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Downtown, or just down?

Wed, Mar 18, 2009

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For almost half a century, local businesses, elected officials, nonprofits, and concerned citizens have conceived, pushed, and sometimes implemented a variety of schemes to improve downtown-to make it what it once was, the vibrant center of our community, an exciting, fun place to be, full of lively shops, restaurants, residents, defined by broad boulevards and historic buildings. 

Here’s what we’ve actually done.

During the 60′s and early 70′s, we tore down most of the major historic buildings that once defined downtown, and razed many square blocks of less distinguished buildings.  So successful was this program that today, forty years later, the site once graced by the Burns Opera House and Out West Printing, as well as a dozen other buildings, is still a parking lot.

Then we further improved downtown by building a bunch of ill-conceived, badly designed “junk buildings”-the Colorado Square Building, the renovated building at the NW corner of Pikes Peak & Tejon, the Antlers, the Holly Sugar building.

So moribund did downtown then become that a couple of clever businessmen figured out that it was, in effect, like the deserted warehouse districts of similar cities-so they bought buildings in the heart of downtown for cheap, and turned much of central downtown on weekend nights into a giant, skanky, nightclub district, with rowdy patrons, public drunkenness, and frequent fights that taxed the resources of the P.D.

And during the last couple of years, we’ve made sure that downtown has at least one major headquarters industry: the homeless.  The new Marian House, referred to by some of our frenchified wits as the “Palais des Clochards” (the Beggar’s Palace) nears completion, and the city also thoughtfully provides its patrons with the ‘DASH’ (downtown area shuttle), otherwise known as the Bum’s Bus.

The feral, homeless men who help define the street life of the Tejon Street corridor have, as anyone who works in or visits downtown knows, taken over the shuttle.  That’s the reality-despite the lofty pretensions of folks who want to believe otherwise.

And now, so dismayed are the shuttle pushers by the imminent demise of the Bum’s Bus, thanks to the city’s financial crisis, that they propose to keep it in operation by collecting a few  more dollars by anyone who may be unwise enough to visit downtown, and patronize local merchants.  The parking meters, just like the rest of us, are scheduled to start work earlier, and finish later!  Yup, they’re going to roll up their sleeves and collect those quarters between 8 AM and 10PM, six days a week, instead of their present lazy banker’s hours of 9AM to 6PM.

Just how stupid is this? To save a service that only adds to downtown’s scruffy disorder, the powers that be propose to stck downtown’s patrons with another fee.  And, of course, lots more folks will be stuck with $20 parking tickets (just downtown’s way of saying ‘thanks for shopping with us’!), and…why go on?

Here’s a small bit of advice-which, we know, will be ignored.  Hood all the meters and make the parking garages free for a month-and see what happens.

But then there wouldn’t be any money to run the Municipal Court, or pay for the parking garage expansions, or pay the salaries of the meter maids (and meter men), or pay for more plans to make downtown an exciting, vibrant place…

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8 Comments For This Post

  1. es Says:

    My thoughts exactly..

  2. Ellen Says:

    Great article! Let’s hope it’s read by those pushing to keep the downtown shuttle. Sausalito CA hoods their parking meters a number of times every year, and for the whole month of December to encourage local folks to do more shopping in town. It works!

    Love, love, love the new CSBJ web site look. Major Kudos to Rob Larimer for doing a great job with Engage Magazine. I ran off a few copies on my color printer for friends and family. It’s gorgeous and filled with information that’s nice to have at my fingertips when needed.

  3. Green Flash Says:

    I live downtown, work downtown and play downtown. I kind of like the Bum’s Bus ’cause instead of having one for the road I can just breathe the air in the bus on the way up Tejon.

  4. JC Says:

    I don’t often agree with Mr. Hazelhurst, but he’s hit this problem right on the head!
    Saving the Downtown shuttle is a joke. I’ve ridden it – once. He’s right on, the only people who use it are the homeless.

  5. ET Says:

    Preach on, brother! You’ve hit on a number of reasons we avoid the downtown area. Nostalgia and customer value lost; larger transient population and higher parking fees gained. It might be cheaper to post “customers keep out” signs.

  6. jay Says:

    I agree. Downtown businesses are hurting enough, why not double the parking charge while you are at it? I say kill the bus, it’s not like our downtown is so vast you can’t walk. If the justification of parking meters is for revenue, why not put meters at the malls? Why not meters at Shops at Briargate? Please, leave downtown alone:(

  7. Jocko Says:

    Let’s see why do we want to go downtown? We have to drive around and around looking for a parking spot or hike in from some inconvenient parking lot. Then, they want us to pay for the privelege of being downtown. I go to Chamber and other meetings downtown that start at 7:30 to 8:00 am when the parking is reasonably close to the meeting site. If they are going to charge for meters at that time, that will be the end of those meetings. It’s not just the money which is too much any how but it is also having to always worry if you have enough and the right change and rushing back to pay again or move your car before some over eager meter maid tries to enhance the city’s revenues. Instead of putting the $150k into ‘enhancing’ downtown, why not put into the city coffers for parking?

    Also, who wants to deal with all of the bums and pan handlers on the street everyday? Many of them are downright pushy.

    Finally, downtown merchants are not price competitive with the merchants outside of downtown and they don’t offer anything that can’t be had elsewhere. I don’t even think of going downtown at night any more with the all of the drunks and the high crime rate down there now.

    No thanks, I love our malls and strip malls. Easy in and easy out… safe from hoodlums and price competitive. It is time to deconsolidate. Congested cities have outlived their usefullness. The burbs is where it is at.

  8. John Hazlehurst Says:

    Hey, I still love downtown, with all of its faults. Suburbia’s fine (lived there for a dozen years, and enjoyed it), but I love the density, the street grid, the variety, and my favorite bars/restaurants/shops. I just wish that the powers-that-be (i.e., Council), all of whom purport to cherish downtown, and none of whom live there, would look at it as it is, not as they think it ought to be.