Diagnosing Downtown: Why redevelopment has stalled

Hey look, another one of those 8000 features we roll out and then only do once! Hopefully this one, in which we try to figure out why downtown Stockton hasn’t become the revenue-generating tourism utopia it was intended to be, actually takes.

Before we get started, let’s fact it, the real reason downtown revitalization has failed is because there’s no money. In a perfect world cash would be bountiful and we could staff 80 cops for every 1000 residents, but this is Stockton and we’re far from perfect. This feature/post will be focusing on shit we can actually do something about. Mostly because when people try to come up with money-making ideas (like, say, sell off a bunch of real estate in a down market), they come off like fucking morons.

Downtown has been in some sort of revitalization limbo for a while now and was a major focal point of the last local election cycle. You probably remember Ann Johnston’s campaign which involved the infamous $10 Paragary’s burger. Less people remember Johnston’s ideas to help downtown redevelopment take the next step, I don’t because my reaction to it was one of the first posts on this site.

Now, in defense of that post, I admittedly focused a bit too much on the whole housing thing, but that was almost 2 years ago when the market was bottoming out. Anyways, I’m generally not a big fan of the earlier stuff on this site because of how ill-informed I was back then, and that post is a perfect example why.

Then Mayoral candidates Ann Johnston and Clem Lee were agreeing with Fitzgerald’s claims that the perception of “safety” downtown would materialize when people did. I disagreed then, and 2 years later I now only slightly disagree. Housing would help downtown. It would help foster a sense of community amongst the residents and crime might actually go down. There’s just one problem, nearly 2 years after the Mayor agreed that downtown housing is vital to redevelopment, we’re still not at the step that involves luring people downtown with affordable housing.

To be fair, we’re close to that step, we just haven’t made any movement towards that next step in years. The main problem? Despite all these claims that downtown has been “tamed” (2 years later and I still get a kick out of that line), Downtown Stockton sure as shit doesn’t act like it’s been tamed. It virtually shuts down at 6 pm. Sure there’s the movie theater and the handful of restaurants and bars in the general vicinity of Janet Leigh Plaza, and that’s nice, but what are these theoretical downtown residents going to do when they need something besides a beer, movie, or an overpriced meal after sundown? They’re essentially fucked.

The past 3 times I’ve been to Bradley’s someone has asked where the nearest place to buy a pack of smokes is. Since it was 8 pm or later everyone just kind of shrugged and offered the guy a stog. I know someone will e-mail me and correct this roughly 7 minutes after this post goes up, but I’m pretty sure the nearest place someone can buy any sort of convenience store item after dark is either that liquor store by the Blackwater or heading as far north as Harding. And that’s a gigantic pain in the ass. And yes, I know everyone in (THE!) South Stockton is nodding their heads angrily right now. They should be because every criticism they had about downtown redevelopment is coming true.

The big issue everyone had/has with the whole downtown thing is that the people who benefit the most from it are the folks who call the shots. If downtown redevelopment wants to appear as anything but a selfish attempt to give city employees more lunch options then there needs to be more than just 4 bars and the movie theater open after all those downtown workers leave. Obviously this isn’t the City’s call, they can’t exactly force businesses to stay open certain hours, those businesses need the post-quitting time customer base that hasn’t materialized for a number of reasons.

So yeah, it’s kind of a chicken or the egg scenario. Downtown businesses don’t have the customers to support staying open too late and the lack of those later business hours prevents people from truly embracing downtown night life (which, in my opinion at least, is vital to redevelopment’s success). One can’t really blame potential downtown patrons though. Downtown is always going to have that “unsafe” stigma attached to it. No matter how many times people tell us it’s been tamed, nobody’s going to buy it until they start acting like it. For what it’s worth, I think downtown is plenty safe (ok, safe enough). Sure, there are pockets you stay away from but you’ll get those anywhere, but for the love of God, having all of those businesses dark and shuttered up at night as if someone just sounded the air raid sirens doesn’t exactly help promote the safety message.

Fitzgerald, Johnston, and Lee were right, getting more people/eyeballs downtown will absolutely increase public safety (or at least the perception of it), but you can’t count on Stockton’s residents to make the first move. I for one would love to live downtown, as cheesy as it sounds that area truly is the heart of Stockton. I just don’t want to have to take a 10 minutes drive everytime I need to buy some Pepto after downing an ill-advised mix of Tequila and hot sauce after chugging a Jagerbomb. So yeah, people need to move downtown, starting with local businesses’ hours moving to later, more reasonable times.

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~ by Slick Diaz on May 26, 2010.

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