Assessed from afar

Assessed From Afar

Roger Brooks has no dog in the hunt which could be termed “What To Do With Downtown Madison, IN.” He’s a professional consultant who came in here, Madison previously unseen by him, and gave us his assessment of our city last week in a public meeting. As such, we should listen to him, whatever our initial tendency is.

In brief, Brooks said, our town has huge potential as a tourist magnet — but we’re not fulfilling that potential, in terms of accommodating tourists, making it easy for them to reach the parts of our city that they most wish to visit, or being consistent and convenient for them with our business hours.

Item: Parking along Main Street downtown (not in a parking lot, but in front of the businesses.) I think Mr. Brooks was misinformed by someone about the year Main was widened to four lanes — it was after 1958, because angled parking can be seen in the movie “Some Came Running.” But several senior citizens I have talked with insist it was before 1969, as Brooks said. I’d say early ’60s.

But the year isn’t that important. What is, is that what the city fathers of that day thought was a modern advance for the city — widening its main drag — has really made it easier for people to drive right on through the downtown en route to somewhere else. Many vehicles move through the downtown in the course of a day, but most of them are passing through, heading elsewhere. And with four lanes, they can travel faster. Brooks was right: If people have to go a little more slowly, they’re more apt to notice businesses and other attractions and want to visit them. And angled parking instead of the present parallel type might increase the number of spaces available downtown by as much as 50 percent.

Item: Downtown businesses tend to be unpredictable and inconsistent with their hours. If people can’t easily pin down when you’re going to be open, they’ll go somewhere else. Some downtown business people will tell you they close at 5 p.m. or aren’t open six or seven days a week because “there’s no business downtown anyway.” Aside from the fact that this is a negative, self-defeating attitude, it raises this question: Is there “no business” because people don’t come downtown; or do they not come downtown because they know most of the stores are closed after five? Remember, Brooks said that 70 percent of all consumer and visitor spending takes place after 6 p.m. That’s a lot of business lost because the “Closed” sign is up. And Brooks said those “Closed” signs are a bad business move psychologically.

Item: Landscaping downtown is much needed to make the area more inviting to both tourists and locals. The city already is making a start on a remedy for that situation, with a landscaped area put in place in front of Madison Mercentile this week and more scheduled. Kudos to whoever had that idea; let’s hope the new administration follows through. Nearly everyone likes to see pleasant trees, flowers and grassy areas — including in downtown areas, where they relieve what can be the stark appearance of storefronts, sidewalks and streets.

Item: Our merchants should keep in mind that the baby boomers are starting to retire in their millions now — and they like to travel at any time of the week — not just Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Making efforts to accommodate this might help relieve some of the weekend rush, weekday drag that often plagues our downtown.

These are a few of the things Brooks pointed out to us. If our response to him is typical of Madisonians, it will be something along the lines of, “What does he know about Madison? Who the heck is he telling us how to run our town?” and so forth. But let’s try to keep our minds open to what I think were some good suggestions by this consultant who had no dog in our municipal hunt, but who looked around and made what could be some useful suggestions.

Brooks said one of the first things people wonder about businesses when they come into a downtown is, “Are you open?” The same question could be applied to our minds: “Are we open” to some new ideas?

Old Corporal <corporalko@yahoo.com>

Assessed from afar, – Sunday, April 20, 2008 at 18:43:50 (EDT)

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