I was reading Rockford Registers Stars article about downtown revamps, and it prompted me to write a response. Here are some of my thoughts.
About removing downtown pedestrian mall, it seems to make no sense to remove it.
1. It would be an unnecessary expensealready spent taxpayers money installing it.
2. All the talk about beautification of the city. Here it already exists. Our downtown mall is lovely and inviting already with its circular floral containers and many trees. It invites downtown workers to enjoy sitting at the picnic tables on nice, spring, summer, and fall days to eat their lunch. It shows the downtown visitors to MetroCentre an inviting place to walk around. Yesterday, Friday, Aug. 21, the pedestrian mall was crowded with visitors from the Jehovahs Witness convention. They were milling about, eating lunch at the picnic tables, enjoying the outdoor food at Octane. It was good for downtown. They were smiling and talking. I talked to several visitors, and they felt it would be a shame to eliminate such a refreshing and beautiful asset to our city. Chris Wachowiak of Kryptonite took many photos demonstrating the crowds yesterday. If it were again a street, where would the crowds have gone?
3. Most large cities have one-way streets circling their downtown business districts. We already have an efficient loop of Wyman, Jefferson, Church and Walnut to move traffic around downtown. I find it moves quickly and easily, and utilize it whenever I am downtown. It is faster and more efficient than State Street. Opening Main Street. would only slow down the entrance and exit to Metro Centre. The parking garages downtown entrances on Wyman, Church, Walnut and State streets see no benefit in opening up the mall. When I visited Calgary Canada, a few years ago, I saw all their downtown streets are one-way and they focus on their assets.
4. Utilize your asset. Last year, there was an outstanding display of local artists sculptures. Make that a regular event. Add sculptures to the mix. It would beautify and attract visitors. Everyone I talked to loved the sculptures. Be like Chicago and have a sculpture contest and display the art, get visitors downtown. Have a contest.
5. Re-instate the summer lunch hour music programs on the mall. People love to sit out on the mall at Octane and River District Café at lunch and Octane in the evening. People are always using the patio on good days. Kryptonites patio has been a huge success in the evenings. It draws people to downtown.
6. Encourage downtown bars and restaurants to use the mall for joint ventures such as Block Five held on East State, which means closing down a street. The mall is already there, so you would not need to close down a street. Let it be utilized. Listen to the businesses already downtown. Give them some room to develop strategies to bring people downtown. If they could hold weekly or monthly events on the mall, it would mean more revenue for the city, more business downtown. Think outside the box and try new paradigms.
7. Allow existing downtown businesses to freely advertise their business on the downtown kiosks. Allow them innovations in advertising on their buildings.
8. MetroCentre often blocks off Main Street for loading and unloading touring acts, conventions, and also utilizes it as extension of the Metro Centre so opening the mall to traffic would still be impeded.
9. Promote the building of a downtown hotel convention center rather than more hotels/motels on East State Street corridor. East State Street has many developers with money turning it into another version of Schaumburg and Woodfield, creating congestion and detracting from the beauty of Rockford. Peoria has its Pere Marquette and Holiday Inn. Why doesnt Rockford have a major hotel downtown? What is Mayor Scott doing to lure a hotel convention center downtown? Our State Square Dance convention was held consistently in Peoria because it had two major hotels downtown within walking distance of its convention center. It would be an asset in marketing acts and conventions to book at the Metro Centre. Let Sunil Puri and his cohorts develop the State Street/Perryville/Riverside area with their millions of dollars and spend taxpayer money on downtown Rockford. Otherwise, we will continue to lose our assets to Loves Park. Keep our assets here and build on them.
10. A downtown hotel could boast of its assets for out-of-town visitors: downtown restaurants (among the best), local night clubs as good as any in Chicago or New York, Jane and the Discovery Center, New American theater, Coronado, MetroCentre.
11. River District needs to encourage its downtown businesses to consolidate in their advertising such as the innovative billboard coalition of Kryptonite/Bacchus/Carlisle Brewing Co.
12. Utilize the trolley from late April through October to connect downtown with the east side. Have regular shuttle in evenings on Friday & Saturday nights from East State St/Tollway hotels along State Street to Church Street. It would open up the entire State St. corridor businesses from Clock Tower on. It would help both the east side and downtown. Businesses such as Giovannis, Applebees, Old Chicago, Shooters, Oscars, Linos/ Excalibur and then Big Cities, Irish Rose, Bacchus, Paragon, Kryptonite, Swilligans, etc. Win/win for everybody.
13. If not trolley from tollway to downtown, then trolley around downtown area 6th Street to Church. People show they want such a service at events such as Pub Crawls. It is used. Other successful communities make transportation available to get downtown to the nightlife. We can be better than Peoria and the other river cities that capitalize on their assets. Our downtown along the river is becoming attractive. I remember what an eyesore the riverfront was when I first moved here 29 years ago from the Chicago area. I used to think that Chicago was the option for top food and entertainment. That is no longer the case. Rockford is the place.
14. We should promote ourselves as the alternative to Chicago. Our restaurants are as good. Our nightlife (Kryptonite, etc.) and our entertainment is top notch-Coronado, Starlight, New American Theater, Rockford Symphony, Rockford Community Concert series. Our prices are affordable, no traffic congestion, free or inexpensive parking, easy parking.
Kathleen Wachowiak is a Rockford resident.