Tuesday, July 3, 2012

If you are a relative or friend of a Carroll city councilperson, and your birthday passes without a card, or an anniversary slides off the calendar with no kiss or rose, don’t take it personally. You are not alone.

The council, it seems, has some memory issues. Want to stump your council member? Ask him this: “Quick, where are your car keys?”

This collective abandonment of history as a guide, perhaps a convenient forgetfulness, revealed itself with Friday’s vote on Phase 6 of the Corridor of Commerce project, a stretch running along U.S. Highway 30 from West Street to Carroll Street and Main Street to Clark Street. The council did award a bid, for $841,824. But the elective body neutered the Corridor plan in the Phase 6 area by stripping an essential element, the brick-paver crosswalk feature. The 12 crosswalks (four each at the three intersections) would have cost $270,798.

After more than two years of discussion, the Carroll City Council in 2003 approved Carroll’s Corridor of Commerce project as well as the first phases of renovation to public areas in the commercial district, primarily on Main Street and Adams Street.

Yes, with the exception of Mike Eifler, the current council was not seated when the Corridor started, when promises were made that an integrated project, with street lighting and curb-and-gutter work, new sidewalks and other features, would extend throughout much of the commercial district.

But this is a game-changer, a defining public-works venture for Carroll, one with a separating quality.

Today’s council should be aware of its history — and of pledges made about the equal application of its benefits during the highly successful administration of Mayor Ed Smith. Certain businesses should not derive more from the Corridor than others. That wasn’t the deal. Some of us were in the room and remember.

Sure, isolating the cost for one part of the Corridor can result in some eye-rolling over morning coffee around town. What, $22,567 for a brick-paver crosswalk?

But it’s short-sighted to single out pieces of the project. It must considered in its entirety, not with second-guessing around the edges. And by that measure the numbers are stunning for Carroll. Since fiscal year 2003-2004 the total taxable valuation of property in Carroll rocketed 31 percent, from $323 million to $423 million, according to official city reports. Today, commercial property in the city is valuated at $133 million — up from $99 million in fiscal 2003-2004, a 34 percent increase.

Clearly, the Corridor is not responsible for all of this. But it played a crucial role.

The project used public infrastructure improvements to leverage private development and upgrades. Mayor Adam Schweers understands this. Our current mayor knows his history. He pointed out that the arrival of Walgreens and Badding Construction’s remarkable reshaping of a former Walmart into the Carroll Depot Business Center and the construction of the new Carroll County State Bank came in the aftermath of the Corridor.

Had a few events turned differently for us, Carroll likely would have eight or nine movie screens in its downtown, not five.

The CEO and co-founder of the fast-growing Culver’s restaurant chain said he spied kindred spirits, common values, as he made his way from the Carroll Airport to the Depot Business Center for a ground-breaking ceremony a few weeks ago.

“What I saw was the neatness,” Craig Culver said. “Everything’s just as orderly as possible and as clean as possible, and that’s how I think of us. I think of us as perfectly clean restaurants and orderly and good people — and that’s what I see here.”

We can’t expect the ornamental Corridor lights to hypnotize business prospects, the paved crosswalks to wow potential new residents, or the sidewalks and benches and other features to sell Carroll as individual features. But collectively they have power, impact. And, remember, we live here. We need to view our city through the eyes of Craig Culver and Walgreens and the thousands of motorists who pass through daily.

Smith’s Corridor brought confidence to downtown Carroll at just the right time with Walmart departing for western Carroll.

“I know downtown can continue to be the heart and soul of not just Carroll but the entire region,” Smith said. “The vision for downtown Carroll is as clear today as it was 100 years ago — it is a place for people.”

The Corridor enhancements have provided more impetus for marketing the business community farther outside of Carroll, even in larger metropolitan areas like Des Moines and Omaha, Neb., merchants like Alice Simons say.

Smith, who hatched the Corridor plan and shepherded it through the key first years, credited local citizens with raising concerns about vacant storefronts. Additionally, the Chamber of Commerce had as one of its strategic objectives a revitalization vision that led to the Corridor plan. As it took shape, Smith and earlier councils held numerous public meeting with Des Moines-based Brian Clark & Associates (now Confluence). With sessions at the Carrollton Centre and elsewhere, a consensus master plan emerged. The goal: start in the heart of Carroll’s business district and involve the full Corridor.

“The members of that particular group were really helpful in framing what needed to be done and not just limiting it to the central business district,” Smith said.

Housing and business development continue at a brisk pace in Carroll, and the central business district rapidly took shape with major improvements on Main Street and Adams Street following the Corridor work there.

“The Corridor of Commerce is a great example, not only for the city of Carroll but for other cities, large or small, of the synergy that can be gained through public and private investment working together,” Smith said. “As far as the speed of private investment I’m somewhat overwhelmed by the response that we’ve gotten, but I’m not necessarily surprised.”

The Wall Street Journal, Sioux City Journal, Des Moines Register and other media did stories on the Corridor. Leaders in other cities, such as Jefferson, have personally told me the Carroll plan inspired streetscape revitalization plans of their own.

Businesses along the remaining six phases deserve to see the full effect of the Corridor plan passed under Mayor Smith, not the second-rate stuff spinning out of the current council.

The Corridor of Commerce is working.

Don’t mess with it.

Make good on promises.

In fact, integrity of the council itself demands the project be completed as staged.

Perhaps the current council should ask Ed Smith to provide a history primer.