Went to the "Fifth Tuesday" City Council meeting on downtown redevelopment tonight. Some random thoughts, in no particular order:
1. BlueprintPlus has 13 catalyst projects deemed the most important to move revitalization along, but much of the two-hour-plus meeting focused on only one, the new hotel, and only on one aspect, where to put it. The original site now occupied by Belmont Beverage? Or the site now preferred by planners, a few blocks further north on Harrison? First impression: Doesn't matter. Give the project (in one attendee's words) to the developer who will give the city the most hotel for the least amount of city money invested. Then let the developer pick the site, since that developer will know a lot more about what will make a hotel succeed or fail than anybody in the local planning process.
2. Anything we do -- especially those big projects -- will be pretty much a crap shoot; they might work in helping create a vibrant downtown, but they might not. Many of the same hopes we're now investing in the hotel and other projects were once invested in other projects that didn't quite work as advertised. "Can anyone show me?" one person asked, "all the restaurants and businesses we have downtown now because of the Holiday Inn and Hilton?"
3. It isn't the details of the plan that matter so much as the passion people bring to it. It was evident tonight -- and Dan Carmody, the new Downtown Improvement District director, picked up on it -- that there is a growing number of people committed to downtown and eager to get things done. Focusing on that reality, I hope, will keep the plan moving forward as we argue the merits of this or that portion of it. We shouldn't get sidetracked by disagreements of a single piece, like the hotel, and just end up with another grand idea collecting dust on a shelf.
4. But the plan should be seen as organic, not set in stone. Councilman Tim Pape seemed a little defensive to me in arguing that the plan is a whole that must be advanced in total lest it all fall apart. After all, he said, we had 600 very bright, dedicated people who helped get us to this point. Are we going to start questioning them? Well, yes. As someone else pointed out (I think it was Councilman John Crawford), those 600 people represent one-quarter of 1 percent of the 250,000 people who have a stake in this. BlueprintPlus is the result of a great public-input process, but that doesn't mean we stop getting public input. A dynamic downtown will come from a dynamic plan, and that means one open to change based on new ideas.
5. What is it we want downtown to be exactly? Ask 100 people, and you'll likely get 100 answers, but common to all of them, I think, is the idea of a gathering place where people just feel comfortable hanging out and seeing other people doing the same thing. You see builders trying to create this atmosphere everywhere. Go to Glenbrook and walk down the middle -- all of those stores on either side of you; that's meant to feel like a Main Street. Go to Jefferson Pointe and look at the courtyard area out back; that's like a town square. I visited an upscale shopping-destination center on the outskirts of Indianapolis recently that took it another step. It was designed to look like a small town, with side streets and everything. We have a lot of such gathering places in town -- all over the place. As the town spread out, we lost the one big gathering place in the middle. If we have no core, we have less of an identity as a city.
That's enough for now, probably. I'll think about the meeting some more and write a lead editorial about it for Thursday's paper. Send me your thoughts. I'd love to make them a part of the editorial. If downtown plans are to succeed, the public discussion of them needs to be a continuous process.