Wednesday, June 6, 2007

If You Build It, They Will Come

Strikeslip has some thoughts on the proposed Varick Street development plan in Utica.

It is good that city leaders are thinking of ways to improve city life, particularly on Varick Street which is developing as a center of social activity of sorts. Certainly the creation of off-street parking and wireless internet will enhance the street as a destination.

But actually closing Varick Street is a bad idea.

While wanting to make Varick Street a destination, city leaders must be careful not to destroy its function as an important traffic artery. If that function is destroyed, it may actually make Varick Street less desirable as a destination because of the complications in getting to, from, and around there. And planting trees in the middle of the closed off portion of Varick Street will create a barrier effect, visually cutting the remainder of the street off from the Finish Line Shops area on the other side of Court Street, essentially dividing the neighborhood into two areas that will be less able to support each other.

I'm not nearly as optimistic about this proposal as he is, and that's saying a lot. I think it's another example of Utica's inane Tinkerbell approach to development, as in "If we all wish hard enough, it'll work!"

Dreams can, indeed, come true, but you don't spend millions of tax dollars on a development program built on good vibes and happy thoughts. Unfortunately, Utica has a track record of doing exactly that. Boston Store, anyone? Hotel Utica? The Shoppes Downtown? Hope VI? All grandiose projects, fueled by millions of dollars in public funds, that turned into embarrassing public failures.

Does Varick Street have the potential to be more than a bar district? You bet it does, and that's why the city needs to take a step back and build a solid plan for the area instead of throwing money at it. The citizens of the city are rightly skeptical of yet another pie-in-the-sky development fiasco. They need to be won over with a well documented strategy for development that features a detailed cost/benefit analysis, benchmarks for success, an integrated marketing plan, and, most importantly, a detailed write-up of who's accountable for every part of the projects success.

Oh, and every elected official that's even remotely involved with this idea should be forced to watch the monorail episode of the Simpsons. That would go a long way toward making sure Varick Street doesn't turn into an even more expensive version of the Worlds Largest Watering Can at the Zoo.