Wednesday, June 06, 2007

NYC, Corvallis, Panera - what do they have that Carbondale doesn't?

The Mrs. and I were on the West Coast a couple of weeks ago and were in Corvallis, OR on a Friday night. Corvallis still has an old fashioned downtown, having kept the big boxes and malls out of town mostly (no sale tax in Oregon, so no tax loss for the city. The new Home Depot is packed though.), that is away from the university and off the state highway. The downtown was packed with people. They were riding bikes, walking, eating on tables outside the restaurants, having a beer. The mix of people seemed to be about 70% adults and 30% college students. It was a pleasant scene.

I was asking myself, why Carbondale isn't like this? A friend of mine has been telling me for years, that what Carbondale needs is tables on the sidewalks, to generate a reason to walk around. Give the downtown a feeling, like you should be there and not at the mall.

I was at Panera the other day and realized that they have the right idea. They have enough parking nearby, tables to sit outside if the weather is nice, no smoking inside, and a menu that isn't just the same boring stuff I can cook at home. Going to Panera is like walking down 2nd Street in Corvallis, except Corvallis has 20 places like Panera, all in a few blocks.

I have already written about the unfortunate placement of Carbondale's main business districts on the state highways, often mixed with small lots, railroad tracks and student housing. It turns out that the state laws governing what you can do on the sidewalks near a state highway, doesn't allow most Carbondale businesses to take over the sidewalks. For that matter, who wants to eat a nice dinner, 10 feet from large numbers of trucks going by at 40 MPH?

Glenn Poshard's master plan for SIU had an idea for taking over Popular St. in years past, between 13 and SIU for a new shopping district. This seems like a really nice idea, get a place to do business that isn't on the main drag and build a street scene for walkers and pleasant commerce.

I see an opportunity to do a nice mixed use shopping and living area, on the old high school sport fields that has been in the news lately. The owners of that property, have intelligently bought a couple of abandoned buildings on Hwy 13, and now have access to 8 acres of R-8 zoned land from the main drag. My suggestion is that they build a nice strip mall on that land in front, with outdoor seating, a latte shop, an ice cream (gelato would be better) shop, a place that sells a Cuban sandwich and other fancy fare, a nice bar and a few other places with class. Build a second floor (or even third) on that building for condos or rentals, then build the back with a neighborhood of closely packed houses. Just imagine, that could be nice. To do it right, there would need to be a zoning change, capturing some of the residential land and converting it into business, but it would be nice for everyone if it was done well.

My suggestion is that the citizens of Carbondale start to decide how they want the city to look and working changing their city for the better. I know the zoning rules just took the world as it was in 1974 and don't allow anything to change, but maybe it is time to reexamine zoning in Carbondale in the modern world? Everyone else is doing it, why not Carbondale too? This is too important to trust to random luck.

If this hits the fan, I'll be down eating a slice and having a gelato on 2nd Street in Corvallis. Maybe after a few years, I might even know someone while I do it?

Of course, your comments are welcome.


dave said...

Great post, Peter. One of your best. If you continue blogging in Corvallis (and I hope you do), you'll know plenty of people before long.

Peter in Carbondale said...

Saving the good stuff for the end. I have been doing a lot of woodworking and it give you time to think as you run unlimited boards through our plainer. :)

Thanks Dave.

Sam W. Clyde said...

Questions and Comments
What do we do with all of buildings that will be empty on Illinois Avenue and the hundreds of closed businesses after Peter's new modern mall goes in on Poplar Street?
How do we keep the Arbor District happy with their new commercial neighbor? (CVS?)
How do we deal with the preservation commission who undoubtly will not want "historic" homes torn down?
Whose money pray tell will build this dream?
I am not trying to be negative but realistic and practical.
All of the places you mention have many more people, cooler weather overall, and people with more money.
Why not move the highway and reclaim Carbondale's downtown.
Make Illinois Avenue two way.
Put tables on the sidewalks, of course someone will need to keep the homeless out of them. Instead of spending money on new buildings let invest in the buildings that exist.
The idea that Poshard wants the City to be the gateway to his University just isn't sitting well with me.
I thought you were against building shiney new buildings to fix perceived problems? (Saluki Way, Morris Library)
What do you think your idea would do to your favorite lunch hangout?
Have you changed perspectives or are you going for a reaction?

