July 17, 2007

97 reroute no magic bullet

If the city of Redmond had a dollar for every time someone, individual or media source (including us) said the words ‘downtown revitalization’ in the last 30 years it could have possibly financed the repaving of Sixth Street on that funding source alone.

If Redmond had a dollar for every time the phrase ‘when the reroute is finished’ is uttered in a public place it could have purchased a fine oversized bronze statue of a rockchuck – official city mammal – for the south Y.

We are, to put it bluntly, putting all of our eggs in one mighty large basket.

You’d have to be blind, deaf and clueless to see downtown in its current state of end-to-end traffic congestion and not realize that it will be a lot quieter, cleaner, and more pleasant when through traffic is routed elsewhere.

But, then what?

If a giant spaceship landed tomorrow and beamed up all the traffic currently riding on Highway 97, what would you find downtown?

Probably the most atrocious arterial roads in any city west of the Rockies, empty storefronts side by side with thriving businesses, attractive buildings nestled next to marginal outfits that may or may not be there the next month. Just how is this going to transform itself magically into a bustling retail hub?

Well, it’s not.

The only thing that’s going to ‘revitalize’ downtown Redmond is hard work and innovation; the slight-of-hand removing the semi-trucks and lines of cars will just be icing on the cake.

We already know that it’s unlikely ODOT is going to pony up any funds to fix Fifth and Sixth streets after they’ve had their way with them and move onto the shinier, newer reroute. And it’s even less likely that any sugar daddy funding source is going to drop out of the sky with several million dollars in his pocket to help us fix our roads.

That leaves it up to us -- and the city has already said that repairs will probably be lengthy in time and small in scope, tiny bites out of a mother of an asphalt sandwich.

So, picture a downtown of sad little roads and a mixture of healthy and sick businesses and buildings. That’s what we’ll be left with when the ribbon is cut late in 2008 – not very different than today except it will have a lot less traffic cutting through it.

How can we alter that future? Maybe with a lot of sweat and a big dose of reality. If the city, the chamber of commerce, Redmond Economic Development, Redmond Downtown Partnership and investors work together to make it possible for owners to refurbish fading buildings and fill them with strong, vibrant businesses before the cars leave we may be able to change our fate.

Or not.

Convincing businessmen to invest in something that may not show much profit for years is a hard sell. “Buy a building in the center of Redmond (or open your business),” the pitch may be, “It’ll be great. In three or five or 10 years it’ll be the most popular place in town.”

See, this is our dilemma. A reroute is not a magic bullet. We still need to fix our streets, add more parking (or get better signage for what’s already available), lure more business and clean up our buildings.

Oh, and we need people. People would be good. As soon as we do this -- before we do this -- we need to start the task of rebranding Redmond’s downtown as the place to be so visitors who think only of Sisters or Bend will now think Redmond as well.

And don’t forget the locals. Retraining ingrained shopping habits is going to be a long, hard slog. That task could even begin now, with more concentrated, cohesive efforts by downtown businesses to market their sector to the people who live here. Ideally, by the time the ribbon is cut on the reroute everyone who calls Redmond home will be a regular in the city center.

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