(The first post on this topic can be found here.)
One time a businessman vehemently voiced his frustration at a Common Council meeting. He was upset with the City of Plattsburgh and its haphazard way with downtown redevelopment. All the city did, he stated, was throw crap on the wall to see what would stick.
There’s some truth to his criticism. Plattsburgh isn’t following a grand design or overall vision to meet the changes that have diminished downtown over decades.
The biggest blow to downtown was the first mall that arrived in the Town of Plattsburgh, sucking away chains stores like Wards and JC Penney. Instead of concentrating on bringing in new retail businesses to draw back the customers, the city just widened the sidewalks, planted some trees, and made its main street, Margaret, one-way.
Since then some of the trees have died, Margaret is again a two-way street, and sections of sidewalks have been torn up, notched out to restore a few parking spaces.
This stuff didn’t stick to the wall.
Studies like the Draft Report of the Plattsburgh Brownfield Opportunity Area zoom back and consider the big picture. You might not agree with all of the suggestions in the PBOA report but at least it offers a grand design to consider.
The Draft Report addresses one of downtown’s major problems: an anchor to draw in people. Plattsburgh can dress up its downtown all it wants with fancy antique lights (that radiate garish yellow glare) but that’s just a cosmetic solution. Give people a destination; better yet, give them destinations. The Strand Theatre could indeed be a draw but there should be more.
The Draft Report suggests a downtown grocery store. Fine, but what about a small department store? Even a dollar store would help. Why should I have to go to the mall via the bus to get a light bulb at a reasonable price when I should be able to walk downtown and pick up one?
Just because new park benches are installed doesn’t mean that someone at the mall will say, “Hey, I want to go downtown and sit on a bench.” But if there’s a niche store offering a service or item not available at the mall, then that person would say, “Hey, there’s that little shop downtown that has what I want.”
First, get the people coming in, generating revenue. Recruit new businesses, the right ones. Then redevelop your buildings and parks. Outside of a former mayor who wanted to bring in a Kripsy Kreme doughnut shop, I don’t hear anyone out there actively promoting downtown.
If the City of Plattsburgh is so concerned with cosmetics, then it should concentrate on a particular concern mentioned in the Draft Report: the perception that downtown is dirty.
And that perception, as regular readers of this blog know, is a valid one.
Plattsburgh should maintain what it has. Keep it clean. That would be a lot cheaper than new paint jobs on buildings and other such spruce-ups that do nothing to bring back people.