Downtown Mall Celebrates Birthday

By: Elizabeth Donatelli
By: Elizabeth Donatelli

July 6, 2006

It is the 30th anniversary of the Downtown Mall and things are quite different now. The most obvious is the fact that you can sit, walk, and shop in the middle of the street -- but also that most businesses are much more successful today.

"It was a one-way street jammed with cars and all the ugly overhang signs and wires and it just was ugly," said Satyendra Huja the former Director of Planning.

But worse--business was dying.

"Something needed to be done. If we didn't do it, it would be a dead place," said Huja.

Many merchants, with the city's backing, made the radical decision to close the street.

"We needed something completely different to try to save downtown. It took a long time to get from where we were to where we are today," said former City Councilor and Mayor Charles Barbour.

Barbour was one of two City Councilors who could vote because the others had a conflict of interest. He voted in favor as did Mitch Van Yahres, but things didn't move as fast as they had hoped.

"Slow, very slow. There was some concern you know--did we make a mistake?" said Barbour.

Daytime traffic picked up, especially for restaurants.

"People were walking up and down, going out to lunch, but at 5 p.m. it was just dead. People just got in their cars and went home," said The Nook owner Terry Shotwell.

Thus birthed the idea for Fridays after Five, which Shotwell chaired for eight years.

"The crowds just got greater and greater and it was the place to be on Friday night. It was marvelous," said Shotwell.

Restaurants started seating outdoors, theaters and the ice park opened--which continue the make the mall busier in the evenings and on the weekends.

The original planners say it looks pretty much how they had hoped, but have a few suggestions, including adding a department store, public restrooms, and closing and paving the side-streets.

Even though the mall is busy after the work day, it is still pretty quiet on Sundays because many of the shops and restaurants are closed.

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