By now you may have read this story by David Crowder about the Downtown Management District shenanigans. To recap quickly, the DMD couldn’t line up the property owners to approve a modest increase in their dues.
Here’s a money quote:
“It’s not at all what we envisioned when we created this district,” [Downtown businessman Tanny] Berg said. “City manager Joyce Wilson installed Veronica and you’ve got a board made of up people who don’t own property Downtown.
“I don’t think we ever expected to see $240,000 of the district’s money going to salaries. I feel terrible because I promised this wouldn’t happen.”
Those downtown business owners aren’t begrudging the Downtown Management District an extra two cents per $100 of valuation because they hate El Paso. After all, they’d love to see business increase. It’s because they don’t understand the logic of the plan. Much of the money that the district collects is spent on marketing. The problem, however, is the product. Or lack thereof.
Here’s another quote from a different El Paso Inc. article, this one an interview with outgoing Convention and Visitors Bureau head Bill Blaziek:
Q: I’ve been asked by visitors Downtown who’ve got a couple of hours to spend, ‘What is there to see?’ It’s surprisingly hard to answer. What is El Paso’s best Downtown attraction?
We’re asked that all the time. Infrastructure development is what the mayor is talking about when he said, “I’m going to build a destination city.” He didn’t mean he’s going to spend a bazillion dollars marketing something we can’t deliver. If we suggest there are four or five hotspots they’ll enjoy, we’ve got to be able to take them to those hotspots.
Q: Name one thing Downtown.
We have a walking tour of Downtown El Paso that will keep you busy for 3½ hours. It’s historic buildings, it’s museums, it’s San Jacinto Park. Therein lies the reason for the Hispanic Cultural Center, the children’s museum and everything coming with quality of life bond projects.
All of those projects named are going to knock properties off the tax rolls. And none of them sound like a surefire, gold-plated draw. And certainly not what they were planning when they said this (from another El Paso Inc. article):
But the effort to rebrand Downtown began with a 2006 study by New York-headquartered public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, aimed at transforming “Downtown into a vibrant 24/7 city center.”
A vibrant 24/7 city center? Even the Good Luck is only open 24/6. Waffle House is open 24/7, but their menudo sucks.
(The Hollywood Café, at the corner of South El Paso and East Overland, used to be open 24 hours. That place was great. Draft beet cost eighty-five cents. Old men in bathrobes came down from their apartments upstairs for the morning eye-opener, when they started selling beer again at seven. You couldn’t get beer at four in the morning, but you could get breakfast, or a hamburger. Somehow I get the idea that what the City envisions for downtown El Paso doesn’t look a lot like the Hollywood Café.)
I understand that some communities have successfully employed a system for developing downtowns. It’s called capitalism. The way it works is that proponents of this system, called capitalists, open businesses downtown when they think that they can make money doing it. Capitalism may not be as sexy as walking tours, and children’s museums, and marketing plans. But supposedly it works.
The drawback with capitalism is that you have to use your own money.
Too bad the city is unwilling to promote the downtown shopping district that already exists. When a couple from Iowa shows up and walks those streets they see something they’ll never see at home. It’s safe, clean and a jolt to the senses. Plus, they might find a bargain or two.