May be appearing in an upcoming issue of The Town Talk. By yours truly.
Right Location, Wrong Projects.
I am writing in response to the recent opinion piece written by Scott
Curry of Jena (“Wrong Locations Picked for Projects,” March 8, 2006).
Mr. Curry contends that our local government continually doles out
money for projects “in the worst part of town,” and he references the
riverside walking track as a prime example of this type of
mismanagement. I respect Mr. Curry’s opinion, but I am discouraged
that he considers Downtown Alexandria to be the worst part of town.
Alexandria is located on the Red River, and although the city has expanded well beyond its original borders, it is critical that we recognize the inherent value of our downtown. A visitor’s impression of Alexandria is shaped by two primary factors: our airport and our downtown.
Alexandria’s new airport terminal was a fantastic investment. Not only does it accommodate a greater number of flights, it also serves as a reflection of the area’s potential for growth, particularly for business travelers and investors. The Downtown Revitalization plans are of equal importance. If you’re not from Alexandria, your perception of the city’s health, more than likely, is based on your perception of downtown.
Unfortunately, Alexandria has struggled with revitalization efforts. Of course, there have been a handful of success stories, like the new Coughlin-Saunders Center, but it’s difficult to appreciate the successes when one recognizes that, for the most part, downtown has not undergone the dramatic changes that were commissioned, planned, and promised seven years ago.
There are many reasons for this, but I believe this is primarily due
to the community’s unwillingness to agree on a coherent vision for
downtown’s future. The only way Alexandria’s downtown will ever
reemerge is if our local government works with businesses, both big
and small, in achieving a shared goal. Instead of involving local
businesses, investors, and developers, the city has spent hundreds of
thousands of dollars hiring outside consultants to study the
feasibility of projects that do not take priority in any model of downtown
revitalization: water parks, fishing trails, and yes, walking tracks.
(I agree with you on one thing, Mr. Curry).
The point isn’t that these projects are in the wrong location; they’re simply the wrong projects.They may have been planned with the best of intentions, but for a city attempting to revitalize its downtown, they are not an effective use of our limited resources. The reason people seem skeptical of the walking track, for instance, is because most of the surrounding infrastructure remains depressed. Unless we are committed to making capital improvements to the downtown infrastructure, restoring historic buildings, and converting vacant buildings into commercial and residential property, people will continue to refer to downtown as a bad part of town, regardless of the number of parks and trails we build.
For reasons unbeknownst to me, the City Council decided to scrap the
plans drafted by Pat Moore in 1999. Alexandria spent time, money, and
resources hiring a locally-based, award-winning urban planner, someone
who certainly understands the culture and dynamics of Alexandria
better than anyone from New York or Atlanta. Seven years later, the
city continues to spend our tax dollars on projects that either fail
to serve a common need or consultation on half-baked ideas that don’t
address real problems. Despite the reports of mismanagement, inside
deals, and misplaced priorities on both ends of the political spectrum, Alexandria has remained relatively complacent. We’re currently in a period of sustained growth and expansion, but most local developers won’t even consider downtown; it’s simply too much of a headache.
I should be clear about one thing: I know and respect many members of
our local government, and I believe that most of them feel the same
way about the state of local affairs. But too often, the voices of
reason are being drowned out by those who seem to believe that spending money is their only responsibility. Alexandria is poised for real growth,
but if we allow this philosophy of local government to dictate our
future, we’ll be throwing away a golden opportunity.
If you would like to continue this conversation, please visit
cenlamar.blogspot.com, an online discussion forum dedicated to the
political and social issues affecting Central Louisiana.