Doreen Mack: Downtown no longer the social area it once was
December 17, 2013
There has been a lot of controversy and negative press over the last few years regarding our downtown and the movement of the 20/20 group. Many of you remember Carson City having a downtown. Some of you are new to our area within the last 30 years, and some are of a generation who grew up here and only know what you have been familiar with. In all these scenarios, change is very unsettling.
Imagine having a downtown business and watching the cars drive by without any recognition of it. You see people only using the highway to get from one end of town to another. There are no parked cars to show that there is activity, much less pedestrians, and businesses look closed. Would you want to open a retail business in this environment? And would you want to open your business downtown knowing that traffic is at 1972 levels and this is only the first phase of the freeway? Imagine when that freeway is completed and the importance of working on this now!
Unlike a majority of citizens who get a weekly paycheck, businesses rely on the community to support them. But, you say, there is no place to shop. And that is the point of the 20/20 group. Without a strong downtown core, we cannot recruit new businesses that will help rejuvenate our economy. Main street is the vessel to bring walk-in traffic.
The 20/20 group is about establishing a strong downtown core that is people- and business-friendly with two lanes, parking, bike lanes, wider sidewalks that would be ADA-compliant and senior-accessible, and pocket parks. You can get a feeling for this by looking at King Street by the Brewery Arts Center. This would create a walkable, friendly environment that would attract new retail businesses.
"Historic Main Street" from Fifth Street to Robinson or U.S. Highway 50 is the first thing people will see driving through our downtown, with parking spots made 3 feet longer to allow for parking adjustments. Don't we want a destination that will attract people with events, shopping and eating establishments to give them a feeling for the flavor of our community, and where our children would want to stay and raise their children?
U.S. Highway 395 has been a thoroughfare for downtown for many years, but there was a time when downtown had a main street with two lanes, parking and shopping. There was a social media between the merchants and the public. This was a wonderful period in Carson City's history. What happened? In the late '60s early '70s, we went from two to four lanes and it killed almost every downtown business. It was a time of many changes, one being that the malls came into the outskirts of town and drew people and businesses away from the core. Meyer's Hardware was the last business standing, and it was a sad day when it closed. Lad Furlong, the owner, said "I can no longer compete with the big-box stores, and with no parking, there was no reason for people to come downtown."
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Then in 1996 came the fence that thankfully the 20/20 group got removed. Removal of the fence has improved some businesses. What this did was merge businesses and people because there is no fence barrier that suggests you stay out. This is very prominent when there are events. For the first time in years you can see the fronts of the businesses. By the way, the historic iron fence in front of the Capitol remains as part of our history.
Support businesses and help recruit new ones. This needs to be done before completion of the freeway. Let's not repeat history; let's create together a vital downtown.
If you want to have a voice, attend the next Board of Supervisors meeting at 8:30 a.m. Thursday at the Community Center in the Sierra Room.
Doreen Mack is the owner of downtown business Lofty Expressions.