June 7, 2013

Editorial: Work together for downtown


---- — One of the factors impeding downtown Plattsburgh from reaching its full potential has nothing to do with the number of stores, the amount of parking or the draw of the huge commercial sector up on Route 3.

It has to do with cohesiveness.

Our editor remembers, as a young reporter, covering meetings of Plattsburgh’s Downtown Business Association and watching as some owners resisted suggestions for change or bickered over details.

The group accomplished a great deal over the years, but even more could have happened had everyone worked in a spirit of compromise and cohesion.

The Downtown Association has faded away and been revived in various incarnations a number of times over the years. Particular business owners will get charged up about doing something and come up with plans for special events, discounts and other means to lure people.

For a time, everyone will enthusiastically pursue ideas, then participation dwindles until a select few — usually the association leaders — are doing all the work. That is not a recipe for sustainability.

The last person to put his heart into the effort was Chris Dominianni from Adirondack Soup Company, who brought life back to the Downtown Association for several years. But despite his successful guidance, attempts to elevate downtown’s status as a community focal point eventually ebbed.

It doesn’t have to work that way. If all downtown business owners work together toward vitality — thinking “global” needs instead of individual — they can create an aura of attraction that sterile sites such as malls and shopping plazas can’t match.

There is something a touch magical about a city downtown, with its eclectic mix of restaurants, specialty shops, offices and public spaces. Special touches can transform it, dress it up. A small Massachusetts town comes to mind, where every summer all businesses put out window flower boxes to create a unifying theme.

Downtown Plattsburgh may be headed for another resurrection, thanks to the pending premiere of the refurbished Strand Theatre and new efforts promoted by North Country Cultural Center for the Arts, working in collaboration with key businesses and two organizations that have a proven record of trying to shake things up culturally: Vision2Action and Adirondack Young Professionals.

The new initiative is called First Weekend, a merger of the arts and business events designed to draw people downtown the first Friday and Saturday of every month, through September. It’s a wonderful concept, and though the weather threatens not to cooperate this weekend, we hope people will still get out and show their support.

The other hopeful sign is that Colin Read, owner of Champlain Wine Company, and other people want to revitalize the Plattsburgh Downtown Association. It’s important that businesses get involved and that it happens before the Strand opens for good, as planning must be in place then.

With the right blend of creativity, unity and cooperation, downtown can exude enough excitement to fill the streets — and the cash registers.