Long-term vision needed for downtown

Mother’s Day is always a good time to talk about vision and emotion. It’s an opportunity for looking back on fond memories and remembering the deep emotions we hold concerning our moms. For those of us who have lost our moms, it’s especially good to reflect on the wonderful things she taught us and the guidance she gave that shaped us into who we are today. Who we are is large part of our mother’s legacy.

In my most recent article I quoted a paper written by Christopher Leinberger, a leading urban planner. In it, he explains that research shows that suburban developers have better financial returns in the short-term, but downtown developers have substantially better returns in the mid- to long-term.

Leinberger goes on to state that one of the reasons for superior urban returns is that downtown revitalization has “memory, and the emotion it unleashes.”

“Memory and emotion are surprisingly powerful assets that have always had a hidden impact on the tough, bottom-lined real estate business,” Leinberger writes, “Emotion is the reason we generally overpay and over-improve our homes Emotion is why we create great civic structures, such as city halls, performance halls, arenas and museums. Emotion is the reason great historic buildings are renovated, even though the cost of renovation is usually greater than tearing down and building a new building.”

However, Leinberger warns of the two major challenges that can derail many downtown revitalization projects. First is the skeptic who says, “I haven’t been downtown in 20 years and have no reason or desire to go there ever in the future.” The second is if there has been a recent (within 20 years) failure of a previous attempt at downtown revitalization. It’s called the “we tried that once and it did not work” mindset.

Leinberger states that it takes a full generation to get over the collapse of a revitalization effort. It also takes the injection of fresh leadership.

As you consider this, I want to emphasize what’s at stake if we don’t revitalize downtown. Young people. Cities with vibrant downtowns have a better shot of recruiting or retaining young people or what is being called the “creative class.” Cities without vibrant downtowns don’t.

If we don’t have a vibrant downtown, we don’t have a chance of recruiting or retaining the 20-year-olds. Why would they come or stay in a place without the lifestyle options they want? A purely suburban, car-dominated metropolitan area is at a competitive disadvantage for economic growth

Our community needs a vision, and here’s one for you. If we build a vibrant, walkable, entertainment-centric, livable downtown, we will attract more young people. Period. More young engineers, more young bankers and accountants, more young people for the insurance companies, hospitals, hotels, restaurants, etc., etc. Maybe even some of our own children will be able to raise their children next to their grandma’s. Now that would be a great Mother’s Day gift.

Come see me. I’ll be in the lounge.


Cecil Childress is General Manager of the Blennerhassett Hotel and Chairman of Downtown PKB.