Editorial: Old buildings are key to prosperity

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 13, 2006

Some cities raze their old buildings in the name of modernity. Five years later, there’s no downtown and people wonder what happened. The downtown economy collapses.

But you notice that successful cities strive to keep their old buildings in the downtown because they know a downtown with old buildings generates precious revenue. Sure, those cities have shopping malls by the freeway and large retail centers that are modern. The downtown thrives nonetheless, and that only works if one factor trumps all others.

That factor is this:

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The downtown has to be the cultural center of the city.

What’s it mean to be the &8220;cultural center&8221;? It means it is the place to see and be seen. It means waking up on a Saturday morning wondering, &8220;What’s happening today in town?&8221; and the place you go to find out is downtown. It’s the place where you find specialty shops with extra special service. It’s where you can enjoy a park and a store on the same outing. It’s the place classic cars and motorcycles cruise on Friday night. It’s the place you go after work to meet a buddy.

You want a $5 spatula? Go to the discount retailer by the freeway. You want fine dining, fine arts and a good musical? Go downtown.

Lose the culture aspect of a downtown, and you lose the downtown prosperity.

The first factor in keeping your downtown a cultural center, though, is old historic buildings. Preserve them. One day, the investment will return.

Already, many American cities have turned their old downtowns into cultural havens that bring in tourist dollars &045; those are the best kind of dollars, too. The cities turn the old buildings into a quaint shopping experience. The downtowns have a hip nightlife aspect, too.

On a vote of 5-2, the Albert Lea City Council on Monday support the start of renovation to the exterior of the Freeborn County Bank Building at the corner of South Broadway Avenue and West William Street. The price tag for the renovation project is between $1.2 million and $2 million.

Good for the City Council. You are doing the right thing for the future economy of Albert Lea.