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Open the door, invite community in on plaza theme

Our View
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On paper and in person, Auburn’s Streetscape project appears to be an impressive blend of vision, creativity and public accounting cooking in summer’s triple-digit heat. Moving forward, community involvement and governmental transparency should be added to the mix. As the multi-phase $20 million project to transform Downtown and Old Town Auburn picks up steam and generates clouds of dust, city officials must remain on top of their game in communicating project work schedules with affected businesses and residents. They must remain sensitive to shoppers and shop owners who will undoubtedly be inconvenienced by reduced access and parking. And they should listen much more closely to suggestions about project improvements, such as the business owner who hopes sap-heavy trees can be replaced with more pedestrian- and business-friendly greenery. And when it comes to the Endurance Capital Plaza, the city should throw open the doors and let the community in on selecting which individuals will be honored with statues and public art celebrating the city’s endurance sports theme. The city should also carefully consider whether that somewhat-narrow theme should be expanded. Six years after the Auburn City Council declared the city as the “Endurance Capital of the World,” the city is still challenged in connecting common residents with the catchy title. Runs and horse rides of 100 miles or more bring a few thousand endurance fans to town, but they haven’t captured the hearts and minds of most Auburnites who prefer an evening walk or two nights a week at the bowling alley. City officials are taking a calculated risk with the themed plaza, but it could pay off if they invite local residents to participate. Longtime residents should be consulted, and public forums should be called to solicit ideas and comments. Wendell Robie would seem a natural choice in honorees, but there are many more who might be just as deserving. The city might never know unless it seeks out suggestions. City leaders also should consider a way for residents to participate in a more lasting, personal way, such as engraved bricks or pavers in the plaza. Just down the street, hundreds of personalized bricks form the foundation for the landmark clocktower, and a similar effort was made at the restored railroad depot that houses the Auburn Chamber of Commerce. Such a fundraiser would link regular folks to the plaza, and could fund a portion of the planned statues and artwork, reducing taxpayer expense for the project. Wednesday’s gravel-and-golden shovel event was a turning point for Downtown Auburn, and if the Streetscape dream comes true, the community will benefit from improved ambiance, civic pride … and increased tax revenues from a thriving business and retail scene. City giddiness was in full bloom at the groundbreaking, which took place in the fenced intersection that has confounded visitors for years. High Street and Lincoln Way will meet in a conventional four-way stop when work is completed. When Councilwoman Bridget Powers turned the podium over to Mayor Mike Holmes, she nervously joked the city would “get this show on the road.” Holmes returned serve, quipping, “This show is already on the road. In fact, it’s in the middle of the street.” Such light-hearted moments are few and far between in government these days, and it was good to see dozens of community leaders sharing a laugh. But when it comes time to putting a forever stamp on the Endurance Capital Plaza, city leaders should get serious in expanding their circle of influence. The city belongs to its residents – the taxpayers. Therefore residents should be consulted before any statues are erected. And before going full bore on an all-endurance theme, city officials should find out if that’s what Auburn citizens truly want. After all, it’s public money they’re spending.