next comes general public input and consensus via surveys and hearings, and an overall marketing effort.
An office for our executive director opens this week, at the corner of Seventh and Cooper. Drop in sometime.
I’d like to echo the quoted words of MaryAnn Sullivan of Night and Dance: Locals need to shop downtown, bringing friends and family, to see and learn why the tourists come here. Local support is crucial for the coming successes. All in all, the tools are in place. We’re in a strong proactive position to forge ahead, together.
City Councilor serving the DDA
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