At this writing, the Dream Walk was held about one week ago. The purpose of the event was to gather information from the public about possible uses for the vacant buildings in, essentially, Rushville’s central business district. More specifically, the flyers around town pointed out that the goal was to “envision how empty spaces and buildings could be used to return Rushville to the vibrant community it once was.” Now, that is a noble goal and one I totally support.
As I thought about what the outcome of the Dream Walk might be, I had only one reservation. The comment had been made that, perhaps, the general consensus of opinion might be that some of the vacant buildings should be torn down and replaced with parking lots or “green spaces.” I’ve heard that many good ideas were suggested to revitalize the downtown. I think we have to be careful, though, that downtown Rushville doesn’t turn into even more parking lots or green spaces, assuming that demolishing vacant buildings is as creative as we can manage to be.
If you look at the flyer promoting the Dream Walk, you get a very interesting view of the downtown area as it looked sometime around 1900, give or take a decade or two. Actually, it’s sad to see how many thriving businesses used to be downtown and to reflect on how many of them are gone. Of course, that was in a time when downtown Rushville really was the economic center for the county. With the advent of the supermarket and the superstore, most downtown merchants were essentially forced out of business.
But more than anything else, it was the automobile that was the final straw that broke the back of the downtown merchant. Stop and think about all the parking lots there already are in the central business district. Eventually, we could end up with just our beautiful courthouse surrounded by green space and parking lots. To me, at least, that’s not a very inviting prospect.
I have argued for years that we should be attempting to attract service businesses to the central business district. My little operation on Second Street is a perfect example of the type of business we need downtown. We employ over a dozen people. Every office on both floors is occupied. The point is, every vacant building could be renovated for similar operations, and by that I mean buildings filled with office workers. More office workers would mean more people downtown doing their banking, convenience shopping, and increasing the demand for other retail businesses right here.
The first step, which I have thus far been unsuccessful in promoting, is to conduct a simple survey of office managers who occupy some of the high-priced office space in areas like Keystone at the Crossing and see how many would be interested in office space in a less expensive, less congested, less crowded community that can offer a package of incentives to encourage them to move their operations here. We’ll never know if there’s a market for what this community could have to offer unless we ask. But, as I noted, apparently nobody seems to think completing a survey is a worthwhile exercise to carry out.
Nevertheless, the more buildings we tear down – assuming that’s an outcome of the Dream Walk – the less potential office or living space we’ll have to offer. I’m all for green space. The idea of downtown parks is a good one, but so far not much use has been made of a perfect example of downtown green space – Willkie Park. Willkie Park could be utilized for noon-time entertainment. Small combos could be scheduled there. All sorts of small groups could perform there; but, again, as far as I can tell, it just sits there looking unkempt and a little seedy. I would hate to think that more green space would end up as underutilized as Willkie Park.
As a matter of fact, I can’t think of more than two new buildings that have been built in downtown Rushville in years, and one of those is currently vacant and for sale! There are two fundamental problems: First, nobody seems to be trying to market any of the unoccupied buildings as usable office space. Second, there is no coordinated effort to attract people to the central business district.
There is another way to approach this problem, and that’s to come up with a plan to acquire and renovate buildings that could be used for office or living space. Hopefully, that will be an outcome of the Dream Walk. All sorts of second-floor space still can be found all over downtown Rushville. Most of it is dusty and dingy, but it could be redone and made into great office or even living space; those are the only viable uses I can think of for vacant buildings. Second floor space actually could be made into up-scale two-story town houses.
The proof that what I’m suggesting can be accomplished is seen in the revitalization of downtown Indianapolis. Many young professional families are moving into the renovated townhouses near downtown. And with the young families come more restaurants, shops, and first floor retail enterprises. Let’s hope the outcome of the Dream Walk reflects more renovation and utilization than it does demolition.
That’s -30- for this week.