Now people are concerned because the new bridge is not “artful.” Just how much will an “artful” bridge cost? There is a brand new “artful” bridge between Oakland and San Francisco. It rivals the Golden Gate for “artfulness.” The cost overruns alone for that particular “artful” bridge were 3 times the original cost estimate!
Can the increased cost of an “artful” bridge be justified? Some, like Robert Hively-Johnson, believe it can. He thinks such an “artful” bridge could become another Golden Gate – apparently bringing thousands of people to Winona every year for the next 150. Robert states, “The idea that the new structure might just be the best opportunity in decades to recreate Winona and inspire positive change seemed to escape downtown.”
Why do we continually look for some external “thing” to fix our downtown woes?
Many years ago, the pedestrian mall didn’t do it. The Wilkie steamboat surely didn’t do it. Thousands of people coming to Winona each year for the Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF), the Minnesota Beethoven Festival, the Frozen River Film Festival, and the Minnesota Marine Art Museum have not done it.
After ten years of fantastic summer tourist events like the GRSF, I expected to see businesses pop up in the downtown area that catered to the needs of tourists – good restaurants, classy night spots, etc. While some of that has happened, there remains a lot of real-estate on Third Street that is – shall we say – underutilized.
About 20 years ago, on a Saturday afternoon, the Mississippi Queen, full of money-toting tourists, stopped in Winona. Many were loaded into busses and taken to Garvin Heights Lookout. In the process, they drove past downtown Winona and they drove past a jazz festival that was going on in Windom Park. Thinking we would see other passengers walking around our downtown, my wife and I walked from Windom Park to “downtown Winona.” We found one art gallery on Second Street that was open. That’s it. Everything else was closed. Downtown Winona had missed the boat!
Have things changed? You be the judge. During the past couple of weeks, on Friday evenings, we participated in what I would call downtown Third Street strolls. The most recent one involved local artists. Each such event featured printed lists of “participating merchants.” In between “participating merchants” were – you guessed it – closed stores. In one case a “participating merchant” was even closed! There were quite a few people at these events – and they all walked past many closed businesses.
Thousands of visiting people are doing that in Winona – every year.
An “artful” bridge will not fix that.
This commentary was published September 19, 2013 in the print edition of the Winona Daily News