It all sounds so good, so promising, so bright. But there are two big problems with the south Academy Boulevard redevelopment plans that were released last week:
They’re unrealistic and misguided.
While there’s little argument that the 6-mile retail district along Academy Boulevard between Drennan and Maizeland roads is not what it used to be – some might even say that parts of it are blighted – it’s not the city’s most pressing redevelopment project.
The energy and time that went into the 12 months of study for this project would have been better spent considering how to revitalize downtown or even the south Nevada Avenue corridor.
And, while the plans call for some practical changes, like increased access to businesses, buried power lines and florid landscaping, they go on to include some puzzling suggestions, like the addition of pedestrian and bicycle paths and streetcars.
We can’t even get a rail line established downtown, but we need to give Academy Boulevard the San Francisco treatment?
And when was the last time anyone hopped on their bicycle to do a little shopping for a television or computer?
Revitalizing Academy Boulevard, which was at one time the city’s biggest retail corridor, will take a lot more than curb, gutter and power line work because the health of the retail corridor is tethered to the health of the residential areas around it. And many of those areas are run-down neighborhoods where property values are among the lowest in the city.
Shiny, new big-box retail centers cannot be sustained by slumping neighborhoods. Any retail strategist will tell you that. Heck, anyone with any sense will tell you that.
In the meantime, downtown and south Nevada are screaming for attention.
Plans to redevelop southwest downtown near America the Beautiful Park need to be revived. The park is a great asset for the city; the empty warehouses, abandoned buildings and day labor shops are not.
The city should spend some time and money, too, finding ways to spruce up the east side of Nevada Avenue between Kiowa and Costilla streets; doing so might help downtown take a much needed leap across Nevada, where the possibilities are numerous.
Also, the south Nevada Avenue redevelopment project needs some new life breathed into it. The area is still a string of cheap hotels, fast-food joints, pawn shops and liquor stores. It’s a hotbed for crime, but it has potential. It has access from Interstate 25, and it’s a main route between neighborhoods around The Broadmoor and downtown.
The city should not lose sight of the importance of revitalizing its core areas. One of the biggest reasons Academy ever became a retail hub is because too little attention has been paid to downtown over the years.
Downtown is a natural fit for restaurants, retailers, shoppers – and bike paths. Let’s focus our redevelopment efforts on it and deal with Academy later.