Thursday, February 22, 2007

Perceptions of Downtown Carbondale

It would sure be nice if people looked at downtown C'dale before commenting about how empty it is. In yesterday's DE, City council candidate Mary Pohlman commented:

"I would hate to see us have a doughnut of a city" and that she hopes to bring businesses back to downtown.

Take a look around downtown. There are three major empty buildings: the Varsity Theater, Sambucca Joes and Cousins. Buyers are looking at Sambucca Joe's, Kerasotes shows no interest in selling or having anyone do anything with the Varsity, and the Cousins/Tuscan Lodge building is in such bad shape that it probably will wind up getting pulled down. Otherwise, 90% of the other buildings are occupied with retail or service providers. A business wanting to move into downtown will not find an open spot easily, unless they want to build. There is open space for building in downtown because the city has done a good job of pulling down buildings that became eyesores, but not so good a job at finding replacements for them yet.

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Depends on how you define 'donut'. The reference to donut may simply reflect the perception that downtown has a lot of empty space typical of urban centers undergoing redevelopment after 'Urban Renewal'. Part of what makes a downtown appear lively and a desireable place to hang-out is the aesthetics of the human-scaled streetscape. Since fewer and fewer people walk, when they do attempt to travel from business to business the distances between destinations seems so much bigger. The expanses of the former dairy plant and Selmier-Peerless locations make the donut hole look all the bigger. Now plant some better grass, add some park benches, throw in a other park like amenities and the space acquires a new life.
Some of it has to do with the aparent instability of some businesses. The Thai Taste lot seems to finally have settled that spot down, but it was a model of open again-closed again for a while. I'm personally excited about the potential for the new Town Market and the new coffee shop on the strip, but I'm not holding my breath that they'll be successful ventures.

Having lived in college towns the last fifteen or so years, Carbondale seems incapble of supporting small (and quirky) restaurants that are typical of those places. Granted we're a little bit smaller than the other places I've been, but some of that seems to be missing.
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