Downtown Santa Cruz remains the center of conversation. Some hate it; some love it. Some want it to be a pedestrian mall (even though nearly every city to have tried it has regretted it.)
It might be a cliche, but downtown is as much a state of mind as anything else.
The image of a people-oriented society fits nicely with the idea of a pedestrian-only mall. The reality is something different: a worsening economic climate and less sales-tax revenue for an already strapped city.
Another issue is that of chain stores. Expect to hear an emotional argument against trying to attract chain stores to downtown. The theory goes that the city should limit nationally owned stores in order to protect locally owned businesses.
The reality is something different. Local store owners will tell you that a blend of retail actually helps them. More people downtown — even if they’re attracted by, say, Forever 21 or an Apple store—means more business at the locally owned store. It’s not an either/or.
Wishing, dreaming and hoping is not a smart economic strategy. A recent city-sponsored study be consultant Robert Gibbs maybe retail isn’t the last word on a strategy for downtown, but it’s not a bad blueprint.