Back before I knew what a Blog was, I was in town and trying to do economic development. I was introduced to a local downtown business activist, our blogging buddy - Dave More. Our meeting was about 6 months before the last mayor's race between Brad and Maggie and took place at Quatro's Pizza.
I don't know how many of you have met Dave in person, but he is fit, stringy even and somewhere between my mid-40's and 55 in age. He arrived wearing a nice hat and jacket set, kind of sophisticated look for Carbondale. At the time he was sporting a Shakespeare like goatee, but he likely plagiarized the look. :)
He wanted to talk about redevelopment of downtown Carbondale. He had seen my Angel Investor attempts, including the first Southern Angel's Business Plan contest and thought I might be willing to plow some money into downtown. The problem with developing the Carbondale Main Street area, is that someone owns all the buildings already and they want to keep them. There was nothing to buy, but plenty of open buildings.
I'm going to run down the situation in downtown, before the last mayor's race, from memory. Fell free to let me know where I messed up -
The little building south of Harbaugh's was empty (the people who are there now, were in the second half of Harbaugh's), the building where Bookworld and that Discount Tee-shirt shop are, only had Bookworld. The building that had Kaia now (the old McDonald's) was empty. The old pool hall that has the marginal furniture store was empty, one (or was it two?) of the little houses, that John K owns, was empty. The building on the corner of Illinois and Mill was empty (now Attitude Designs). The old Checkers drive though was for sale at a stupid price and empty. The spot where Gumby's sits now in the 710 building was a post office store, that was out of business right then (but we know what space will rent, they have parking). The Bubble Tea spot was empty. There is a Tee-shirt shop that is owned by the place in Murphy right there, but I think it was in business too. The big spot on Illinois of the Campus Shopping Center was empty, now a sun tanning place. There was an opening or two in that weird strip mall where New Kahalla Garden has a double wide storefront. The Corner Dinner had just opened. The Doctor's office on the corner of College and Illinois was semi-active then. The old Papa C's building (now a law office) just West of Illinois on College was empty. The American Tap was standing and the drug users were pan handling in front of it 24/7. The Varsity Theater was still open, but hasn't been maintained in years (the springs on the chairs were pretty uncomfortable). Everything up the strip going North was pretty much the same, except the old Merlin's Building was for sale and empty, it is now that doggie day care place. The old Tokyo Restaurant building was for sale and empty, now Nights over Egypt.
If you turned right on 13 and headed East on Walnut from 51. The first corner had the old Dairy plant that had the somewhat dysfunctional Motorcycle shop, a detail shop and Southern Recycling. The other corners had the old cleaning plant without a roof and trees growing inside, a set of orange buildings by IV's and an abandon bank drive through building. Continuing down the street, there were a collection of scummy houses, mostly falling down and unloved. A motel that had a claim to fame of hosting an early sex website in the rooms. Where the two auto part stores sit now, there were empty buildings and/or little falling down houses. The paint store was there and Taco Bell, Wendy's, Walgreen's and the Loan shark across the street was there.
As you came back from the Mall on Main, most things are the same. Because these locations were built much later, they work better for the auto based world American as become. Of course the old school was empty then, but owned by the Short MickyD's people.
As you turned West on 13 from 51, things were pretty much as they are today. The Westside is a better place to locate a lawyer or accountant's professional office. Of course, the Hardies was still in business, so that is a loss for the town. Murdale had several open store fronts, but nothing major (they have parking too). Some of the marginal locations were empty or full and are now full or empty, kind of the cycle of life in old gas station kind of locations.
I told Dave at the time, there was nothing much to be down by the two of us in downtown. We discussed the American Tap (Dave is a cheap guy and thought the price was too high for his blood). I had the pleasure of informing Dave which buildings Henry Fisher owned and how there was no chance he was going to be a good owner.
Isn't it interesting what a difference four years makes? A small TIF district and the worst of the blight of the main street area was eliminated. Got rid of the crack house in downtown and every single store front has a business in it, granted that a few have failed and now sit empty.
Dave did something, he started a bike to work day and worked on the farmer's market for downtown. He has been involved with lots of other ideas too, some good and some not as successful. I think he has had a good 4 years. I started a website company that employs 4 or 5 full-time and 4 part-time people, we are even doing well now.
The business districts of the city outside of the Mall area are doing very well, it isn't perfect, but better then you might have hoped back then. The Carbondale Main Street people should be really proud, they really did it.
People who care, capitalism and government setting the table have turned Carbondale's downtown around in just 4 years. Hard work, correct decisions and smarts, teaming with our American capitalist system have resulted in a great improvement in Carbondale.
Is this luck? Lucky, like Chris Lowery, Ed Benyas and Salah Mohammad. Isn't it interesting how superstars create their own luck?
To me results matter and Carbondale's results are fantastic in this area.
Your comments are welcome.