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.