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Our View: Short-term pain, long-term gain with Streetscape

Our View
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Auburn City Councilman Keith Nesbitt summed it up as well as anyone: “My message to the crowd of 12 of us in there is no one is going to get exactly what they want, but we’ll all make a contribution,” Nesbitt told the Auburn Journal in a story published on Thanksgiving Day. Nesbitt was talking about the Streetscape History and Art Advisory Committee, and its task of creating a history walk and public art plan for the Streetscape project linking Downtown and Old Town Auburn. He could have just as easily been talking about the Streetscape project as a whole. No one person, interest group or business organization is going to get exactly what they want with the large-scale redevelopment project. They never do. But with patience, thoughtfulness and careful consideration of diverse views, the Central Square phase of the $12 million, multi-phase program should be something all of Auburn will be thankful for. As illustrated in the Journal’s three-part series, Streetscape is an ambitious public works project wagering that Auburn’s best days lay ahead. Leveraging redevelopment zone funding and bonds – which can’t be spent on city operations, by law – the city believes an enhanced traffic corridor between the two business districts will pay huge dividends over time. Some say they like Auburn just the way it is now, and that investing taxpayers’ money in a public square, on art and planting utility lines underground is a multi-million dollar boondoggle. Others suggest phases of the project should be scaled back in hopes the economy catches up. It is vitally important that city leaders continue to welcome comments from the opposition and, most importantly, take critical care of each dollar invested. As additional phases of Streetscape come before the City Council, council members must ask the tough questions about whether the city is getting its money’s worth. City officials, citizens and business owners also must keep their eyes turned toward the future – and Streetscape’s role in the vision of Auburn. As the traffic barriers come down and the sidewalks open up, it’s clear that Central Square will be a stunning visual improvement over the skewed four-way intersection that puzzled Lincoln Way and High Street drivers. While the new right turn from High onto westbound Lincoln may be tight for some larger trucks, the reconfigured intersection and surfacing should calm traffic more than in the past. The centerpiece is the large public square, which should be completed by February. Next spring, it should be a focal point for lunchtime diners and shoppers, and in the future could feature outdoor dining catered by local restaurants. There is no doubt that Downtown businesses have been adversely affected by the construction, but those who have survived should thrive when the project is completed. The square, sidewalks, pedestals and new trees should provide a welcoming environment, encouraging shoppers to stay longer and visit stores they didn’t intend to. Such passive, inquisitive shoppers generate the momentum a business district needs to succeed. Much has changed Downtown through this first phase of Streetscape, and there’s more to come. While the short-term view has been painful at times, the long view is filled with hope and optimism. “Streetscape, in my view, could be as good as a time capsule, so 20, 30, 40 50 years from now, it will continue,” said David Keyser, tribal secretary for the United Auburn Indian Community. That should be remembered, long after the construction is complete.