Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year's Downtown: the Good, Better & Ugly

Posted By on December 30, 2011, 12:30 PM

On the brink of January 1, we may have to face it. After the final pop of EVE's fireworks, downtown life may return to normal, which is to say "crickets." --- It's hard to believe that for at least a month, the sidewalks have been lousy with humanity, just like in a real downtown. TRAX trains, bars, cafes and theaters have been similarly besieged by humankind, and this is a good thing.

What is better is this: The Gallivan Plaza holiday lights and skating rink. They're really something to see -- better than what the rest of downtown is offering (although the Grand America's striking white lights bear mention), especially when you factor in the indigo-blue tree lights along Main Street. Music from the skating rink wafts throughout the plaza and out on to Main Street. It's been inviting and pleasant.

The Gallivan's quirky little encampment of Occupyers with their Quonset-hut shaped tents is yet another new downtown dynamic. We've got Occupyers actually occupying downtown in what is so often a dead zone.

And the ugly? While not ugly per se, the Main Street institution known as Sam Weller's Bookstore is no more. Owner Tony Weller has been moving the store's inventory to his new store in Trolley Square this past week and will reopen in early January as Weller Book Works, ending yet another chapter of downtown-merchant life.

One thing Weller won't miss is the sight of parking-enforcement weasels citing his customers' cars for expired meters. That's been ugly, especially at this time of year when parking is supposed to be "free,"a "gift" from the mayor and the city council. Visitors drive into town, park at a meter with a colorful wrap and a bow telling them parking is free, and head out to take in a show or eat, drink, and be merry. When they return to their cars a few hours later, it's a total buzz kill. They have a $15 ticket for parking beyond the two-hour limit.

A City Weekly freelancer pulled into an alcove on Main Street across from our offices waiting for me to run down (we were going to the Leonardo). While she was in her vehicle, with her engine running, she was ticketed for stopping in the pullout and for having expired plates -- $50 in that fine, assuming she pays it on time.

Only a few more days for those ubiquitous parking gendarmes to buzz around the blocks in their jeeps, sometimes two to a block, to aggressively enforce the two-hour limit, then off come the wraps to usher in a new era of digital parking control. The new machines cost more to operate, so brace yourself for higher parking rates, longer hours of enforcement and more hoops to jump through to fight a parking ticket.

In future years, I beg the mayor and city council to simply forget the "gift" of free parking. It's a ruse, and it lulls people into a false sense of security. They're better off paying to park and being mindful that their meters are ticking.

City fathers should tread carefully with their grandiose parking-meter schemes. Yes, people will continue to drive downtown if they have to, for a Jazz game or a show, and of course to behold the Mormon Mall of America, but the key is to attract people downtown "just because." Make it a hassle, and they'll proudly and even spitefully continue spending their dough at Fashion Place Mall and on Amazon.com.

Happy, you know, Año Nuevo!

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