GALVESTON — Two issues should be considered as part of any revitalization plan for downtown Galveston:
1. Businesses derive a great deal of benefit from the cache of being associated with a marquee street whether they are located on it or not.
Why should Galveston settle for a generic and mundane name like ”Downtown Galveston” when it could be officially designated ”The Strand Historic District?”
2. Management districts bring the art of modern retailing and centralized management to downtown and neighborhood shopping districts. There is little chance the changes necessary to make The Strand Historic District consistently profitable can be implemented without this structure to manage the process.
Business and building owners need to decide whether they are willing to establish and fund a management district.
What are the most important problems that need to be solved by any revitalization plan?
Public Restrooms: Shopping centers don’t expect many customers if they don’t supply public restrooms. Retail business in The Strand Historic District cannot expand and flourish without them. Ideally there should be restrooms at either end of The Strand and at least one on Postoffice Street.
Security: Customers often perceive downtowns as being unsafe; especially at night. Therefore they need to be clean and well lit. Litter or a grimy look is a sign of disorder that suggests a lack of safety. The premiere shopping districts clean their streets and power-wash their sidewalks every morning.
Well-kept building fronts manicured and healthy landscaping and clean streets and sidewalks suggest to shoppers that high-quality merchandise is for sale in the district. Poor conditions indicate just the opposite.
Such activities as panhandling vagrancy loitering and skateboarding also are signs of chaos and danger. Downtowns need to eliminate these problems and provide a constant visible security presence.
A significant amount of retail sales now occur in the evenings so downtowns must forgo their Victorian lighting schemes in favor of modern lights to bring the shoppers back. Streetlights must be bright enough for customers to feel safe and building facade and landscape lighting add to the appeal of the nighttime shopping experience. Retailers need to keep their window displays lit at night; even when closed. It is good advertising and further enhances the ”energy” on the streets and sidewalks and interest in the storefronts.
Marketing: The Strand Historic District needs a significant marketing budget and a coordinated effort to be successful. Funding can come from parking revenues and a portion of the management’s self-assessment.
Cast Iron: The Strand Historic District contains 33 buildings with cast-iron in their structures that was severely damaged by Hurricane Ike. Many are the premiere buildings in the district. Does it make sense to invest taxpayer’s money in the district before this problem is addressed? If some of these trophy buildings begin to fail it could severely undermine public investment made in the district.
Does the Ewert plan address these issues? At this point we don’t know.
The next time you face a life-and-death decision regarding your health if your doctor is insulted when you want a second opinion; find a new doctor. Before this city agrees to spend $72.4 million on this plan; it needs a second opinion
David Stanowski is a co-founder of the Galveston Open Government Project.