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Downtown Scottsbluff revitalization

February 12, 2010

I grew up in a Chicago suburb that I consider soulless. Yes, there were good schools and a big shopping mall, but there was no town center, just seas of cookie-cutter subdivisions, strip malls, and asphalt. It was a community designed for the automobile, not for people. Years after I left, the city built an ersatz town square anchored by shopping, a park and new public library. It’s nice, but I still find it soulless. (The square doesn’t have enough of an identity to warrant a website, apparently.)

Once I was able to choose my own living space, I gravitated towards authentic old-town downtown areas. In Springfield, Illinois, I lived in an apartment just around the block from the old state capitol building and one of Abraham Lincoln’s law offices. In Carbondale, Illinois, I’d visit the Town Square Pavillion for evening movies, which had to be paused when a train thundered by. I rented a house in Champaign, Illinois, within walking distance of the downtown, and mourned when a vintage building in the final phases of renovation burned to the ground. In Ames, Iowa, I lived for a time in a brick-walled studio apartment overlooking Main Street, and could watch art shows, parades, and concerts from my windows.

When I visited Scottsbluff to see if I could live here, I walked along Broadway on a Sunday morning, and, though just about everything was closed and the street was deserted, I could tell there was a lot of community pride in the downtown district. Downtown was included in the “plus” column of the pros and cons of moving to Scottsbluff. Husband and I bought a house a few blocks from the heart of Broadway, and we frequently walk over for events and shopping.

At the meeting last night, one business owner complained that the street sweepers don't clean Broadway often enough. Note the street sweeper tracks on the right of this photo, taken this morning.

Last night, I attended a meeting about a downtown revitalization scheme for Scottsbluff and Gering. The Twin Cities Development Association, the Scottsbluff/Gering United Chamber of Commerce, and the Downtown Business Revitalization Committee (no website) are working together to apply for a Community Development Block Grant for Downtown Revitalization that would allow Scottsbluff $30,000 to do a study on improvements to the downtown area, and, if successful, $350,000 for implementation. (An application for Gering is planned next year, after it becomes an Economic Development Certified Community.)

Meeting attendees suggested problems that the the grants could be used to address:

  • Vacant and poorly maintained buildings
  • Inefficiency of parallel parking
  • Litter, especially cigarette butts, and not enough garbage cans
  • Sidewalks in disrepair or pushed up by trees (which also block the view of business signage and occasionally poke tall people [my husband] in the eye)
  • Loitering and vandalism
  • Lack of public restrooms
  • Need for bike parking and bike-friendly routes connecting downtown Scottsbluff with downtown Gering and the Monument
  • Need for more public art that involves the community
  • Need for more second-floor residences to keep more people in the downtown in the evenings
  • Need for more lighting and law enforcement patrol

True, all of these issues could use attention, but there were two items that I thought were of primary importance for the future of downtown.

One, notice that I provided no links to Scottsbluff’s downtown? That’s because there aren’t any. Scottsbluff desperately needs a web presence for its downtown that includes a business directory and business/parking maps. It could also use directory/map signage on the street. Make it easy for people — residents and tourists alike — to locate what they need (or didn’t know they needed) in the downtown area. A website can help crystallize the district’s identity.

Two, I learned that Scottsbluff city hall will be moving about a mile away, out of the downtown area. I will admit to having poked fun at the drabness of the city administration building, but I am alarmed by the prospect of it moving away from downtown. Every city with a vibrant downtown mentioned in this post has kept city government, the “brains of the city”, in its downtown. Business provides muscle, arts and culture provide heart, (and, to continue the metaphor, I suppose infrastructure is the guts), but where will downtown Scottsbluff be without its brain?

Do you now have Wizard of Oz references in your head like I do? Scottsbluff’s downtown may have heart, and it may be about to lose its brain, but it’s up to us, the citizens, to have the courage to commit to revitalizing the downtown. Whole-community involvement will create a vested interest that makes the downtown stronger, which is why the grant application requires community input. The competitiveness of the Scottsbluff grant application rides on your participation, Scottsbluffians.

Got ideas? You can send them to twincities-data@wncc.net . There should be a survey online soon; I’ll post the link when I have it.

UPDATE:

Here’s the survey: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=HR4AFye8YEOMAPQq4jotHE8xRVM%2bOvs5UNqOFSRG2DY%3d&

Copyright 2010 by Katie Bradshaw

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