To all the Downtown haters ...

Posted at 9:50 AM on Apr 23, 2016

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BY AMY FUHRMAN

Friday night wasn’t supposed to be about the Streetscape. But in many ways, it was.

And this was supposed to be an article about the Spring Art Crawl. But in many ways, it isn’t.

Going back to 2009, the Downtown Statesville Streetscape plan was just an item on the City Council’s meeting agenda. It went through many rounds, but work finally started in 2011 and, thus far, two phases of the project have been completed.

At the time, the plan listed as goals for the Streetscape: Replacing aging underground infrastructure; Making Downtown more pedestrian-friendly to encourage customers for businesses; Increasing available parking spaces; and Adding tables and chairs, landscaping and other furnishings to make Downtown more enticing and visitor-friendly.

Ever since the word Streetscape made it to the public arena, the project has had its critics. Fair enough. When upward of $9 million in taxpayer money is being spent, it’s good to make sure it’s invested wisely.

As a journalist, I’ve spent countless hours reading those criticisms in letters to the editor and social media posts and listening to them during official public comment sessions at meetings and unofficial complaint sessions at cafes.

Last night, as I joined hundreds of others who were thoroughly enjoying Art Crawl, five years of biting my tongue finally seemed long enough. So, here’s my response to all the … “stuff” …. people have had to say on the subject:

  1. Downtown is dead. Nothing is going to change the fact that no one wants to go downtown. So the Streetscape is a waste of money.

    This is my favorite one — and I still hear it now and then. Clearly, anyone who thinks Downtown is dead hasn’t visited in a while.

    Every evening that the weather is good, the tables lining Broad Street are filled with people — people who are spending money. Often, the businesses have to bring out extra chairs. Inside, the restaurants and shops like Wine Maestro are full of customers, many whom take a stroll Downtown most evenings just to see all the familiar faces.

    During the day, lunch places are packed, and there are people coming in and out of shops and offices where they’re welcomed and treated well. These are small local businesses, and every customer counts. It shows in their service.
  2. There’s no parking Downtown.

    Honestly, if I never hear this again ….

    I live Downtown. I work Downtown. In my free time, I eat, shop and socialize Downtown. I have never had to park more than half a block away from where I was going. Often, I can even find spots that don’t require the dreaded parallel parking (which I’ve gotten pretty good at). When residents rightly questioned the lack of handicap-accessible parking, the city added spaces, ensuring better access for all residents. No parking situation is ever perfect, and when there are big events, you might have to park a few spaces farther away. That is not what I would call a “problem.”

  3. All those planters on the corners were a waste of money.

    Actually, they weren’t. Other than the people Downtown, those planters send the clearest message to visitors that this is somewhere people care about, invest in and enjoy. Better than any billboard, the landscaping in our city shows anyone passing through or considering opening a business that this is a place that is healthy and growing. Plus, the flowers are pretty and attract butterflies. You probably can’t monetize that, but it makes me smile.
  4. Statesville will never change. Old money. Old ways. Old thinking, blah, blah, blah

    I saved this one for last on purpose. We now have:
    • Art Crawls, Wine Walks, and Shop & Stroll;
    • Friday after Five concerts and a Jazz Festival;
    • Two farmers markets selling local produce and more
    • 20 great places to eat;
    • 40 great places to shop;
    • Tons of businesses and services that help our residents … and our economy;
    • One of America’s top bike shops;
    • A community theatre;
    • Ghost tours at Halloween and carriage rides at Christmas;
    • N.C.’s only mummy at Iredell Museums;
    • Amazing public artwork thanks in large part to the Iredell Arts Council;
    • Pumpkin Fest and the bike races;
    • Oh, and people. Lots and lots of people every day, supporting local businesses and helping our Downtown keep growing and evolving.

Which brings us back to Art Crawl, where many of the city and community leaders responsible for the vision and execution of the Streetscape project were out and about, walking the wider sidewalks between the bustling businesses of their packed Downtown.

Perhaps it was just me, but I suspect a few of them, when encountering a previous Streetscape critic, might have had to bite their tongues a time or two as well.

Amy Fuhrman is editor of SVLFreeNews.com. Email her at svlfreenews@gmail.com.

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