Throughout my youth, my family would travel multiple times a year to Arizona where my mother was raised. Staying with my Grandmother who lived very close to the downtown area, I remember walking through and gazing at all the very cool historic buildings that lined the streets.
In my teens, we would still make this trip regularly. But things in the downtown area were changing. People were moving out of the area, businesses were folding or moving to another upcoming area and buildings became very worn from lack of upkeep.
As I became a young man with a family of my own, I would still make the trip, but definitely not as regularly as I had when younger. And I would still take a drive downtown to look at all the old buildings. Now crime was increasing in the area and all the businesses were gone. It was beginning to look like a scene right out of Beirut. Definitely not a place I was going to be wandering through much longer.
Kind of sounds like another city I know, don’t you think?
Last week my wife and I went back to Arizona to visit family. When asked if we would like to walk through downtown and see what has changed since my last visit, we agreed. To my surprise the city had cleaned it up and revitalized the entire downtown area. And eliminated crime!
It had become a “go to” place again. They created an “Art & Music District” where niche restaurants, classy bar and grills, art shops, pizza joints and lounges were now housed amongst the bones of those same historic dilapidated buildings of yesterday. Now that it was a very beautiful and relaxing place to be, tons of people were walking up and down the streets. I literally loved being there!
Concerned citizens have talked about revitalizing downtown Port Arthur for years. But here we are starting 2017 and very little has been done. In conversations I have had with residents, they agree that to be successful — and really revitalize the area so that it will stay that way for years to come — it must become a “go to” place again. Simply cleaning it up with hopes that, “If you build it, they will come” is not a recipe for long-term success.
People will go somewhere they feel comfortable, and will go over and over if they do. To do that, we must make crime a hot topic for the downtown area first and foremost — not just to reduce it, but to eliminate it. And that is not an easy task.
Since moving to Port Arthur I have been pessimistic about the future of downtown PA. I was concerned the plan to simply revitalize, or clean up, would not entice businesses to locate down there, thus not be a long-term fix.
However, after my recent vacation to Arizona, I feel differently. Although I completely understand the regional differences in the two communities, they are eerily similar in many ways. Which is why I now believe that if the downtown area was recreated to be an upscale “Art & Music District,” Downtown PA could thrive once again. But only if it’s done right.
Rich Macke is publisher of The Port Arthur News. Contact him at email@example.com.