Friday, December 20, 2013

How to, or should you, keep a downtown economy going

"Dan Senftner, president and CEO of Destination Rapid City, said downtown is as vibrant as it has ever been. It certainly has a much nicer atmosphere than 10 or 20 years ago.
'It was not as friendly and nice a place to be as it today,' he said.
Jana Koupal of the Vita Sana Olive Oil Company at 627 St. Joseph St., said the business has benefited from the foot traffic downtown events generate. The store that also operates in Casper, Wyo., opened its Rapid City location in July.
She said the business, which sells more than 40 flavors of extra virgin olive oil from around the world, has been doing well.
'I love the downtown atmosphere, a place like this is where we need to be,' Koupal said.
Another stretch of Main Street saw a recent rebirth. On the west end of downtown, in the 800 and 900 blocks of Main, a small revitalization recently took place with the addition of Beau Jo's Pizza, and new loft apartments above a redone pet shop and art store.
Brett Mathern, owner of SoleMate Shoes and the Uniform Center in the 600 block of St. Joseph Street, said downtown has a great overall environment. But he acknowledged the perks also come with some drawbacks.
Mathern said he has a lot of repeat customers, and he enjoys the atmosphere and the camaraderie the cluster of small businesses promote."

So here in Rapid City, South Dakota we have a vibrant downtown. There are very few empty shops.  Parking is a problem, with diagonal parking and one poorly built parking garage.  But, the city spent big on Main Street Square, an open space with marble carvings, a grassy area for concerts or free movies in the summer and an ice rink in the winter.  It's a fun but smallish space.

   In contrast, I lived in Clearwater, Florida for a year and a half.  Their downtown was and is in pretty sorry shape economically.  They have different problems, though. For one, Clearwater Beach is across a bridge and sucks most tourism or even locals there.  And the Church of Scientology has taken over many buildings in the downtown area.  I doubt their downtown will ever be vibrant again, despite their recent investment in a downtown theater.

    So do US cities need a thriving downtown business area?  Malls were the first attack.  Then came Big Block stores like Walmart.  Shopping was more convenient elsewhere.  Mom and Pop stores started disappearing.
   I don't know the answer.  Here specialty stores seem to have filled in the downtown nicely.  But whether places like Clearwater should just leave their downtown to dwindle, I'm not sure.