The DE has laid the smack down on downtown Carbondale over the last week with a front page article featuring negative student comments about Carbondale in general and downtown in particular, followed by an editorial calling for more focus on student needs in the city's comprehensive plan. Today's issue has a story focusing on the closing of Melange, without mentioning that owner Mark Garwin announced Sunday, three days before the story ran, that the restaurant will remain open with limited hours for the foreseeable future. I see other stories from today's paper have made it to the DE's website but not that one.
I did want to address a couple of points the DE makes. First, the city doesn't have a lot of say in what business do or do not come to town. The business looks at the economic base and how strong the economy appears, then decides whether or not to locate there. Local government may offer tax incentives in order to entice the business to come in, as C'dale did some years ago with Old Navy, but in general, the city usually winds up giving more to the incoming business than it recoups in jobs and taxes. The city has not made any additional tax rebate offers and, according to city manager Alan Gill, has zero plans of doing so in the future.
The second point is the call for university input into the direction the comprehensive plan, and by implication the city, takes. A committee of local citizens, including at least one representative from SIUC staff, spent over a year discussing and shaping the comprehensive plan. I sat in on a number of meetings and, while the SIUC representative attended 90% of the meetings I did, I never saw a single student show up. If you want the community to reflect your wishes and needs, you need to show up to have a voice in it.
The third point is that students vote with their dollars what businesses they want in downtown. They have chosen, over the past 20 years to transfer their business to the mall, Wal-mart and the businesses on the east side, and to a lesser extent west side, of town. The bars and restaurants currently in downtown are the ones the community has said, with its dollars, it wants there. If, as the article above indicates, students want grocery stores close by focusing on international foods, they need to patronize the two on the north side of the square or International Foods at Murdale. Saying you want those type of stores in Carbondale, then not patronizing the ones here is a sure bet to discourage others from opening in the community. Business open where they see other businesses being successful. That's why a Walgreen's is opening on the west side while a Chili's is opening on the east side. They are not moving into a location where they think they will fail. Like follows like.