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The Downtown Dilemma
by David Stanowski
21 April 2010

The conventional criticism of downtown merchants is they don't agree among themselves, because they don't really know what they want. This serves as the perfect excuse for City Hall to ignore their needs, problems, and complaints. "If they don't speak with one uniform voice; we can't possibly deal with them." This apparent problem could largely be rectified if one simple fact was acknowledged; "Downtown Galveston" is an arbitrary designation that serves no useful purpose!

In reality, there are two separate and very distinct commercial districts within this area that have very different visions for the use of their areas that come into conflict on a fairly frequent basis. The obvious solution is to allow each commercial district to pursue its own vision independent of the other district. The first commercial district was formed by the creation of
"The Strand National Historic Landmark District" in 1976. It encompasses the area bounded by Harborside, Ship's Mechanic, 20th Street, and 25th Street. The other district includes 23rd through 20th on Postoffice.

The Strand Mechanic National Historic Landmark District
(aka Strand Historic District) does not seek to become another Bourbon Street, but it does see its future as an entertainment district that includes an energetic nightlife in its bars, clubs, and restaurants that compliments its retail offerings. In addition, it wants to host numerous festivals and special events ranging from Dickens to Mardi Gras to the Lonestar Rally to the Reenactment of the Battle of Galveston. On the other hand, Postoffice Street has "successfully" "rid itself of bars" from 23rd to 21st Street. It is also a district that does not look favorably on events like Mardi Gras and the Lonestar Rally, so why does the pretense continue that these two commercial districts should be forced together into an unhappy shotgun marriage labeled "Downtown Galveston" for the convenience of City Hall, and a few others?  

It is time for this to end, and to let one group represent the merchants in the 
Strand Historic District, and another represent Postoffice Street. When they have common interests, they can work together. At other times, they should simply pursue their own interests separately, and their representatives can report the views of each district to City Hall.

Finally, both of these districts desperately need to become management districts. If this process is approached as two separate management districts, it is much more likely to be successful than the wishful thinking for one big downtown management district.

Public Restrooms:
How many premiere commercial districts attempt to "get by" with no public restrooms? How much business is lost everyday, because customers refuse to come to an area with no public restrooms, or they do arrive, but just get fed up and leave? 

It is difficult to know how this situation evolved in this way, but what matters now is how can it be rectified. It is probably not appropriate to use money from the general fund to build public restrooms, but HOT and 4B tax moneys are earmarked for tourist areas, and to promote tourism. That is the first possibility. In addition, the City could explore the availability of grant money, including Hurricane Ike recovery funds. The reason that City Hall has never been concerned about this deplorable situation, is their blatant anti-business attitude!

The most likely place to build public restrooms would be in the parking lots at 25th and Strand and 21st and Strand, as well as 21st and Postoffice. Since it may take two years before the process
that will culminate in the construction of permanent public restrooms can run its course, it is important that some temporary trailer-based units be purchased and installed as quickly as possible to mitigate the problems caused by lack of facilities.

These trailer-based units feature toilets and sinks with running water, and do not run off customers like the foul-smelling and unsightly port-a-potties do.

Connecting with the Cruise Ship Terminal:
Galveston is not a port-of-call, so ships do not arrive at our port and discharge a boat load of people with money to spend in the local businesses. This means that the primary opportunity to generate more business is by making it easy for passengers, who are waiting to depart from the cruise ship terminal, to access the Strand Historic District and Postoffice Street.

Either customer-friendly ground level walkways need to be built, the 25th Street pedestrian overhead walkway needs to be repaired and reopened, or shuttle buses need to be scheduled between the cruise ship terminal and the two downtown commercial districts when ships are in port; or some combination of all three solutions needs to be implemented.

As with the issue of public restrooms, the appropriate funding needs to be found to solve this problem. A pro-business city government would have dealt with this years ago, but our City government still has no interest. Something must be done to change this!

Code Enforcement:
Lack of proper and uniform code enforcement has plagued this city for years which is why "Deterioration" seems to be the keyword for Galveston. It is certainly a problem in the Strand Historic District with the poor condition of the DeMack and Moody buildings. In addition, the lack of code enforcement extends to such things as grass and weeds growing through the sidewalks. Where is City government?

Like most areas of the City, the downtown commercial districts struggle with the substandard infrastructure provided by the City. The streets and sidewalks feature uneven and missing pavement, including the streets that feed traffic to the area from Broadway. When it rains, the streets flood and greatly interfere with customer access. None of this is good for businesss!   

To be fair, City government should post a sign to warn would-be entrepreneurs as they cross the Causeway:

Busines Not Welcome Here

Marketing Plan:
Each downtown commercial district needs some kind of distinct marketing plan to highlight its features and to distinguish it from much of the general city marketing that its aimed at the beach, and places like Moody Gardens and Schliterbahn. The first step would be a series of signs beginning on Island side of the Causeway, and continuing along Broadway until the turnoffs are reached.

Visitor's Center:
The Strand needs a full-scale visitor's center, again. The center should include one or more walking tours of the Strand Historic District, and a driving tour of the Strand Historic District and Postoffice.

The anti-business attitude at City Hall has been a major factor in preventing the Strand Historic District and Postoffice Street from meeting their full potential. With no public restrooms, no connection to the cruise ship terminal, no reasonable code enforcement, and an unacceptable infrastructure; these areas have struggled. It's time for a new City Council to work with both of these districts to finally solve these problems!

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