Downtown…la dee da da-da-da…Posted: April 3, 2007
Much has been reported lately about the revitalization of our downtown area. Like most of my town’s citizens, I’m used to hearing this reported in the news, and reading about it in the paper.
For me, it’s been like an ebb and flow of hope and disappointment, so much so that I’m to the point of thinking, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
I don’t say this to insult anyone who might be working on this project. I’m sure there are people with good intentions. But until I see some real benefits to the city as a whole, something I can see and experience for myself, I’m reserving my enthusiasm. Hopefully, we won’t be let down this time.
I’m just old enough to remember trekking down to Polk street with my mother and grandmother for some shopping, or to lunch upstairs at Blackburn’s with my dad, who worked at the telephone office at 10th and Tyler. I remember my first escalator, it was in the Fedway department store. There was Woolworth’s, Kress, The Hub, Colberts, The State and Paramount theaters. Back then, going downtown was exciting. But it was most thrilling at Christmastime, when there was a fabulous display of garlands, lighted and strung across the street and sparkly Christmas trees fastened to each light pole. And the community Christmas tree was a REAL one.
Polk Street was a popular place for generations of people to cruise on the weekends, though by the time I was old enough to go, the practice was banned because of the rise in crime.
Now, I go downtown, and it is full of . . . not much. There are some businesses here and there, a decent restaurant or two, professional offices, but not many things that draw the citizens of Amarillo as a whole. Mostly, what I see is a thoroughfare that is dwarfed by ghost-like buildings, and tormented by the echoes of what used to be. The old Herring Hotel moulders away and the derelict Barfield Building stands there like a giant ogre, seeming to growl, “get out of my downtown.”
Someone I know works at a business close to the interstate, and she tells me how often she has to cringe when someone traveling through asks if there is a place in town to go where the public mixes and mingles, somewhere a person new to our city can go and meet people. And what can my friend tell these travelers? The only place where the general public can go out to find some fun is at a bar. There’s no public area where people can go who aren’t interested in going to an establishment whose main focus is drinking and hooking up.
The odd block party here and there is usually successful. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have a permanent area that is friendly for the public as a whole? Somewhere we’d be proud to tell visitors to go? What if Polk Street, like for the block parties, between 10th and say, 6th or 8th became an area that was made for foot traffic only, with shops and restaurants, maybe an outdoor stage and a bookstore or two? Outdoor seating areas where people could sit and visit? An area where people could take their children to play, without worrying about vagrants approaching them? Maybe there could be an affordable area inside a building on the street that could be leased for various public events, such as workshops or parties?
It would be great to see something like that in our town. We have a rich heritage, and it is such a shame to let the downtown area become a neglected spectre of what it once was, and what it could be again.