Anonymous said...

Take Dave with you

Peter in Carbondale said...

Sam -

You have been in Southern Illinois too long (now I remember, you are clueless based on past comments. Well, for a moment I'll assume you want an answer.). SIU can't afford Saluki Way and it doesn't enhance the universities mission, so I don't like it. If the current businesses go away from "The Strip," something else will spring up there. I like bypassing 51 around the strip, but there is a little problem about Illinois funding. Hundred's of businesses?

Are you really worried about Quatro's? Steve can take care of himself, it is the weaker sisters who get killed when better solutions come into town.

The private money is there, there is more money then you can imagine in the USA providing services to our hungry consumers. The current owners of that land have the money to develop it and make nice profit too. The question isn't if they have the money, the question is will they do a good job of it?

Let's face it, for most of the Sheila gang, any change doesn't sit well and this is a discussion of some big changes. Imagine rethinking things to make them better?

You think I have ever not been for change and improvement? I have written lots in this blog, can you remember none of it?

At least you are consistent, a thread of intelligence and no clue surrounding it.

Saluki87 said...

Some good ideas here. Seems like I recall a plan long ago for a US 51 bypass, which would be great on all sorts of levels although maybe not practical now. Have you ever been to Ann Arbor? Their walk-around comm. area near UMich is terrific. Same with Madison's. It's not impractical to develop something like that here, perhaps more modest. We have a climate that will allow us to take advantage of outdoor sitting, eating, etc. Could be great for the citizens and students (think recruitment!). Mayor Cole seems to think big so maybe he'll initiate something.

The Beer Philosopher said...

Terrific post, Peter. Change is a scary thing to most, and radical change such as you propose will certainly raise an eyebrow or two among the "status quo" crowd in Carbondale. So be it.

I only wish we had a committed group of folks with vision, such as yourself, who could take up this mantle and do something with it. Forgive me if I sound jaded, but I don't see it happening. It's fun to dream, though, isn't it.

If I get too fed up with the regressive thinking and lack of motivation exemplified by many here in So Il, can I seek a brief respite in Corvallis with you over a nice gelato and Belgian Lambic?

Anonymous said...

East Jackson St. and N. Marion St. would be a much better location for this sort of thing. It's a walkable distance from campus. Now that the co-op is out of there, that area seems headed in the opposite direction.

Anonymous said...

I am constantlly faced with people who insist there is nothing to here. I am going to start asking them what they would be interested in doing. My guess is many will not be prepared with an answer, they are just spewing a negative attitude without much thought behind it.
I on the other hand am completely surprised when there is an evening or weekend that I do not have the choice or the obligation to attend any number of events, social gatherings or performances. I believe that it is the mind set of some people who really are not looking, will not try new things and do not care what is available. I would consider these people "status quo", their attitude is "there nothing to do but complain".
On the other hand once people start dreaming we always get to the monorail running around the town and campus. I would like a reasonable and enticing plan for the city that considers the positions of the business community, the residential community, the University and our children. People who only choose to dream are frustrated by the practicalities of the real world.
I do embrace change but with realistic goals.
Get off your blogs and volunteer to sit on one of Brad Cole's commissions so that your ideas are heard by someone who can do something with your ideas.
If your ideas are implemented you should state your appreciation.
Even if it is not exactly what you want.

Peter in Carbondale said...

I forgot, Shawn please do come and visit if you find yourself in the area. My wife always needs someone to drink with, since I don't drink.

I was trying to figure out if we have ever met in person?

Peter in Carbondale said...

Personally, I'm on the commissions and SIU advisory boards already, but it is a good idea to do something beside complain in hyperspace. I complain in person too. ;)

Anonymous said...

The reason you don't see students and others sitting and dining on the sidewalks in Carbondale is because of the no encrochment ordinance that the city has. There are signs on Illinois Ave. that basically say, "Move On. You are not welcome here." You can see these signs in front of the Corner Diner and El Greco. It is enforced only on college students. The bums, however, have free reign of our campus shopping area 24/7.